I have always been a bit enthralled with Everest. Curious and in awe, of all those that have summited and even attempted the summit. It’s a bit of an obsession really, but not enough of one to actually want to climb it. However, Everest Base Camp is on my bucket list, or at least to get close enough to see the highest peak in the world, and to glimpse for just a moment, this holy grail of mountain climbing. I have always seemed to have “a call for Everest”. I like to call myself an armchair mountaineer.
I don’t know if there is anyone out there like me, who never plans or dreams of climbing the mountain, but devours articles and movies and books about it instead. A huge shout-out and admiration for those who do attempt to summit Mt. Everest. Even though I will never attempt it, something makes me continue to read and research it, to learn more about this beautiful yet deadly mountain. So I decided to put together a list of books about it, but first things first. Why are people so obsessed with climbing Mt. Everest? My brother’s response to this post was “Why would anyone pay for certain death?”
Why Do People Want to Climb Mount Everest?
I think that is the question most people ask, is why. Over 300 people have died on Everest, with over 200 bodies left on the mountain. Besides Mount Everest being the tallest mountain in the world at 29,032 ft/ 8,8248 km, it is also one of the hardest mountains to climb because of its thin air, rough terrain, and harsh weather. It is also one of the 7 Summits, the highest peaks of all seven continents. Even though climbers are aware of the many dangers, they aspire to reach the summit anyone. I almost think that besides the Adrenalin and also the risk, it’s also because if you can reach the summit of Everest and get back down alive, you probably feel like you can do anything. It’s the ultimate adventure, which has been commercialized and glamorized in the last few decades. I mean, with enough money, anyone can climb Everest. The dream of climbing Mount Everest is more attainable than ever before. Or at least prior to COVID 19, because for the most part, the mountain was shut down for 2020. It’s elusive and dangerous but I think one person answers the question of why quite simply. When George Mallory was asked why he wanted to climb Mt. Everest, his reply was “Because it’s there”.
So many things disgust me about Everest: the money, the politics, the traffic jam and conga line atop the world, the trash, the dead bodies, stories of people climbing over others while they are dying, the complete disregard for a culture and a mountain, but I can’t stop reading and watching and being obsessed. As ugly as Everest seems, it’s beautiful too.
Let’s not forget, that none of the summits would ever happen without the Sherpas. They are the indigenous people of the Himalayas, who serve as porters, guides, and even babysitters to the thousands that have climbed Mount Everest. Most of them make their living during the tourist season and this year has been extremely hard, with the mountain shut down due to COVID 19. They are truly the unsung heroes of the Himalayas. The Colorado Nepal Alliance raises money to help the Sherpas and has also recently partnered with the Garmont, the Italian boot brand, to raise money for Shoes for Sherpas. Please consider donating, to help these wonderful people that without them, Everest would not be possible.
Are you as curious as I am? I hope you are because this is a good list of books about the highest summit in the world, Mount Everest, and those that have explored it. I did my best to put them into chronological order, based on what year each person was on Mount Everest. I have divided this article into three sections:
- Books About Everest and the Climbers of Everest
- Books About the 1996 Everest Disaster
- Further Reading About Everest and Mountaineering
- Children’s Books About Everest
Books About Everest
There are hundreds, maybe even thousands of books about Mount Everest. I have picked the ones that I think are the most interesting. Because I am such a bookworm and will read just about anything, it was hard to narrow this list down, but I’ve decided to include the best books about Everest and its climbers that everyone should read. Even though there are many memoirs in this list, I think that every single person that has climbed or experienced Everest has each had a very unique and personal journey unlike anybody else. Some really great books are no longer in print or really hard to find that hopefully one day I can add to this list. Some of these books are are some of the most inspiring and popular outdoor adventure books that everyone should read. And many of them are just great books that any outdoor enthusiast should read. I recommend you check out this list of mountaineering terms because many of them are used in all of these books and you might be unfamiliar with them as I was.
