That seems to be the sweet spot of Jon Krakauer’s writing. Driving to and from Dallas in the past week, I listened to two of Krakauer’s books, Into Thin Air and Into the Wild.
The first is the author’s firsthand account of the 1996 Mount Everest Disaster in which eight climbers died in one day, and 15 in that season. The second is his investigation of the journeys and eventual starvation of Chris McCandless, also made into an eponymous movie.
Here’s what’s particularly moving about these two books: In each, the reader knows the outcome (tragic, unnecessary death), yet Krakauer tells the tales so compellingly that it doesn’t matter. And here’s why: Krakauer redeems these deaths by telling the stories of the individuals who died. That is, as a reader, I felt that I truly got to know these people. So his are not tragedies-for-tragedies’-sake. They are true character studies. They tell us something about what it means to be human.
His new book, just out, is Where Men Win Glory, and it recounts another unnecessary, but meaningful death, that of Pat Tillman. Early reviews of this book have been strong, so it’s going to be high on my reading list.