Krakauer Finale

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November 5, 2013 by carlywont

As I touched on in my last post, reading three Krakauer books was a bit of a hurdle for me—and one I’m happy to move past. Perhaps I got a little overzealous with my love for Under the Banner of Heaven. Perhaps I should have done a religious zealot theme based on that book instead of one based on the author. Perhaps I should have stopped a few pages into Where Men Win Glory and deleted this blog and pretended this whole debacle never happened. But, luckily (for you? For me?), I didn’t!

Despite my many complaints (sorry, I’m just naturally querulous), I did enjoy myself through this process. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t read Under the Banner of Heaven and Into Thin Air quickly and happily. Krakauer’s writing is easy to read. It’s clear, concise, and can be well researched (if not a little biased, but I always like my journalists a little biased anyway).

If there’s one thing I took away from these books, it’s that Krakauer loves his subjects. His excitement over describing the people surrounding him is palpable. The reader can feel his love for interesting “characters” and their stories. For the most part this is a good thing and Krakauer does a good job of choosing truly unique people to linger on. At the same time, his laudatory expressions can become a bit tiring. For this reason, I’m extremely glad I decided to forgo readingInto the Wild.

One of my favorite things about Krakauer’s books are the quotes he opens the chapters with. A few of my favorites:

“We tell ourselves stories in order to live…We look for the sermon in the suicide, for the social or moral lesion in the murder of five. We interpret what we see, select the most workable of the multiple choices. We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the ‘ideas’ with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience.”

—Joan Didion, The White Album (quoted in Into Thin Air)

“There were no formerly heroic times, and there was no formerly pure generation. There is no one here but us chickens, and so it has always been: A people busy and powerful, knowledgeable, ambivalent, important, fearful, and self-aware; a people who scheme, promote, deceive, and conquer; who pray for their loved ones, and long to flee misery and skip death. It is a weakening and discoloring idea, that rustic people knew God personally once upon a time—or even knew selflessness or courage or literature—but that it is too late for us. In fact, the absolute is available to everyone in every age. There never was a more holy age than ours, and never a less.”

—Annie Dillard, For the Time Being (quoted in Under the Banner of Heaven)

“I distrust summaries, any kind of gliding through time, any too great a claim that one is in control of what one recounts; I think someone who claims to understand but is obviously calm, someone who claims to write with emotion recollected in tranquility, is a fool and a liar. To understand is to tremble. To recollect is to re-enter and be riven…I admire the authority of being on one’s knees in front of the event.”

—Harold Brodkey, “Manipulations” (quoted in Into Thin Air)

As you can probably guess from my previous posts, my personal ranking:

Best: Under the Banner of Heaven

Worst: Where Men Win Glory

Somewhere In Between: Into Thin Air

So, in conclusion, here are some things to ponder about yourself before you choose which Krakauer novel is right for you:

If you want to a) read something very quickly; b) learn some cool local names for Mount Everest; c) cry a little bit; or d) watch a ton of follow up Netflix-based documentaries on the subject, hit up Into Thin Air.


You’re an Under the Banner of Heaven sort of person if you consider yourself a) non-Mormon; b) suspicious of Joseph Smith; c) a black magic fan; or d) a true crime buff.


On the other hand, if you’re a) a football fanatic; b) in the army; c) wary of the government; and/or d) the sort who enjoys reading journal entries, you should totally read Where Men Win Glory.


That’s all folks! As my brother would say: That’s the finale. Finale. That’s French for get the fuck outta here.

Krakauer Photo from the NYT:


[This is an archival post. It originally appeared on before Three Books migrated here.]


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