When selecting a nonfiction book for the classroom, Into Thin Air is a smart choice. The book chronicles a compelling event in recent history that will pull students in as they read Krakauer's timeline of events leading up to and during the disaster. Students will be intrigued and continuously wonder what's going to happen to the climbers, and the book can be easily paired with other stories that involve the perils of the outdoors.

Although covered by Krakauer in the book, students may benefit from a lesson dedicated to the geography and conditions of Everest, as well as its history with those who have tried to reach the top, prior to reading.

Summary

Into Thin Air is journalist Jon Krakauer's account of his experience climbing Mount Everest in 1996 during one of the most disastrous Everest expeditions in history. Krakauer is hired to write an article for Outside magazine about the commercialism on the mountain, such as the different groups that are paid to guide climbers and help them adjust to the harrowing elements. During his journey, a storm hits and causes the deaths of eight climbers and leaves several others stranded.

Content Warning

Into Thin Air contains some profanity, racial prejudice, and death.

Objectives for Teaching Into Thin Air

  • Identify the motivation behind the climbers that keeps them going despite their suffering.
  • Consider the role of perseverance and determine whether it ultimately hurts any of the climbers.
  • Understand Mount Everest as a symbol of beauty and malice and the relationship between man and nature.
  • Trace how Krakauer's view of mortality changes over the course of his climb.
  • Point out instances of racism and nationalism directed toward the Sherpa climbers and how this has been brought about by commercialization.

Key Elements and Techniques

  • Flashback
  • Irony
  • Metaphor
  • Personification
  • Symbolism

Themes and Motifs

  • Commercialism — Krakauer is hired to report on the enterprise that has become Mount Everest and finds that it manifests itself in a variety of ways. Some examples of this are the enormous amounts of money guiding services charge their clients, the tourist revenue Nepal and Tibet collect, and the competition between guide services for media coverage.
  • Trust — Throughout the book, Krakauer specifies how important it is to trust teammates. Although he is climbing with strangers, it is necessary to have confidence in them even though he is uncomfortable doing so.
  • Loyalty —  While related to trust, loyalty is so important in Into Thin Air that it is a separate theme. Many times, a climber, especially a guide, will risk his or her life to help another. Lopsang Sherpa is fiercely loyal to Fischer—when Fischer is lost on the summit, Lopsang refuses to give up searching for him despite the deadly weather.

Related Works

Theme of Commercialism

 

Theme of Trust

 

Theme of Loyalty

Key Facts

  • Length: 368 pages
  • Publication Date: 1996
  • Lexile Measure: 1320
  • Recommended Grade Band: 11 – 12

Awards

  • New York Times 10 Best Books of the Year
  • New York Times bestseller
  • "Book of the Year" by Time magazine
  • Finalist for General Non-Fiction Pulitzer Prize (1998)

Movies

A film starring Keira Knightley and Jake Gyllenhaal titled Everest that depicts the events of the 1996 Mount Everest disaster was released in 2015. There is also a 1997 TV movie called Into Thin Air: Death on Everest, which loosely follows the book.

Your students will love:

  • The thrilling action
  • An engaging nonfiction book that reads like a novel

Students may have problems with:

  • Keeping track of people's names
  • The deaths of many climbers

More Teacher's Guides to Literature:

See all our Teacher's Guides to Literature here.