Jon Krakauer (born April 12, 1954) is an American writer and mountaineer, primarily known for his writing about the outdoor and mountain-climbing, though he has tackled other subjects as well. He is the author of best-selling non-fiction books — Into the Wild, Into Thin Air, Under the Banner of Heaven, and The Odyssey of Pat Tillman — as well as numerous magazine articles.
Krakauer was born in Brookline, Massachusetts as the third of five children and was raised in Corvallis, Oregon from the age of two. His father introduced the young Krakauer to mountaineering at the age of eight. He competed in tennis at Corvallis High School and graduated in 1972. He went on to study at Hampshire College in Massachusetts, where in 1976 he received his degree in Environmental Studies. In 1977, he fell in love with former climber Linda Mariam Moore and they married in 1980. They lived in Seattle, Washington but moved to Boulder, Colorado after the release of Into Thin Air.
One year after graduating from college (1977), he spent three weeks by himself in the wilderness of the Stikine Icecap region of Alaska and climbed a new route on the Devils Thumb, an experience he described in Eiger Dreams and in Into the Wild. In 1992, he made his way to Cerro Torre in the Andes of Argentine Patagonia -- a sheer, jagged granite peak more typical of those found in the Himalayas or Pacific Rim and considered to be one of the most difficult technical climbs in the world.
Krakauer's most recognized climb was a guided ascent of Mount Everest that became known as the 1996 Everest Disaster. Soon after summitting the peak, Krakauer's team met with disaster as four of six teammates (including group leader Rob Hall) perished while making their descent in the middle of a storm.
A candid recollection of the event was published in Outside and eventually Into Thin Air. By the end of the climbing season, fifteen people died trying to reach the summit, making it the deadliest single year in Everest history. Krakauer publicly criticized the commercialization of Mt. Everest following this tragedy.
Much of Krakauer's popularity as a writer came from being a journalist for Outside magazine. In November 1983, he was able to abandon part-time work as a fisherman and a carpenter to become a full-time writer. His freelance writing involved great variety, in addition to his many works involving mountain climbing. His writing has also appeared in Smithsonian, National Geographic Magazine, Rolling Stone, and Architectural Digest.
On assignment from Outside, Krakauer wrote an article focusing on two parties during his ascent of Mt Everest: the one he was in, led by Rob Hall, and the one led by Scott Fischer, both of which successfully guided clients to the summit but experienced severe difficulty during the descent. The storm, and, in his estimation, irresponsible choices by guides of both parties, led to a number of deaths, including both head guides. Krakauer did not feel his article accurately covered the entire event in only one short account and clarified his initial statements, especially regarding the death of Andy Harris, in his later book after extensive interviews with survivors.
Into the Wild was published in 1996 and shortly thereafter spent two years on the New York Times bestseller list. The book tells the true story of Christopher McCandless, a young man from a well-to-do East Coast family who, after graduating from college, donated all of the money ($24,000) in his bank account to charity, renamed himself "Alexander Supertramp," and began a journey in the American West. In the book, Krakauer draws parallels between his own experiences and motivations and those of McCandless. Into The Wild was adapted into a film, which was released on September 21, 2007.
Into Thin Air
In 1997, he expanded his September 1996 Outside article into his best known work, Into Thin Air, describing those parties' experiences and the general state of Everest mountaineering at the time. It reached first place on the New York Times non-fiction bestseller list, was honored as "Book of the Year" by Time magazine, and was among the final three books considered for the General Non-Fiction Pulitzer Prize in 1998. The American Academy of Arts and Letters gave Krakauer an Academy Award in Literature in 1999 for his work and commented that, "Krakauer combines the tenacity and courage of the finest tradition of investigative journalism with the stylish subtlety and profound insight of the born writer. His account of an ascent of Mount Everest has led to a general reevaluation of climbing and of the commercialization of what was once a romantic, solitary sport." In the TV-movie version of the book, Krakauer was played by Christopher McDonald. Krakauer has contributed royalties from Into Thin Air to the Everest '96 Memorial Fund at the Boulder Community Foundation, which he founded as a tribute to his deceased climbing partners.
