Jon Krakauer Biography

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. 

Background on Into Thin Air

The book Into Thin Air originally began as a magazine article. Outside magazine sent author Jon Krakauer, an experienced mountain climber, to write an article about the commercialism surrounding Mount Everest. Krakauer got the magazine to agree to pay for him to join a group attempting to summit the mountain in May of 1996—something he had always dreamed of doing—rather than only climbing to base camp and reporting from there, as was the original arrangement. At the same time that the group including Krakauer was attempting the summit, another group that was led by a competing company was doing the same thing. Eight climbers, including the lead guide of Krakauer’s group, Rob Hall, died when a storm occurred while they were attempting the summit. Into Thin Air describes the events surrounding this catastrophe.

Krakauer may have hoped to exorcise some of his own demons and lay to rest some of the painful questions that still surround the event by writing Into Thin Air. He takes great pains to provide a balanced picture of the people and events he witnessed and gives due credit to the tireless and dedicated Sherpas. Krakauer's highly personal inquiry into the catastrophe provides a great deal of insight into what went wrong. But for Krakauer himself, further interviews and investigations only lead him to the conclusion that his perceived failures were directly responsible for a fellow climber's death. Clearly, Krakauer remains haunted by the disaster, and although he relates several incidents in which he acted selflessly and even heroically, he seems unable to view those instances objectively. In the end, despite his evenhanded and even generous assessment of others’ actions, he reserves a full measure of scorn for himself.

The bestselling account of the disaster that Krakauer produced for Into Thin Air received some criticisms from other climbers—including Everest guide Anatoli Boukreev, who took part in the attempted summit. The updated paperback edition of Into Thin Air includes an extensive new postscript that sheds light on the acrimonious debate that occurred between Krakauer and Boukreev in the wake of the tragedy.  As usual, Krakauer supports his points with dogged research and a good dose of humility. Rather than continue the heated discourse that raged since Krakauer’s denouncement of Boukreev in Into Thin Air, his tone is conciliatory. Instead, Krakauer points most of his criticism at G. Weston De Walt, who coauthored The Climb, Boukreev's published version of the fateful events. In a touching conclusion, Krakauer recounts his last conversation with the late Boukreev, in which the two weathered climbers agreed to disagree about certain points. Krakauer had great hopes to patch things up with Boukreev, but the Russian later died in an avalanche on another Himalayan peak, Annapurna I.