In the Mountains: Non-Fiction Books About Planes, Mountains, and When Planes and Mountains Meet
I’ve been going through a number of reading phases. First it was the apocalypse, and now this. It started with wanting to read Into Thin Air again, and from there all it took was a quick Google search for other mountain disaster books and I was hooked. The following are the best I’ve read for your recommendational reading pleasure.
“On October 12, 1972, an Uruguayan Air Force plane carrying a team of rugby players crashed in the remote snowy peaks of the Andes. Ten weeks later, only sixteen of the forty-five passengers were found alive. This is the story of those ten weeks spent in the shelter of the plane’s fuselage without food and with scarcely any hope of a rescue. The survivors protected and helped one another, and came to the difficult conclusion that to live meant doing the unimaginable. Confronting nature at its most furious, two brave young men risked their lives to hike through the mountains looking for help — and ultimately found it.”
This book is very good. I enjoyed it almost as much as Into Thin Air. Not only do you get an interesting account of survival, but the book touches on some morality issues that I hope no one I know will ever have to face. It gets incredibly disturbing at times, and you can’t help but think what you’d do in the same situation.
It gets a little muddy in the chapters discussing the parents’ search for the downed plane, getting a little too religious at times. I tended to skim through these parts a little faster, wanting to get back to the account of the survivors.
The only other criticism I would have is that the book is not written by anyone who was actually in the plane crash, but rather pieced together through interviews after the fact by Piers Paul Read. It is still a very detailed account of events, and doesn’t feel like it was written by an outsider. There is a book, Miracle in the Andes, written by one of the crash victims. I didn’t get around to reading it, mostly because I didn’t think I could go there again just yet.
Did I Cry? – Yes, a little. But mostly I was too horrified to cry. The side-by-side chapters detailing the families quest to find their children and the day-to-day survival on the plane is a little chilling. There is more emotion detailing mountain search grids than there is recalling the most disturbing facts of the crash. Weirdly I would say this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s more about the facts being told without embellishment or reactions.
Recommend? – Definitely. Go read this now.
Interesting Notes – This was made into a movie starring Ethan Hawke which I saw a several years ago. I was probably a little too young to be watching the movie, considering the subject matter. There might be a reason my sense of humour is a little on the disturbing side. The book is much, much better than the movie but I definitely want to see the movie again now that I’ve read the book. I remember that Ethan Hawke was in the movie yet completely forgot about John Malkovich. Weird.
“In a spare, brisk prose, Ollestad tells the tragic story of the pivotal event of his life, an airplane crash into the side of a mountain that cost three lives, including his father’s, in 1979. Only 11 years old at the time, he alone survived, using the athletic skills he learned in competitive downhill skiing, amid the twisted wreckage, the bodies and the bone-chilling cold of the blizzard atop the 8,600-foot mountain. Although the narrative core of the memoir remains the horrifying plane crackup into the San Gabriel Mountains, its warm, complex soul is conveyed by the loving relationship between the former FBI agent father and his son, affectionately called the Boy Wonder, during the golden childhood years spent in wild, freewheeling Malibu and Mexico in the late 1970s.”
This book was a surprising addition to this list. It’s still biographical but by far the best written book of the lot. His prose is almost poetic at times, and the rhythm and flow of the writing is phenomenal. The other books on the list were more documentary style writing whereas Crazy for the Storm is very internal. Parallel chapters switch between surviving the plane crash and life growing up with a father that pushes you – sometimes too far – to be your best athletically. It never occurred to me that if you’re good at skiing your skills would translate to surfing as well. I now want to move to the beach and take up surfing. Not skiing though; I’m really bad at skiing.
Did I Cry? – No, but I was deeply affected emotionally by the whole book.
Interesting Notes – This book wasn’t at all what I was expecting when I read the summary on Amazon. I pulled this from the list of the Top 100 Editor’s Picks of the year and didn’t even realize it was non-fiction until I started reading it.
Best book title ever.
It’s also been optioned for film by Warner Bros, expected release sometime in 2012.
“Krakauer examines what it is about Everest that has compelled so many people — including himself — to throw caution to the wind, ignore the concerns of loved ones, and willingly subject themselves to such risk, hardship, and expense. Written with emotional clarity and supported by his unimpeachable reporting, Krakauer’s eyewitness account of what happened on the roof of the world is a singular achievement.”
