I did not read this book when it was popular; I did not buy this bookwhen it was popular. I have no idea what possessed me to pick it up in aused bookstore, nor do I know when or where I purchased it. But, havingstarted it on a whim, I understand why this book was such a hugesuccess.
The story is told as though everyone knows of the disaster the bookdiscusses. Perhaps, in 1996, I did know of the disaster on MountEverest, but I don't recall it now. At any rate, several people,including some exceedingly qualified and fit people, perished trying toclimb Mount Everest. Or actually, trying to descend Mount Everest. Itturns out that for most climbers, the ascent is the easy part;descending is much harder. Once the goal has been reached, and theenergy expended to get to the summit, getting down is very, verydifficult.
I am not even remotely a climber, and don't understand why people climbmountains. Yes, I know: "Because they are there." On that theory, lotsof things could be done, but the issue is should they be done. Myprejudices in the open, I have to admit that I could not put this bookdown. Even knowing that several people would die, and having sometrouble keeping the large cast of characters straight (I believe theauthor said that 33 people were trying for the summit on that day), Istill was mesmerized by the scope of the challenge and the determinationof each person.
The author blames himself for some of the disaster. Personal blameaside, he seems to try to be fair to everyone. As with every disaster,small, seemingly insignificant choices affected the outcome. Some ofthose choices seem odd looking back, but at the time were determined tobe the optimal choice. And some of the choices were made by people whowere literally not in their right minds. The altitude apparently doesvery odd things to people.
All in all, this was a fascinating book, and well worth reading. Thinkof an airplane ride, cross-country, and that is the altitude theclimbers faced. The pictures alone scared me (afraid of heights!); thetext terrified me. But it was definitely a could-not-put-down read!!