The best books about the allure, tragedy, and terrifying majesty of high-altitude mountaineering

The Books I Picked & Why

Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster

By Jon Krakauer

Book cover of Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster

Why this book?

This is the ultimate place to understand the epic undertaking of climbing Everest. Krakauer climbed in a season with the worst death toll in the peak’s history. His book takes us through a remarkable ordeal of human fragility, of hurricanes, cold, exposure, lucky and unlucky decisions, all in a place where nothing can be trusted - not the air, not your own body or mind, not even the ground you walk on.


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Savage Summit: The Life and Death of the First Women of K2

By Jennifer Jordan

Book cover of Savage Summit: The Life and Death of the First Women of K2

Why this book?

A different mountain, and reputedly more deadly than Everest. The focus is on a handful of professional elite mountaineers, all women, and the different ways they achieve their climbing dreams, according to their personalities - from phenomenal physical grit to unashamed use of every feminine wile. Yes, it seems you can sleep your way to the top. You might think this sounds monstrous, but I found it incredibly human and moving, and afterward I searched YouTube for videos of these women, to see their actual faces, full of unstoppable life.


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Where the Mountain Casts Its Shadow: The Dark Side of Extreme Adventure

By Maria Coffey

Book cover of Where the Mountain Casts Its Shadow: The Dark Side of Extreme Adventure

Why this book?

Mountaineering attracts people of lionlike courage. What of the people who wait for them at home? When Maria Coffey started dating a climber, she found herself part of an exclusive club…and she soon needed them more than ever after her partner was lost in an accident. As she struggles through her bereavement she examines the adventuring nature, and the bravery needed to make a life with such a person.


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Killing Me Softly

By Nicci French

Book cover of Killing Me Softly

Why this book?

We’re in fiction now. This is the story of Alice, a young professional woman with a settled life and reliable boyfriend, who jettisons it all when she meets Adam, a mountaineer. Adam is very broken, with PTSD after a tragedy in the mountains. I know climbers who would say the plot is sensationalist, but I’ve also met climbers who seem to have left their most vivid selves in that white otherworld. And this is the essential territory of Nicci French novels - people with dangerous edges and missing pieces, and how charismatic they are. 


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White

By Rosie Thomas

Book cover of White

Why this book?

Another novel - breathtaking descriptions that really put you on the mountain, and a trio of characters caught in a tangle of obsession. While you share every painful, astounding step, you’re aching for them to put their emotional baggage down, stop dwelling on the past, and instead seize the future. Great armchair adventuring, a complicated romance, and no easy answers. 


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