4 stars. Eiger Dreams: Ventures Among Men and Mountains is a collection of short Jon Krakauer pieces about climbing, largely drawn from his magazine articles. He has a talent for conveying the feeling of being in high places that can make my stomach do a little dance even when I’m comfortably in a recliner at home instead of clinging to rotten ice on a spire in Alaska.
The subjects covered in the essays are varied and interesting. In addition to the history of the quest for the summit of the Eiger and a chapter on Everest, Krakauer covers canyoneering, bouldering, a colorful cast of characters on the slopes of Denali including a honeymooning couple and Adrian “The Romanian” Popovich, the social stratifications of the climbing community of Chamonix, and climbing the frozen waterfalls of Alaska. There were several highlights for me. “The Flyboys of Talkeetna” tells the history of the Alaskan bush pilots who serve base camps on Denali. “The Burgess Boys” is a riotous look at two brothers from Yorkshire with no patience for the norms of the real or climbing worlds. Krakauer even makes interesting reading from being confined to a tiny nylon room in “On Being Tentbound.” His description of his solo climb of a difficult Alaskan massif is gripping in “The Devil’s Thumb.” “A Bad Summer on K2” looks at the season that left 13 climbers dead on K2, the second highest peak in the world and one of the world’s most dangerous climbs.
The colorful characters of the climbing world come alive in these pages, with all their foibles and obsessions. The author portrays both an appreciation for history and an understanding of the ego-driven world of climbing. Occasionally the subject matter is dated, as the pieces are drawn from the author’s long career, but the peaks and those who climb them don’t change with new techniques and technologies.
Eiger Dreams is a great book for armchair adventurers, transporting us to icy heights and introducing us to a lively world in its readable prose.