Hailing from the lush surroundings of Corvallis, Oregon, Jon Krakauer was born on April 12, 1954. He graduated from Hampshire College in 1976 and chose a non-traditional career path. This path led him into the harsh Alaskan wilderness, where he undertook diverse professions such as carpentry and commercial salmon fishing. However, his subsequent journey into mountaineering would etch Krakauer’s name indelibly into the annals of climbing history.
Krakauer’s literary career began to soar like the towering peaks he admired. His writing embodies the exactness of a carpenter and the relentless stamina of a fisherman. This captivated and won the admiration of worldwide readers. Today, he is lauded as a distinguished American author and mountaineer renowned for his bestselling non-fiction accounts.
Krakauer’s lauded repertoire includes “Into the Wild”, “Under the Banner of Heaven”, “Into Thin Air“, and “Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman”. Each work crafts a vibrant narrative of humans grappling with nature and their quirks. Beyond books, Krakauer’s body of work extends to an array of magazine articles bearing his byline.
Krakauer’s personal experiences, such as his involvement in the ill-fated 1996 Mount Everest expedition, heavily influence his literature. This expedition has since been recorded as one of the deadliest catastrophes in Everest’s climbing annals. Krakauer has solidified his status as climbing’s preeminent author through these ventures, recounting stories from elevations most wouldn’t dare approach. His writings encapsulate the exploration of physical terrains and the human spirit’s inner wilderness. His resonant narrative voice endures in the realms of adventure literature.
Krakauer: Peak of Passion
Emerging from Brookline, Massachusetts, Jon Krakauer was born as the third child to Carol Ann Jones and Lewis Joseph Krakauer. His heritage intriguingly combined Jewish and Scandinavian Unitarian roots. Krakauer spent his early years in the tranquil town of Corvallis, Oregon, which lit the spark of mountaineering interest him. When he was eight, Krakauer’s father opened the doors to the captivating climbing universe, which would eventually become an integral part of his identity.
Brought up under an exceptionally ambitious father, Krakauer faced high-set aspirations. His father pictured an academic future for him, with a successful medical profession as a Harvard Medical School graduate. According to his father, this pathway was the only route leading to significant accomplishment and lasting contentment.
Nevertheless, Krakauer discovered his enthusiasm in a different sphere. At Corvallis High School, he displayed a potent competitive streak, particularly excelling in tennis. Post-high school graduation in 1972, he attended Hampshire College in Massachusetts to study environmental sciences, earning his degree in 1976. The following year, Krakauer’s life became entangled with that of former climber Linda Mariam Moore, culminating in their marriage in 1980.
The couple initially made their home in Seattle, Washington, before relocating to Boulder, Colorado, following the launch of Krakauer’s book, “Into Thin Air“. A prodigious author, Krakauer has penned eight books to date, including renowned titles such as “Into Thin Air“, “Where Men Win Glory”, “Under the Banner of Heaven”, “Into the Wild”, and “Missoula”. “Into Thin Air” was even shortlisted for the prestigious 1998 Pulitzer Prize in General Non-fiction, further solidifying Krakauer’s standing as one of the most influential literary figures in climbing circles.
Krakauer: Everest and Beyond
Following the conclusion of his academic journey, Jon Krakauer found solace in the secluded Stikine Icecap region of Alaska during a three-week vacation. There, he dared to confront the Devil’s Thumb within the unforgiving yet stunning wilderness, etching out a novel path up the formidable mountain. His intense escapades during this expedition subsequently found their way into his books, “Eiger Dreams” and “Into the Wild”.
In 1992, Krakauer’s adventurous spirit led him to South America, specifically to the Cerro Torre in Patagonia’s Andes, renowned as one of the most technically demanding climbs globally due to its vertical granite face. Despite the daunting prospect, Krakauer undauntedly accepted the strenuous challenge.
In 1996, Krakauer partook in a guided ascent of the notorious Mount Everest. However, this expedition morphed into a tragedy when a severe storm trapped several climbers on the mountain’s treacherous inclines. Krakauer managed to reach the summit and descend to the base camp, but the violent storm claimed the lives of four teammates, including the team leader, Rob Hall, during their descent.