Criticism of Into Thin Air
In his own book The Climb, Scott Fischer's top guide on the ill-fated 1996 Everest expedition, the late Anatoli Boukreev, quotes another climber as having witnessed an exhausted, oxygen-starved Krakauer collapse and nearly tumble off the mountain to his death in an unroped section between the Hillary Step and the South Summit. Krakauer's exhaustive account contains no mention of such an incident. In addition, Boukreev claims that Krakauer made a number of key observational mistakes up high. As Krakauer details in his book, he mistook climber Martin Adams for Andy Harris and subsequently communicated to Base Camp that Harris -- who died on the mountain -- had safely returned to high camp. (Harris also exhibited the debilitating effects on the mind of extreme high altitude and incorrectly believed his group's stashed oxygen tanks on the South Summit were empty).
Under the Banner of Heaven
In 2003, Under the Banner of Heaven became Krakauer's third non-fiction bestseller. The book examines extremes of religious belief, particularly fundamentalist offshoots of Mormonism. Specifically, Krakauer looks at the practice of polygamy among the fundamentalist Mormon religion and scrutinizes it under the context of Mormon religion throughout history past and present. Much of the focus of the book is on the Lafferty brothers, who murdered in the name of their fundamentalist faith.
In 2006, Tom Elliott and Pawel Gula produced the documentary, Damned to Heaven, inspired by the book, Under the Banner of Heaven.
Official Mormon response to Under the Banner of Heaven
Mike Otterson, director of Media Relations for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, declared to the Associated Press that "This book is not history, and Krakauer is no historian. He is a storyteller who cuts corners to make the story sound good. His basic thesis appears to be that people who are religious are irrational, and that irrational people do strange things." Robert Millet, Professor of Religious Understanding at Brigham Young University, an LDS institution, reviewed the book and described it as confusing, poorly organized, "misleading", erroneous, prejudicial and insulting.
In response, Krakauer criticized the LDS Church hierarchy, citing the opinion of D. Michael Quinn, a historian who was excommunicated in 1993, who wrote that "The tragic reality is that there have been occasions when Church leaders, teachers, and writers have not told the truth they knew about difficulties of the Mormon past, but have offered to the Saints instead a mixture of platitudes, half-truths, omissions, and plausible denials." Krakauer wrote, "I happen to share Dr. Quinn's perspective."
Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman
In the October 25, 2007 season premiere of Iconoclasts on the Sundance Channel, Krakauer mentioned being deeply embroiled in the writing of a new book, but did not reveal the title, subject, or expected date of completion. Doubleday Publishing originally planned to release the book in the fall of 2008, but postponed the launch in June of that year, announcing that Krakauer was "unhappy with the manuscript".
The book, The Odyssey of Pat Tillman, was released by Doubleday on September 15, 2009. It draws on the journals and letters of Pat Tillman, an NFL All-Pro professional football player and US Army Ranger whose death in Afghanistan made him a symbol of American sacrifice and heroism, though it also became a subject of controversy about the handling of the announcement of his death by the United States Army. The book draws on the journals and letters of Tillman, interviews with his wife and friends, conversations with the soldiers who served alongside him, and research Krakauer performed in Afghanistan. It also serves in part as a historical narrative, providing a general history of the civil wars in Afghanistan.
A New York Times book review commented that the book provided a good compilation of the facts and "nauseating" details regarding a cover-up of Tillman's death. An example quoted was "After Tillman’s death, Army commanders, aided and abetted by members of the Bush administration, violated many of their own rules, not to mention elementary standards of decency, to turn the killing into a propaganda coup for the American side."
, Krakauer edits the Exploration series of the Modern Library.