*Eiger Dreams by Jon Krakauer (1990, 2009)

I became a Krakauer fan over 20 years ago when I first encountered a few of his articles in Outside Magazine.  Since then, I’ve read Into Thin Air, Into the Wild, Under The Banner of Heaven, Where Men Win Glory, and now Eiger Dreams, his first book which is a collection of previously published articles about mountaineering.  I was ordering a new copy of Into Thin Air for my son when this book caught my eye.  Something of Krakauer that I hadn’t read? That I should read his first book after reading everything else he’s written (save Three Cups of Deceit which I’ve almost finished), is a bit out of order, but I think I gleaned more from the book this way.  I certainly wouldn’t have appreciated his prescience about climbing in the Himalayans had I not already read Into Thin Air.  In Eiger Dreams he writes about the growing pride and glory associated with successfully summiting the highest and most dangerous mountains.  Where so many mountaineers were once driven by personal challenge, too many (and this is in the mid 80’s) were beginning to put together such big, expensive, and high profile climbing parties that not succeeding became a public failure.  Thus, many were beginning to allow external pressure to cloud their judgement.  Not too many years after he wrote those words, the disasters mounted, on Everest in particular.  Yet even after writing Into Thin Air, he left the ‘I told you so’ attitude out of the book, something he clearly could have inserted, because indeed, he did tell us—years earlier—that disaster was imminent.  My favorite articles/chapters in Eiger Dreams are “The Burgess Boys,” “Gill,” and “The Devil’s Thumb.”  Even early in his career, Krakauer embedded such power in his writing that he captures us with every detail.  He has a knack for finding the most compelling stories, chronicling the most interesting, unique people, and writing about them with such accuracy and detail that his credibility is flawless.  It feels like a month—or more—of exhaustive research must go into each 20 page piece.  When his subject is himself rather than other climbers, as it is in “The Devil’s Thumb,” he manages to take us with him to the brink of disaster–the thunk of an ice pick into granite or  a 5 foot drop into a crevasse that easily could have been a thousand foot plummet—with a self-deprecating tone.  We get the crushing sensation of fear without dramatic hyperbole.  This is a great collection.  (nonfiction)

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