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One of the best-selling and most lauded American nonfiction authors, Jon Krakauer was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, in 1954, and raised in Corvallis, Oregon, where he took up mountaineering at a very early age. He first became well known as a writer for the outdoors magazine Outside. In 1990, Krakauer's work as a journalist for Outside and other publications was collected and published in a book called Eiger Dreams. In 1996, he published Into the Wild, which spent two years on the New York Times bestseller list and remains one of the central works of recent American nonfiction. It also accrued to its author several awards and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.
Krakauer’s other works include the nonfiction bestsellers Into Thin Air, his first-hand 1997 account of the deadliest Everest ascent of all time; Under the Banner of Heaven, an investigation of the nature of Mormonism and polygamy; Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman (2009), about the NFL quarterback who died while serving as a U.S. Army Ranger in Afghanistan in 2004; and Missoula, which examines how rape cases are treated by colleges and the criminal justice system. In 2007, Into the Wild was adapted into a nonfiction feature film directed by Sean Penn. Into Thin Air was the subject of a television movie called Into Thin Air: Death on Everest the same year the book was published. Under the Banner of Heaven was the basis for 2022 seven-part miniseries that is available on Hulu.
The city of Missoula, the home of the University of Montana, is a community on the edge of the Montana wilderness, but Missoula, Jon Krakauer’s eighth book of nonfiction, shifts its focus onto crime, namely rape, and its repercussions in that small college town.
In final pages of Missoula, Krakauer describes how a close family friend was raped by an acquaintance when she was in her mid-teens. Krakauer was unaware that his friend was a rape victim until she entered a facility for the treatment of trauma and addiction. His embarrassment that he had been so uninformed about the true face of rape and his ignorance of his friend’s condition, he says, were his initial motivations for writing the book Missoula.
In 2010, a private investigation by the University of Montana found that rapes were going unreported at the University. Following this report and several high-profile alleged rapes involving members of the University of Montana football team, the U.S. Department of Justice launched its own federal investigation into sexual assault in Missoula. The U.S. Attorney General at the time, Eric Holder, called the allegations that the University of Montana, the Missoula Police Department, and the County Attorney’s Office were failing to address rape “very disturbing.” After the University of Montana’s quarterback was accused of rape, Missoula was described by some as the “Rape Capital” of America.
Krakauer’s investigation followed in the wake of this intense scrutiny of rape in Missoula. It aimed to show that, in terms of its rape culture, Missoula is unexceptional. This disturbing reality, for Krakauer, means that Americans must work harder to be informed about rape and work to change a culture that unwittingly protects it.
The subject matter of Missoula is appropriate for its time. Rape had become of growing concern on university campuses nationwide. In 2015, the U.S. Department of Justice under Eric Holder and President Barack Obama investigated over 90 higher education institutions for mishandling or failing to report the rapes of their female students. Federal authorities described this failure by universities as a violation of Title IX, a piece of legislation that prohibits gender discrimination and requires equal opportunity for women on college campuses. Not just large state schools, but private colleges including Ivy League universities were under federal investigation, showing that the problem to be widespread and systemic.
To change rape culture on U.S. college campuses, administrators and educators began proposing new models of consent. “No means no” had been the standard in the past but was appearing to be insufficient and outmoded. As a result, sexually active partners were encouraged to seek “enthusiastic consent” and always look for active confirmation that their partner is a willing and enthused participant in any sexual activity.