5 books to read about the 1996 Everest disaster

November 24, 2011

By Nimish Dubey
Few events have generated as much interest (albeit morbid) as the 1996 disaster on Mount Everest when several climbers perished in an attempt to make the summit. One of the main reasons for this interest is the fact that it inspired arguably the best mountaineering book in terms of narration, Into Thin Air, by Jon Krakauer. However, superb though that title is in terms of narration, its facts have been questioned by many people, most notably Anatoli Boukreev, one of the guides on that fateful day in May whom Krakauer had portrayed in less than glorious light in his book.

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It therefore makes sense to read other books on the disaster to get a better picture of what really happened on that day when greed, pride, sentiment and commercial need triumphed over simple common sense and led some of the best climbers to their deaths. Here then is our list of five titles that must be read by everyone who is interested in what happened on Everest on May 11 1996.

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer: Controversies about the story Krakauer narrated may abound but we do not think there can be a better starting point for anyone wanting to know about the 1996 disaster. The book is written with terrifying skill and polish and Krakauer pulls no punches in apportioning blame. Pick this book up and we bet you will not put it down for hours and when you do, you will still feel the chill of the world’s tallest mountain around you.

The Climb by Anatoli Boukreev and G.Weston DeWalt: One of those who felt the lash of Krajauer’s pen in Into Thin Air was the man many people described as the Tiger Woods of Himalayan Climbing, Russian climber Anatoly Boukreev. Krakauer questioned some of his decisions (Boukreev was the guide of one of the expeditions that summited that day) while acknowledging his heroism which saved many lives. It was perhaps this criticism that spurred The Climb, which is a far drier account of the events of May 11 1996, and is slightly defensive in nature, but is for all that still a very informative book. A must-read after Into Thin Air.

Climbing High by Lene Gammelgaard: Not too many know that the first book written on the 1996 Everest tragedy was not Krakauer’s Into Thin Air, but this title by Gammelgaard who became the first Scandinavian lady to climb the summit, before all hell broke loose. The book was a bestseller in Denmark and while it does not spend too much apportioning blame for what went wrong, it does provide a spine chilling account of just how vulnerable one can get at that height.

The Other Side of Everest by Matt Dickinson: While most of the world’s attention was focused on the disaster that occured on the South Face of Everest, Dickinson, a climbing novice and actually a film maker and writer, was making his way up the North Face of the mountain. And his account is no less terrifying, especially when the killer storm strikes. This is not the story of a mountaineer, but of a man caught in a terrible situation on a mountain stalked by death. It might not shed light on the controversies that followed the disaster, but is a superb read nevertheless.

Left for Dead by Beck Weathers: All right, this is more of a memoir than a narration of what happened on the world’s tallest mountain in May 1996, but Beck Weathers has become a legend because of his ascent and what followed. He was literally left for dead in a semi-comatose condition on the South Col of Everest with a wild storm raging around him. Suffering badly from frostbite, he still managed to get to his feet and walk back to Camp IV, arriving in a condition that was more dead than alive.  His right arm had to be amputated halfway between the elbow and the wrist, he lost all fingers and thumb of his left hand and his nose had to be amputated and reconstructed. But he lived to tell his tale, and Left for Dead is it. It may not be as riveting in terms of narration and covers Weathers’ life prior to and after the disaster, but the portions that cover the storm are worth reading.

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