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Jon Krakauer | Biography

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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 would focus his life around this extreme sport, first as a mountain climber, then as a writer.

His father wanted him to attend Harvard and become a doctor, but Krakauer chose to attend Hampshire College, graduating in 1976 with a degree in environmental science. He then wandered across the country, making a living as a carpenter, then as a salmon fisher in Alaska. Wherever the road took him, his main passion continued to be mountain climbing.

A newspaper article on Chris McCandless's death 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 bestseller for over two years. The book continues to generate controversy about how McCandless lived and died. For example, disagreements continue about McCandless's exact cause of death: scholars speculate about causes such as starvation, the poison seeds or roots of a wild potato plant, or the neurotoxin found in the grass pea plant that produces a deadly condition known as lathyrism. Krakauer comes to support the grass pea theory in a 2015 article in The New Yorker. Readers also continue to probe how biased Krakauer may have been in his portrayal of the young man.

The same year Into the Wild was published, Krakauer joined an expedition to climb Mount Everest. After it ended in the tragic deaths of four of his climbing companions, Krakauer wrote an article about the disastrous event for Outside. It won the 1996 National Magazine Award for Reporting and became the basis for Krakauer's book Into Thin Air (1997). Like Into the Wild, it raised questions about the interrelationship of ambition, adventure, and mortality and 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.

As a writer, Krakauer continues to focus on people in extreme situations, exploring mountaineering and its fanatical followers (Eiger Dreams, 1992); honoring Pat Tillman, a soldier who died in Afghanistan (Where Men Win Glory, 2009); investigating a murder committed because of intense Mormon religious beliefs (Under the Banner of Heaven, 2003); and chronicling the aftermath of a series of rapes on a Western college campus (Missoula, 2015).

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