Jon Krakauer was born on April 12, 1954, in Massachusetts. Two years later his family relocated to Oregon, where he developed an early passion for mountain climbing after his father took him at age eight to scale the South Sister Mountain. For the next few decades, Krakauer focused his life around this extreme sport, first as a mountain climber and then as a writer.
His father wanted him to attend Harvard and become a doctor, but Krakauer chose to attend Hampshire College in Massachusetts, graduating in 1976 with a degree in environmental science. He then wandered across the country, making a living as a carpenter and then as a salmon fisher in Alaska. Wherever the road took him, his main passion continued to be mountain climbing.
A newspaper article about the death of recent college graduate Chris McCandless in the Alaskan bush intrigued Krakauer, who wrote an article on the young man's death for Outside magazine in 1993. He later expanded the material to create the book Into the Wild, published in 1996. It garnered much critical praise and was a national best seller for over two years.
Also in 1996 Krakauer was hired by Outside magazine to write an article about the commercialization of expeditions to the summit of Mount Everest, which are designed with a profit motive in mind. Krakauer signed on to take part in an expedition to climb Mount Everest in early May 1996. After it ended in the tragic deaths of 12 climbers, Krakauer wrote an article about the disastrous event for Outside. It won the 1996 National Magazine Award for Reporting. However, Krakauer felt that a relatively short magazine article could not do justice to what had happened on the mountain during that tragic expedition. He decided to expand the article into a book, which became Into Thin Air (1997). This book raises questions not only about the commercialization of Everest expeditions, but also about the interrelationship of overconfidence, comradeship, and sacrifice.
Into Thin Air became a huge best seller. It was a finalist for both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize, and it was Time magazine's Book of the Year. Krakauer has published articles in National Geographic, Rolling Stone, the New Yorker, and the New York Times, among other periodicals. An article about volcanoes that he wrote for Smithsonian earned him the 1997 Walter Sullivan Award for Excellence in Science Journalism.
As a writer, Krakauer continues to focus on people in extreme situations, exploring mountaineering and its fanatical followers (Eiger Dreams, 1990); investigating a murder committed because of intense Mormon religious beliefs (Under the Banner of Heaven, 2003); honoring Pat Tillman, a soldier who died in Afghanistan (Where Men Win Glory, 2009); and chronicling the aftermath of a series of rapes on a western college campus (Missoula, 2015).