Books About Everest and The Climbers of Everest
“The Call of Everest: The History, Science, and Future of the World’s Tallest Peak” by Conrad Anker – If you are like me and have an insatiable curiosity regarding Everest or just want to learn more, then this is the book for you. There are eight different chapters written by different authors regarding Everest’s history from past to current, how Everest has been impacted over the years, and multiple stories. There are also mini-articles and excerpts, but what I loved the most was the full-color images. Even though this is a coffee-table sized book, there is plenty of in-depth reading and so much good and interesting information. It is one of my favorites. Conrad Anker, the author of this book, in 1999 discovered the body of the missing British climber, George Mallory.
“Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory, and the Conquest of Everest” by Wade Davis – George Mallory and Sandy Irvine set out to summit Everest on June 6, 1924. To this day, it is a mystery of what happened and did they actually summit Everest. This book goes into detail about who they were, where they came from, and how they ended up being on Everest including speculation regarding their deaths and if they reached the summit.
“Wildest Dream: The Biography of George Mallory” by Peter and Leni Gillman – George Mallory was considered a British hero, even though he tragically dies on Everest. George Mallory’s body was found in 1999. People tend to focus on his tragedy and three failed attempts at summiting Everest, instead of who he actually was as a person. This complete biography of his life reveals who he was as a person, as a father, as a husband, and as a mountaineer.
“The Lost Explorer: Finding Mallory on Everest” by Conrad Anker and David Roberts – The mystery of Mallory and Irvine is still that, a mystery. Nobody knows if they summited Mt. Everest or not, and until May 1, 1999, there were more questions than answers until Anker found Malloy’s body. This book is about the search for Mallory and Irving, the clues regarding the mystery of their disappearance, and a different perspective on who Mallory was from the view point of another mountaineer.
“Fearless on Everest” by Julie Summers – So much has been written about Mallory, but Sandy Irving was just as important and is overshadowed by George Mallory in history. What happened to Irving and Mallory and did they reach the summit? How did Irving, a young 22-year-old scholar end up on Mt. Everest? Based on forgotten letters from Irving, his niece Julie Summers writes the revealing biography of this great explorer.
“Camp Six: The 1933 Everest Expedition” by Frank Smythe – Considered possibly as one of the best accounts of Everest ever written, this book tells about the 1933 Everest Expedition with Frank Smythe. Smythe reached the highest point of anyone before him but did not reach the summit. The height that he reached was considered a huge achievement, with no rope, no supplemental oxygen, and doing it solo. It is very detailed and gives the reader insight into the early exploration of Everest and early Himalayan exploration, almost a century ago.
“My Father, Frank” by Tony Smythe – Frank Smythe almost became the first person to summit Mount Everest, coming within 820 feet of the summit. He was a renowned mountaineer, and often at odds with the Alpine community and his own family. This biography is written by his son, who shared Frank’s story with the world. Frank Smythe, unfortunately, passed away at the age of 48 but did achieve amazing things.
“The Moth and the Mountain: A True Story of Love, War, and Everest” by Ed Caesar – Maurice Wilson is often overlooked in the history of Everest. He was not a mountaineer or explorer, but instead an eccentric veteran, who had the hair-brained idea of flying all the way to the summit of Mount Everest. I like to think that Wilson embodies the spirit of anyone attempting to the summit: throwing caution and rationality to the wind, to fulfill a dream. Wilson died on Everest during his solo attempt on May 31, 1934 and his body was found the following year. This is a must-read for anyone interested in Mount Everest.
“View from the Summit: The Remarkable Memoir by the First Person to Conquer Everest” by Sir Edmund Hillary – Sir Edmund Hillary, along with Tenzing Norgay, were the first climbers to summit Mount Everest. This is Mallory’s life story in his own words. It starts with him growing up in Australia, his many other mountaineering adventures, and his summit of Everest.
“High Adventure: The True Story of the First Ascent of Everest” by Sir Edmund Hillary – On May 29, 1953, Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay were the first people to ever summit Everest. This is Hillary’s personal account of his Everest journey, from start to finish. It is more detailed regarding his Everest journey than what is in his autobiography.
