Meaningful Deaths

Meaningful Deaths August 20, 2010

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.

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

TRENDING AT PATHEOS Progressive Christian
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Pingback: Tweets that mention Meaningful Deaths | Tony Jones --

  • tom c.

    Interesting post. A couple thoughts I had: it might be interesting to compare with Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man and Ian McEwan’s Atonement. In what sense can lives be redeemed through art?

  • In one sense every human death is meaningful merely because it is a human that has died, even if the circumstances seem senseless. It’s hard to handle death, even of someone you don’t like, if you know them personally. I think we tend to want the distance so we can judge sometimes. That’s one thing that really bothers me about a lot of news reports of deaths. It’s all too easy to make quick judgments about people and dismiss the tragedy of their dying – like saying “those people should never have been on Everest in the first place, they got what they deserved” etc. I like Krakauer’s “project.”

  • This reminds me of Orson Scott Card’s “Speaker for the Dead”. The role of a Speaker is to tell the story of the deceased, to detail their lives with all their flaws, triumphs, and misdeeds.. No persuasion, or playing on sympathies, or trying to convince people to forgive the deceased. Just the story, so the deceased can be understood as a whole person.

    Sounds similar to what Mr. Krakauer tries to accomplish with his books. I’ll have to give them a read.

  • Andy W.

    I just finished reading “Where Men Win Glory” and this is a great read. If you like “Into This Air” and “Into the Wild”, you will really like this book.