Krakauer’s detailed recounting of this doomed venture was initially featured in “Outside” magazine before being transformed into the critically hailed book “Into Thin Air”. The 1996 climbing season saw Everest claim fifteen lives, marking it as the deadliest year in the mountain’s history up to that point. This grim record was unfortunately eclipsed in 2014 and again in 2015, with avalanches taking the lives of sixteen and twenty-two individuals, respectively.
Since then, Krakauer has publicly expressed his disapproval of Mount Everest‘s commercialization. Moreover, in a gesture of appreciation and reverence for the Sherpas who assisted him and the other survivor of the 1996 catastrophe, Krakauer became a member of the American Himalayan Foundation. Now serving as the organization’s board chair, he strives to repay the immense personal obligation he feels towards these courageous and generous individuals.
Krakauer: A Journey in Journalism
Jon Krakauer’s rise to literary fame was significantly influenced by his journalistic pursuits, especially his affiliation with “Outside” magazine. He transitioned from a part-time carpenter and fisherman to a full-time writer in November 1983. This change broadened his scope to cover diverse topics beyond his initial passion for mountain climbing. His skilful storytelling has graced a variety of prestigious publications, such as “Architectural Digest”, “National Geographic Magazine”, “Rolling Stone”, and “Smithsonian”.
1992 Krakauer compiled “Eiger Dreams”, comprising articles written between 1982 and 1989. These writings amplified Krakauer’s unique voice, reaching a broader readership. In an assignment for “Outside”, he recounted the tragic 1996 Mt. Everest ascent involving two expeditions led by Rob Hall and Scott Fischer. The storm-battered descent was marred by what Krakauer saw as reckless decisions by the guides, resulting in several fatalities, including both expedition leaders.
Krakauer felt his initial brief account didn’t sufficiently convey the event’s enormity. Hence, he expanded on the incident in “Into Thin Air“, providing a more detailed perspective, including clarifications about the death of mountain guide Andy Harris. This book also included in-depth interviews with the disaster’s survivors, ensuring a comprehensive narrative.
In 1999, the American Academy of Arts and Letters recognized Krakauer’s literary contributions by awarding him the Arts and Letters Award for Literature. This honour acknowledges his exceptional investigative journalism skills and innate talent for storytelling. The award citation noted that Krakauer’s work blends the tenacity and courage of high-quality investigative journalism with a natural writer’s stylistic subtlety and insightful depth. His influence continues to resonate in multiple spheres, with his writings also appearing in esteemed outlets like “The New Yorker”, “The Washington Post”, and “The New York Times”.
Into the Wild
Published in 1996, “Into the Wild” demonstrates Jon Krakauer’s extraordinary storytelling ability and his knack for unravelling the intricacies of human psychology. The book’s consistent presence on The New York Times Best Seller List for two years exemplifies its enthralling narrative and widespread appeal.
The narrative traces the adventures of Christopher McCandless, a young man born into an affluent East Coast family. After graduating from Emory University in 1990, McCandless donated his $24,000 savings to Oxfam, a humanitarian charity. He then adopted the “Alexander Supertramp” alias and sailed across the American West. The narrative reaches a sorrowful conclusion when, in September 1992, McCandless’ remains were found on the Stampede Trail in Alaska, revealing that he had perished from starvation.
With skill, Krakauer weaves McCandless’ story with his own experiences and those of other adventurers, forming captivating parallels that enrich the narrative. The book’s influence expanded further when adapted into a critically acclaimed film in September 2007. This adaptation solidified its position in pop culture and broadened the scope of McCandless’ touching journey, reaching an even larger audience.
“Eiger Dreams: Ventures Among Men and Mountains” is a remarkable entry in Jon Krakauer’s extensive literary repertoire. Released in 1990, this anthology of non-fiction articles and essays predominantly revolves around mountaineering and rock climbing. The compilation offers readers a first-hand view of Krakauer’s bold adventures across some of the world’s most daunting peaks, providing an enlightening peek into the mountaineering society.