“Tenzing: Hero of Everest” by Ed Douglas – I think that Tenzing Norgay’s achievement of being one of the first two men to summit Everest is often overlooked. It seems as if the world most often focuses on Hillary, but without Norgay, he would have not succeeded in achieving the summit. This in-depth biography of Tenzing Norgay (sometimes spelled as Norkay), explores his life from childhood, his years as a porter, and his success and sometimes difficult journey to summiting Everest.
“A Life on the Edge” by Jim Whittaker – Jim Whittaker was the first American to summit Mt. Everest. He reached the top of Everest in 1963. Whittaker is also well-known a the former CEO of REI as well as being the leader of the International Peace Climb. Everest was certainly not his only achievement and his other successes are often overlooked because of Everest.
“Up and About: The Hard Road to Everest” by Doug Scott – Doug Scott and Dougal Haston were the first Britons to reach the summit of Everest on September 24, 1975. I found it interesting that they summitted in September instead of May, when it seems like most people make their summit attempt. Haston and Scott got stuck overnight just below the summit, also becoming the people to survive the highest-ever bivouac. Forced to spend the night on the mountain in the Death Zone with no sleeping bags or oxygen, the two scraped out a shallow cave into the ice in order to survive. Scott is considered one of the greatest British mountaineers. This is his story, from childhood to surviving the the deadly Mount Everest with almost impossible odds.
“The Crystal Horizon: Everest – The First Solo Ascent” by Reinhold Messner – Messner was the first person to ascend Mt. Everest solo and without supplemental oxygen. This is his memoir about his summit of Everest, and reflections of what he experienced. This is a reprint of this popular mountaineering book. I can only imagine what must have been going on in his mind because having supplemental oxygen seems to be a necessity in surviving the Death Zone. Messner summitted Everest in 1978.
“Honoring High Places: The Mountain Life of Junko Tabei” by Junko Tabei – Junko Tabei was the first woman to summit Everest on May 16, 1985, as part of an all-women team from Japan. She was the 36th person to summit Everest and the first woman to complete summits of the 7 Summits. This book starts with her Everest climb but covers many aspects of her life including her childhood and other achievements. This is a collection of essays written by Tabei, that have been translated into English from Japanese.
“Rising: Becoming the First North American Woman on Everest” by Sharon Wood – On May 20, 1986, Sharon Wood became the first North American to summit Mt. Everest. Her memoir is so well written, and I think captures the spirit of why people attempt Everest in the first place. This has become one of my favorite outdoor adventure books and my copy is well-worn and dog-eared from reading it.
“Above the Clouds: The Diaries of a High-Altitude Mountaineer” by Anatoli Boukreev – Boukreev was a well-known mountaineer that survived the 1996 Everest tragedy, but was later killed in 1997 in an avalanche while ascending Annapurna. He is well known for saving lives during the 1996 Everest disaster and for co-writing “The Climb”. He was also well-known for many of his mountaineering feats including summitting K2 and summitting 10 of the 14 eight-thousander peaks without supplemental oxygen. This book is compiled from his journal entries, including the ones written in the days of the 1996 Everest tragedy. What a beautiful way to be immortalized.
“Just for the Love of It” by Cathy O’Dowd – Cathy O’Dowd was the first woman to summit Everest from both sides, but was also in the middle of the 1996 controversy regarding the South African team. O’Dowd has many climbing achievements and is considered both infamous and famous for her mountaineering exploits. I don’t know what I would do in some of the situations that one would encounter on Everest, so I cannot be one to judge. I will say, this is a great motivator for women who want to get into mountaineering if you can read this book without being biased.
“The Kid Who Climbed Everest” by Bear Grylls – Before he became know as a celebrity survivalist, Bear Grylls became the youngest Briton ate age 25 to summit Everest in 1998. At the age of 23, just eighteen months before he climbed Everest, he was injured during a parachute jump while he was in the British army. His book recounts his recovery, quest for funding and his actual climb. Either you like him or you hate him, but this is a very good account of what climbing Everest is like.
