Born in 1954, Jon Krakauer grew up in Corvallis, Oregon, where his father introduced him to mountaineering as an eight-year-old. After graduating from Hampshire College in 1976, Krakauer divided his time between Colorado, Alaska, and the Pacific Northwest, supporting himself primarily as a carpenter and commercial salmon fisherman. For the next two decades, however, his life revolved around climbing mountains.
In 1996 Krakauer climbed Mt. Everest, but a storm took the lives of four of the five teammates who reached the summit with him. An analysis of the calamity he wrote for Outside magazine received a National Magazine Award. The unsparingly forthright book he subsequently wrote about Everest, Into Thin Air, became a #1 New York Times bestseller and was translated into more than twenty-five languages. It was also Time magazine's Book of the Year, and was one of three finalists for the Pulitzer Prize.
In 1998, as a tribute to his companions lost on Everest, Krakauer established the Everest '96 Memorial Fund at the Boulder Community Foundation with earnings from Into Thin Air. As of 2012, the fund had donated more than $1.7 million to such charities as the American Himalayan Foundation, Educate the Children, Veterans Helping Veterans Now, the Access Fund, and the Boulder Valley Women's Health Center.
Krakauer's writing has been published by Outside, GQ, National Geographic, Rolling Stone, Architectural Digest, Playboy, The New Yorker, The New York Times, and Byliner.com. An article he wrote for Smithsonian about volcanology received the 1997 Walter Sullivan Award for Excellence in Science Journalism. His 1996 book, Into the Wild, remained on the New York Times bestseller list for more than two years.
In 1999 Krakauer received an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, intended "to honor writers of exceptional accomplishment." According to the Academy's citation, "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; while his account of the life and death of Christopher McCandless, who died of starvation after challenging the Alaskan wilderness, delves even more deeply and disturbingly into the fascination of nature and the devastating effects of its lure on a young and curious mind."
In 2003, Krakauer published Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith, about religious fundamentalism in the American West. While researching Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman, published in 2009, Krakauer spent five months embedded with combat forces along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. In 2011, he published Three Cups of Deceit: How Greg Mortenson, Humanitarian Hero, Lost His Way. All of his proceeds from this latter work have been donated to the Stop Girl Trafficking program at the American Himalayan Foundation.