The subject matter spans from audacious climbs of intimidating mountains such as the Eiger Nordwand in the Swiss Alps, Denali in Alaska, and K2 in the Karakoram range, to personal sketches of esteemed rock climbers encountered by Krakauer on his voyages. Among the distinguished personalities profiled is John Gill, who is synonymous with climbing. Krakauer’s “Eiger Dreams” grants readers a distinctive vantage point on these natural behemoths and the men and women who strive to surmount them. The pages artfully blend the thrill of adventure with the thoughtful exploration of human perseverance and aspiration.
Into Thin Air
In 1997, a year after the heartrending Mount Everest catastrophe, Jon Krakauer expanded his initial article for Outside magazine into a comprehensive book titled “Into Thin Air“. This non-fiction narrative vividly depicts the doomed Everest expedition that Krakauer participated in, led by Rob Hall, culminating in the deadliest Everest disaster known at that time.
“Into Thin Air” gained popularity fast. It topped The New York Times non-fiction best-seller list. Time magazine also acknowledged it. They honoured it as the “Book of the Year”.
In 1999, Krakauer received an accolade. It was an Academy Award in Literature. The American Academy of Arts and Letters gave him this award. They praised his combination of skills. These included insightful journalism and skilled narrative. The Academy also recognized Krakauer’s work as a catalyst for broad reconsidering mountaineering and its commercial aspects.
However, “Into Thin Air” stirred controversy, particularly regarding Krakauer’s depiction of Anatoli Boukreev, a Russian-Kazakhstani guide from Scott Fischer‘s team. Krakauer critiqued Boukreev’s choice to ascend without supplemental oxygen and his decision to descend ahead of his clients. Although Boukreev’s guiding decisions ignited debate within the mountaineering community, his rescue efforts were widely viewed as heroic.
Controversy continued with the 2015 feature film “Everest”, inspired by the same ill-fated expedition. Krakauer, represented by Michael Kelly in the film, publicly condemned the film for inaccuracies and distortions. In response, director Baltasar Kormákur stated that Krakauer’s account was not a primary source for the film.
Krakauer directed the royalties from “Into Thin Air” to the Everest ’96 Memorial Fund, which he established in honour of his fallen climbing companions. Despite the controversies, the book starkly depicts high-altitude mountaineering and is a testament to Krakauer’s narrative skill and perseverance.
Under the Banner of Heaven
Jon Krakauer published another best-seller in 2003. The title of the book is “Under the Banner of Heaven”. The book provides an in-depth look at radical religious beliefs. It primarily focuses on Mormonism’s fundamentalist splinter groups. The book discusses the practice of polygamy within these sects. It traces the origin of this practice. It also explores how it has evolved within the Latter-Day Saints religion.
The Lafferty brothers feature heavily in the story. They committed a terrifying act of murdering Erica and Brenda Lafferty. They did this in the name of their faith. The heart of Krakauer’s book is the meticulous dissection of this act.
The book “Under the Banner of Heaven” caused quite a stir, inspiring the 2006 documentary “Damned to Heaven” by Tom Elliott and Pawel Gula. Nevertheless, the book faced severe backlash from the LDS community. Brigham Young University’s Professor of Religious Understanding, Robert Millet, criticized the book as misleading and offensive. Mike Otterson, the Director of Media Relations for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, dismissed Krakauer as a simple storyteller who twists facts to create an engaging narrative.
Unfazed, Krakauer criticized the LDS Church’s leadership for obscuring the more challenging aspects of Mormon history. He associated his views with those of historian D. Michael Quinn, who was excommunicated from the LDS Church in 1993.
In April 2022, Hulu breathed new life into “Under the Banner of Heaven” by releasing a limited series based on the book featuring Andrew Garfield and Daisy Edgar-Jones. Despite the controversy and debate, the book underscores Krakauer’s reputation as a bold explorer of intricate and demanding subjects.
Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman
Jon Krakauer dedicated himself to his forthcoming book in 2007. Doubleday Publishing announced the eagerly anticipated work during the season premiere of “Iconoclasts” on the Sundance Channel, targeting a fall 2008 release. However, Krakauer postponed the release due to his dissatisfaction with the manuscript.
At last, Doubleday released “Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman” on September 15, 2009. The book thoroughly investigates Pat Tillman’s life and controversial death, accentuating his journey from an NFL professional football player to a U.S. Army Ranger and his subsequent demise in Afghanistan. Krakauer scrutinizes the U.S. Army’s concealment of Tillman’s death by friendly fire, which elevated Tillman to an American symbol of sacrifice and courage.
The book portrays a comprehensive picture of Tillman’s life and death, drawing from his diaries and letters, interviews with his wife and friends, discussions with fellow soldiers, and Krakauer’s research in Afghanistan. In addition, it provides a broader historical account of Afghanistan’s civil wars.
“Where Men Win Glory” received a range of reviews. Dexter Filkins wrote for The New York Times Book Review. He disapproved of the inclusion of trivial details about Tillman’s life. However, he did praise Krakauer’s compilation of facts. These facts related to Tillman’s death and the subsequent cover-up.
On the other hand, Dan Neil had a different perspective. He reviewed for the Los Angeles Times and acclaimed the book as a “beautiful piece of reporting”. He also labelled it the “definitive version of events surrounding Tillman’s death”. This underscored Krakauer’s talent for unravelling complex stories.
Three Cups of Deceit: How Greg Mortenson, Humanitarian Hero, Lost His Way
Jon Krakauer is primarily known for his contributions to climbing literature. However, he made waves in the humanitarian sphere in 2011. He did this with his provocative e-book, “Three Cups of Deceit”. This contentious exposé was later published in paperback. Anchor Books was responsible for this publication. The book made severe allegations against Greg Mortenson. Mortenson is a philanthropist.
He is dedicated to building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. He carries out this work through his non-profit organization. The organization is called the Central Asia Institute (CAI). The accusations against him included accounting fraud and mismanagement.
A “60 Minutes” interview corroborating these accusations and aired just a day before the book’s release instigated a class-action lawsuit. A group of CAI donors brought this legal action. They alleged that Mortenson deceived them with false claims in his published works. However, despite the ensuing furore, the court ultimately dismissed the case.
To counter these charges, CAI unveiled a detailed list of finished and ongoing projects in December 2011, illustrating their undeterred commitment to their mission.
Further complicating matters, the Montana attorney general investigated Mortenson and CAI, concluding that financial “missteps” had transpired. This led to a settlement requiring Mortenson to repay the CAI more than $1 million.
The plot thickened in 2016 with the launch of a documentary named “3000 Cups of Tea” by filmmakers Jennifer Jordan and Jeff Rhoads. Compared to Krakauer’s allegations and the “60 Minutes” report, the documentary suggested that most charges at Mortenson were misrepresentation or outright fabrication. Jordan, the documentary’s director, recognized Mortenson’s confession of being a subpar manager and accountant. However, she reaffirmed his unwavering commitment to his humanitarian mission. As the controversy subsided, the sequence of events left an unerasable imprint on Mortenson’s legacy and ignited a broader discourse on transparency within philanthropic entities.
Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town
Jon Krakauer wrote a book in 2015. The title is “Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town”. The book examines how colleges and law enforcement handle rape cases. It specifically focuses on the University of Montana.
Krakauer criticizes the system. He suggests there is a bias toward the aggressors. This is further underscored by victims’ reluctance to disclose. His critique was motivated by a personal account. A young woman had shared her own experience with rape.
However, the book’s reception was mixed. New York Times Book Review’s Emily Bazelon critiqued it for inadequate character depth and not fully understanding colleges’ challenges in addressing sexual assault. She believed the book didn’t correctly discuss universities’ recent duty to investigate such incidents, bypassing the legal system independently. Critics argued Krakauer’s oversimplified viewpoint lacked depth, but his work still adds value to the dialogue on college sexual assault and justice.