“Dead Lucky: Life After Death on Mount Everest” – by Lincoln Hall Lincoln Hall first attempted to climb Everest 1984, but had to turn back due to illness. He again attempted the summit in May of 2006 and was successful, however he barely made it down the mountain alive. He was left for dead and his family was even notified of his death, until he was found alive the next day. This is his story of the summit, the experience of his survival, and also how his family dealt with the news of his death and then with news that he was still alive. This is an excellent story of tenacity and survival.
“Dark Summit: The True Story of Everest’s Most Controversial Season” by Nick Heil – Until 2006, some consider 1996 as the most controversial climbing season. However, 2006 surpassed it, due to the conflicting circumstances and 11 deaths. David Sharp lay dying near the summit, while forty people passed him, though many offered him help as they passed by. Lincoln Hall was left for dead and his family was notified of his death, yet he survived without food or shelter, or water. Traffic jams and inexperienced climbers are among some of the reasons why 2006 was controversial. Heil explores the deadly season, the commercialization of climbing, and an investigation into the new risks of climbing Everest. His perspective as a mountaineer sheds a different light on the 2006 climbing season.
“Ascent into Hell” by Fergus White – If you ever wanted to know exactly how it feels to climb Everest, then this is the book you need to read. I recently just finished reading it. Even though I know climbing Everest takes a lot, I don’t think I realized how much until I read this one. It is very insightful and worth the read. Fergus White summited Everest in 2010, becoming the 19th Irishman to do so.
“Everest: It’s Not About the Summit” by Ellis J. Stewart – If there is any book you read about Mount Everest, then this is the one. I stumbled across this one earlier this year and couldn’t put it down. Ellis Stewart attempted to climb Everest in 2014 and 2015, both attempts ending due to natural disasters and the two deadliest seasons to date. This book isn’t about his attempts though, it’s more about the entire journey from start to finish of why and how he was able to even accomplish getting the opportunity to attempt Everest. I know that getting to actual Everest can be a challenge, but I didn’t realize what people are willing to do to get there. Even though Ellis Stewart did not make it to the summit, I think this book explains better than any other, the why behind wanting to climb the world’s highest mountain. As I was reading it, I was able to identify with Stewart’s dream and how nothing could stop his dream, except the mountain itself. Stewart references many of the other books on this list, as well as other climbers that are mentioned in the other books. Many of the books that Stewart mentions are included in this list.
“Shook: An Earthquake, a Legendary Mountain Guide and Everest’s Deadliest Day” by Jennifer Hull – 2015 was the most tragic year in the history of climbing Everest. On April 25 2015, as climbers were starting the climbing season at Everest Base Camp, a 7.8 earthquake shook Nepal, causing multiple avalanches including one that wiped out Everest Base Camp. There were at least 24 deaths, with climbers stuck on the mountain. 2015 was the first year since the first summit that no one reached the top. Legendary mountaineer Dave Hahn, was attempting to summit Everest, along with his climbing team and eight clients. Weeks has been spent preparing for a summit push, when the 2015 avalanche occurred. Nothing could have prepared them for them for the devastation and deaths that occurred. This is their story and how they overcame and survived the tragedy with resilience, tenacity and nerve.
“Icefall: The True Story of a Teenager on a Mission to the Top of the World” by Alex Staniforth – The more I read about Mt. Everest, the more I wonder why in the heck anyone would want to climb it, especially young kids? This was the same thought that crossed my mind when Alex was mentioned in Ellis Stewart’s book “Everest: It’s Not About the Summit”. It obvious takes guts and moxy, which apparently Staniforth has. This young kid at age 18, after overcoming epilepsy and stutter, decided to attempt to climb Everest. Little did he know, that he would end up in the middle of Everest’s biggest tragedy, the 2015 avalanche. Staniforth’s story is a bitter different than those of others, mainly because of his age and younger perspective, but also because of the experiences he observed before and during his trip to the mountain.
“Above the Clouds: How I Carved My Own Path to the Top of the World” by Kilian Jornet – Known mainly for trail running, Jornet is also an established mountaineer. He has broken many mountaineering records, and also climbed Everest twice in one week without oxygen and ropes. In his compelling memoir, he reminisces about his achievements and what pushed him to become one of the elites that have summitted Everest.