This was my second read of the bestselling account of the Everest Disaster in 1996. It wasn’t as riveting as the first time I read it, but I still thoroughly enjoyed it. I will read it again in a few years. The first time I read this book was a one sitting read – I cancelled plans to stay home and finish it. The author attempts to be objective in his retelling of the events but it’s difficult given his involvement in the whole fiasco. He’s really a fantastic writer and you really feel like you’re with him. This book gives you a great understanding of the Sherpa system in use on Everest, and a look at how climbing the mountain has really become an expensive tourist attraction. This book made me want to attempt to climb Everest, despite the risks. With oxygen… lots of oxygen.
Did I Cry? – I think I did the first time I read it, but not so much the second time around because I knew what was going to happen. Still very emotional.
Recommend? – Yes. Go read this right now. There’s a reason it’s a best seller. Anytime I was reading it out in public (on the bus/subway/park bench) people would approach me to share how much they enjoyed reading it themselves.
Interesting Notes – There’s a TV movie adaptation of this as well, Into Thin Air: Death on Everest .
Also, the events of the book take place during the IMAX filming of Everest. Watching this film would likely be a great follow-up to reading the book as well. It’s also narrated by Liam Neeson. Bonus! I plan on doing a movie marathon of all the mountain movies that go with this list.
“Left for Dead is a deeply personal story, told in first person by a variety of people who contributed to the survival of Beck Weathers during the Everest accident of 1996 that left nine climbers dead. It goes past the tragedy to discuss why Weathers got involved in climbing in the first place, his lengthy and painful recovery, and the all-important relationship with his wife, Margaret (commonly referred to as Peach). Without Peach’s hope and tenacity, it’s likely that rescue efforts would not have been continued, and Weathers may never have recovered from the hypothermic coma and its dreadful results. The story of their relationship–they were estranged at the time of the accident–is told from both perspectives, and his obsession with mountains seems almost like another family member.”
Another account of the famous Everest disaster of 1996, this time from Beck Weathers. This is more a book about Beck’s life than it is about the disaster itself. And it’s really more a book about Beck’s life-long struggle with depression. The book also goes into how his marriage and his life with his wife and kids is affected after the incidents of the disaster.
Did I Cry? – Not really. There’s a great deal of humour in this book, and I did really enjoy it, but it’s not really a crier.
Recommend? – Maybe? More about marriage than mountain climbing, I think I would recommend this book if you, friends or family are experiencing a difficult marriage, or have had to recover a marriage following a life-threatening crisis. Also would be good for anyone who has suffered from depression. It’s a great book about not taking what you have for granted.
Interesting Notes – There is a downside to corrective eye surgery. There are a lot of books called “Left for Dead”. Being left for dead kind of sucks.
“Joe Simpson and his climbing partner, Simon Yates, had just reached the top of a 21,000-foot peak in the Andes when disaster struck. Simpson plunged off the vertical face of an ice ledge, breaking his leg. In the hours that followed, darkness fell and a blizzard raged as Yates tried to lower his friend to safety. Finally, Yates was forced to cut the rope, moments before he would have been pulled to his own death. The next three days were an impossibly grueling ordeal for both men. Yates, certain that Simpson was dead, returned to base camp consumed with grief and guilt over abandoning him. Miraculously, Simpson had survived the fall but, crippled, starving, and severely frostbitten, was trapped in a deep crevasse…”
This book is an amazing account of difficult choices and the fight for survival. I like how it’s told from the perspectives of both of the climbers, and it really delves deep emotionally (and physically) into what they were feeling at the time. It’s also written really, really well. It’s almost painful to read it because you’re right there with them, suffering. I read this book wrapped in a blankie sipping hot chocolate and still felt like I was freezing to death. I really get into the books I’m reading.
Did I Cry? – Yes. It’s very emotional. They were mostly happy, relieved tears though. That’s not really a spoiler – if the guy wrote a book about his ordeal, you can be pretty sure he didn’t die.
Recommend? – Oh yes.
It seems like I’m recommending a lot of these books. There weren’t any books on this list that I wouldn’t highly recommend. If someone can recommend a bad book about surviving a plane crash/mountaineering disaster, I’ll read it and add it to this post for a little extra variety.
Interesting Notes – Another film you can add to the Mountain Movie Marathon. I actually saw the documentary first, and then read the book many years later. They are equally good,and I’d suggest if you liked either that you take in its counterpart.
Up next, I delve into the mysteries of the human brain with books about recovering from assorted head trauma. Fun!