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Like many other people before me, Mount Everest has always fascinated me. I read Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air as a teenager and it was fascinating. I remember his explaining to people who were trying to do the impossible – climb the world’s highest mountain – because he was just there. Although I know that I will never try to reach the summit (base camp would be enough for me!), I understand this impulse. It’s the same need to make words rhyme in a poem or play an Irish jig at 200 bpm. We do it because we want it, because it’s there and we can do it.
So it was a wonderful delight to stumble upon the 2021 Netflix documentary 14 Peaks. In the film, Nepalese mountaineer Nimsdai Purja and his team have a goal of climbing the 14 highest peaks in the world in seven months. Now, if that seems like a challenge, it takes most climbers months to complete just one. The film goes back and forth between the achievement of her goal and Purja’s life and his decision to undertake this quest. And, oh, while they’re climbing, Purja and his team engage in rescues for other team members, because that’s what you do for those around you. It is incredible proof of what mankind can do.
So here are eight books dedicated to mountaineering, with a natural emphasis on Mount Everest.
Beyond the Possible: One Soldier, Fourteen Peaks – My Life in the Death Zone by Nimsdai Purja
The most obvious starting point is Purja’s own book. It delves even deeper into his life story than the documentary can capture (if we don’t want a 30 hour movie!), including his time as a soldier and the 14 climbs (and emergency rescues/recoveries). There is also a youth edition!
Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster by Jon Krakauer
It all started for me with this book. My battered, autographed copy of Into Thin Air has traveled with me from house to house over the years. In 1996, eight climbers died attempting to scale Mount Everest when a snowstorm hit. Journalist/climber Krakauer explains what went wrong. He meticulously explains the process of climbing, such as B. Acclimating to the altitude by doing multiple summit ascents and descents to avoid the dangers of things like HAPE (High Altitude Pulmonary Edema) or HACE (High Altitude Cerebral Edema).
But it’s more than that, it’s an exploration of why people feel compelled to do these things, including Krakauer himself.
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Two at the Top: A Shared Dream of Everest By Uma Krishnaswami and Christopher Corr
While most of the books listed are non-fiction and intended for adults, I wanted to add a children’s book that explores the stories of Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary, who are credited with first climbing Mount Everest. Told side by side with colorful illustrations, readers learn about these two men who achieved what seemed impossible.
Holy Mountain: Everest by Christine Taylor-Butler
Many stories about Everest and other high mountains have a somewhat European-centric focus. But the Sherpa have lived on the mountain for generations and help with the ascents. It’s debatable whether Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay actually reached the summit first, but whether that’s true or not, Sherpas don’t get the focus they normally should. Taylor-Butler tries to focus more on her perspectives on Mount Everest and her culture.
High Exposure: An Abiding Passion for Everest and Unforgiving Places by David Breashears
Mountaineer David Breashears talks about his life and how he got into the world of mountaineering. It examines how he got started, how he ended up on mountains like Everest. It’s a very entertaining book for people who like adventure stories. It touches on the 1996 Everest disaster (with a foreword by Krakauer) when Breashears was on Everest but in a separate climbing group.
In the Shadow of the Mountain by Silvia Vasquez-Lavado
This recently released memoir is Silvia Vasquez-Lavado’s own account of her life and her goal of climbing the Seven Summits, the highest mountain on each continent. In addition, she is the first openly gay woman to achieve this feat. After a less than ideal childhood, Vasquez-Lavabo ends up in Silicon Valley, but when her mother asks her about Peru, Vasquez-Lavabo finds mountaineering. It’s a beautiful and painful story of a woman finding herself.
The Summit of the Gods by Jirō Taniguchi, Baku Yumemakura
Last year saw a bumper crop of climbing movies on Netflix. Alongside 14 Peaks, The Summit of The Gods was released as an animated film. It is based on a five-volume manga based on a book of the same name. This is the only fictional book on the list. A Japanese climber and photojournalist, Makoto Fukamachi, stumbles upon a camera that could hold evidence as to whether George Mallory and Andrew Irvine, two climbers who died on Everest, could have reached the summit in 1924. The possibility of the camera being found further leads Fukamachi to a famous but disappeared Japanese mountaineer, Jouji Habu, who may have had the camera. It’s a quest for both men, one to climb Everest, the other to find out if Mallory and Irvine might have been the first to reach the summit.
Queen of the Climbers: The Pioneering Life of Fanny Bullock Workman by Cathryn J. Prince
I always enjoy learning about new women in history and Fanny Bullock Workman is exciting. This late 19th-century New England woman broke both cycling and mountaineering records and became the second woman ever to speak before the Royal Geographic Society of London. And her work mapping parts of the Himalayas and elsewhere was used decades after her death in 1925. If you are looking for a nonfiction story about an adventurous explorer, this is the book for you.
These are just eight titles that will whet your appetite for mountaineering books. And if you’re into cinema, both 14 Peaks and The Summit of the Gods are well worth seeing. want more? Here is a list of 100 nonfiction adventure books. Or here is a list of books from another adventurous part of the world: Arctic Books.