Books About the 1996 Mt. Everest Disaster
At the time, the 1996 Mt. Everest Disaster was the deadliest day and season since climbers had started attempting a summit. The 1996 Everest disaster references the deaths from May 10 – May 11 of the spring climbing season. Since then, the climbing seasons of 2014, and 2015 have surpassed that. The 2006 season has become just as controversial, if not more. There is much controversy regarding the 1996 climbing season and many different perspectives because of the newer commercialization of climbing Everest, inexperienced climbers, miscommunication, summit fever, and crowding on the mountain. It wasn’t a matter of being capable anymore or having the unique climbing skills, it was a matter of if you had the money or not, regardless of your skillset.
The movie “Everest” is based on the events from May 10-11, 1996. Because of how deadly that season was and controversial, there are many books about that specific climbing season. Each one has a unique and different perspective, and I felt that the 1996 Everest climbing season needed its own section. Eight climbers died during the 1996 disaster and a total of twelve during the spring season, with an additional four deaths during the fall season. I will leave it up to you to form your own opinion about the fateful events from the 1996 disaster. There are over 20 books written about the 1996 Everest disaster.
“Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster” by Jon Krakauer – This is probably the most popular and well-known book about climbing Everest. Krakauer was on assignment for Outside Magazine during the 1996 Everest disaster and was a member of the team with Adventure Consultants, led by Rob Hall. Krakauer was brutal and honest with his opinions, and very critical of many of the decisions made on the mountain. I would recommend to anyone who reads this, to read other books with different perspectives as well and read this one with an open mind.
“The Climb: Tragic Ambitions on Everest” by Anatoli Boukreev and Weston DeWalt – Boukreev was the main climbing guide for Mountain Madness, a team that was attempting to climb Everest in 1996. He was highly criticized by Krakauer in the book “Into Thin Air” because he summited before his clients. He was also criticized because he chose to summit without oxygen during his leadership role as a guide. However, he was able to save all of Mountain Madness’ clients and has a different account of what went wrong in 1996. In the updated book, there is a transcript of the Mountain Madness debriefing from five days after the climb.
“Left for Dead: My Journey Home From Everest” by Beck Weathers and Stephan G. Michaud – Beck Weather was a member of the Adventure Consultants team during the 1996 Everest climbing season. Three teams attempted the summit that year, with four members of the Adventure Consultant’s team perishing in one of the deadliest days on the mountain. Beck Weathers was caught in a snowstorm and left for dead. Twelve hours after the storm, he came down the mountain covered in ice with frostbitten limbs and hypothermia. This is his journey to the mountain, his climb and survival, and also his recovery after that tragic day. He lost his nose, his right hand, and all of the fingers on his left hand to frostbite.
“A Day to Die For – 1996 Everest’s Worst Disaster – One Survivor’s Personal Journey to Uncover the Truth” by Graham Ratcliffe – Ratcliffe was a first-hand witness to the tragedy and was the first British mountaineer to summit Everest twice. During the snowstorm that was a huge contributor to the 1996 deaths, he weathered the storm on the South Col. Ratcliffe doesn’t necessarily point fingers, but he is very thorough regarding some of the factors that contributed to the disaster, including how the weather report indicated a large storm was coming in, yet the summit attempts were still made. Ratcliffe answers a lot of questions and after reading this, I think I had even more questions.
“After the Wind: Tragedy on Everest – One Survivor’s Story” by Lou Kasischke – Lou Kasischke was a member of Rob Hall’s Adventure Consultant’s team. Kasischke gives a different perspective from some of the other books out there, including why the climbers were out of time but went for the summit anyway and why he thinks so many people lost their lives that season. This book isn’t just another book about the 1996 disaster, but also a love story and how his love for his wife motivated him to stay alive.
“Climbing High: A Woman’s Account of Surviving the Everest Tragedy” by Lene Gammalgaard – Gammalgaard became the 36th woman and the first Scandinavian woman to summit Mount Everest. She was a member of the Mountain Madness team and takes a deep dive into her training process, the events of the Everest disaster on May 10-11 in 1996, and her survival of the disaster. This is the only account of that disaster that is written by a woman, that I am aware of, and I appreciated her perspective and thoughts regarding the disaster.
