British author Read’s subjects members of a Uruguayan rugby team whose Fairchild F-227 crashed in the Andes in October 1972 had no intention of conducting a ten-week, cannibalistic survival course above timberline. Especially grisly aside from, yes, the consumption of “raw meat” is the avalanche that buried the survivors on their 17th day stranded: Read gives a paragraph or more to each man, and you may have to remind yourself to inhale: “Pedro Algorta, still buried beneath the snow, had only what air he held in his lungs. He felt himself near to death, yet the knowledge that after his death his body would help the others to survive instilled in him a kind of ecstasy. It was as if he were already at the portals of heaven.”
Junger’s Massachusetts fishermen were out trying to make a living when a “once in a century” nor’easter hit in October 1991, and their hard luck deepens this account of their loss. Perilous work is Junger’s grand theme, and his abiding respect for it enables him to go beyond the events at hand, whether deciphering complicated meteorology or reporting the angry sorrow of wives and brothers seeking justice that isn’t coming. In the paperback, eager to get it right, Junger cleared up controversies surrounding his facts, but he’d already taken what could have been a maudlin story and banged it into a thriller.
Dan is an explorer for The Outbound and founder of The Proper Function, an outdoor editorial. He is passionate about exploration and can’t stay put for more than a week.