“The Storms: Adventure and Tragedy on Everest” by Mike Trueman – Only a portion of this book is about the 1996 tragedy. This books covers Trueman’s survival seventeen years earlier of a devastating storm off the coast of Ireland, and how that and his experience as an officer in the British army, helped him organize rescue efforts from Base Camp. He gives a candid and personal account of the 1996 disaster, as well as of the disappearance in 1999 of Mike Matthews after their summit.
“Mountain Madness: Scott Fischer, Mount Everest and a Life Lived on High” by Robert Birkby – Scott Fischer was the only member of Mountain Madness to die during the 1996 Everest disaster. All of his clients made it through safely, yet he was highly criticized after the disaster. This is his biography written by fellow mountaineer Robert Birkby, going into depth about Fischer and why he lived the life the way he did. It is a heartfelt tribute to someone who lived and breathed adventure and tragically died doing what he loved.
“Touching My Father’s Soul: A Sherpa’s Journey to the Top of Everest” by Jamling T. Norgay – I don’t think people realize how important a sherpa’s work is on Everest or how their accomplishments are often overshadowed. Jamling Norgay is the son of Tenzing Norgay, who shared the first summit of Everest with Sir Edmund Hillary. Jamling Norgay gives us the perspective of a sherpa, and how for him, climbing Everest meant something different from other climbers. His perspective is spiritual in a way, and also explores his relationship with his father and his father’s accomplishments as well as his own. This book covers the 1996 IMAX Expedition as well as the 1996 Everest tragedy, but I felt this book was so much more. Anyone who is interested in Everest should read this book.
“Everest ’96” by Ken Vernon – I wasn’t sure if I wanted to include this book. It’s not exactly about the 1996 Everest tragedy that claimed lives during May 10-11 but is equally important to read. It is about the South African expedition to Everest, and how Bruce Herrod died on May 25, 1996. Ian Woodall, the expedition leader, has been criticized heavily by the mountaineering world. There is a very ugly side of mountaineering, and this book is ugly. Woodall may have falsified information, paid people off, and sent inexperienced climbers up the mountain without any regard for their safety. At times I wanted to throw the book across the room, but I also couldn’t put it down. However, I think that all perspectives are important, so that is why I am including this book. I do not know the truth behind the South African expedition, but I do believe there are mountain guides that shouldn’t be in this field.
“Everest: Free to Decide – The Story of the First South Africans to Reach the Highest Point on Earth” by Cathy O’Dowd and Ian Woodall – It doesn’t look like this book is an easy one to find because it appears to no longer be in print, but it is a rebuttal to the “Everest ’96” book. Woodall and O’Dowd tell their story and their side of what really happened on the 1996 South African expedition. It completely contradicts Ken Vernon’s book. I happened across a copy at a second-hand store. It’s a little hard to read because it is not written well, but I encourage you to read it if you can find a copy.
Other Books to Read About Mt. Everest
This section is books that include bits about Everest but aren’t necessarily biographies of climbers or books about summiting Everest. This section also includes coffee table books. If you like learning about Evrest, then you should read or browse these books as well.
Books About Everest for Kids
Kids have dreams too, or maybe they have a school project about Everest. Whatever it may be, there are some good books about Mt. Everest for kids too. While I was writing this post, my ten-year-old has also become fascinated by Mt. Everest and Base Camp. I’m not sure what to think, but if she ever decides to go for it, I am willing to support that dream. These books are kid-approved by a very curious and tenacious kid, who I can see climbing Everest one day. She wants to be a scientist and the first woman president, so why not add Everest to the list? She wants to go to Everest Base Camp in Nepal for her 16th birthday. There are not very many kids books about Everest, and I hope to see more in the future.
If you like the adventure book list, you might also want to check out the 30 outdoor adventure books for outdoorsy people. I hope I included most of the best books about Everest in this post. If I missed a few or you have recommendations, please add a comment below with your favorite Everest book. Maybe one day I will see you at Base Camp. And always, always, be outside with no limits.