Friday, August 29, 2008

About Jon Krakauer

Jon Krakauer

Here's some information from our library database, Gale's Literature Resource Center, about Jon Krakauer, author of Into the Wild.

Krakauer was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, and raised from age two in Corvallis, Oregon, within reach of mountains that drew him into a lifelong love of climbing. His father, an active alpinist himself, introduced Krakauer to the sport at age eight. Krakauer graduated from Hampshire College in Massachusetts in 1976, then spent the next few years working solely to fund his passion for mountaineering, taking carpentry and commercial fishing jobs for five months and spending the rest of the year climbing. His writing career began with a magazine article about a climb he completed in 1977, alone, during which he charted a new route to the peak of Devil's Thumb in Alaska. When he began receiving regular magazine assignments, he decided to take on journalism as full-time work. Krakauer married Linda Moore in 1980 and attempted to curtail his highly dangerous avocation for her sake, but found himself unable to resist; he told an Outside Online interviewer that the conflict almost ruined their marriage, but eventually Linda accepted climbing as an integral part of her husband's career. He published a collection of his articles, Eiger Dreams, in 1990, and his next two books, Into the Wild (1996) and Into Thin Air (1998) were highly successful. Into the Wild spent over two years on the New York Times bestseller list. Into Thin Air, also a bestseller, was named Time magazine's best book of the year and propelled Krakauer onto the list of finalists for the 1998 Pulitzer Prize in general nonfiction. Krakauer received an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1999 for Into the Wild and Into Thin Air. In response to the events he recounted in Into Thin Air, Krakauer established the Everest '96 Memorial Fund, which provides humanitarian aid to the peoples of the Himalaya region through royalties from the book as a tribute to those who perished during the expedition.

Krakauer's books have begun as articles on subjects that he wanted to investigate in greater depth than a short essay would allow. Into the Wild recounts the true story of Chris McCandless, a young man restless with conventional life who traveled to the Alaskan wilderness intending to live off the land; woefully unprepared, he died of starvation. Four months after he began his adventure, hunters found McCandless's body and a desperate plea for rescue scrawled on a torn book page. McCandless was roundly criticized as foolhardy, but Krakauer looked past his fatal choice and crafted a compelling story, providing a fuller account of McCandless's background, emotional state, and his objectives. Into the Wild was adapted for film, with a screenplay and direction by Sean Penn, and released in 2007.

With Into Thin Air, Krakauer unintentionally became part of the story, which began as an assignment from Outside magazine to write about the increasing commercialization of climbing expeditions on Mount Everest. Krakauer revived a childhood dream to scale the famous mountain and signed on to participate in a climb while chronicling the experience along the way. His group reached the summit, but several people, including a veteran guide, perished during the descent when a storm blew in. His account of the tragedy was published first as an article in Outside and sparked a backlash from other climbers. Krakauer changed topics with Under the Banner of Heaven (2003), which explores the closed world of fundamentalist Mormons, a group with whom he had some contact as a child in Oregon. Krakauer did not shrink from controversial subject matter in this book either, delving into the highly charged topic of violence in the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS), also known as the Mormon faith, and the development of fundamentalist splinter groups that have created legal and moral problems for the modern LDS movement. One such splinter group is profiled in Under the Banner of Heaven, which examines the true story of Ron and Dan Lafferty, brothers who in 1984 murdered their sister-in-law and her infant daughter in the name of God.

Krakauer has been praised for his ability to make nonfiction stories highly engaging--an ability critics find all the more impressive given that he has no formal education in journalism or literature. Critics received Into the Wild with kudos bordering at times on amazement at the skillful freshman entry into the literary world. Suzan Nightingale echoed the sentiments of many reviewers who reported that Krakauer's portrait gave them a curiosity about McCandless--and what he was seeking and may have failed to find. Krakauer's mountain-climbing tales benefit from his personal experience with the subject, which he says is not a sport but a way of life. Into Thin Air received strong criticism from many in the alpinist community who argued that Krakauer had profited from the tragedy. Krakauer responded by noting that he had joined the expedition as a journalist on assignment and, as such, it was his job to tell the story. Literary critics lauded Into Thin Air as skillfully told, but some also recounted arguments from other witnesses to the events who disputed Krakauer's account. In particular, Anatoli Boukreev, a well-known alpinist described by some as a champion of Himalayan climbing, took issue with Krakauer's characterization of him and wrote his own account, The Climb, which cast the descent in a different light. Critics praised Krakauer for not shying away from difficult issues in Under the Banner of Heaven, a book that to some is considered blasphemous. Krakauer's presentation of the history of the Mormon faith was described as insightful and thought-provoking, and some critics found parallels between the author's examination of religious fundamentalism in America and that of the Middle East. Robert Wright concluded that, in this way, the book "may have broader relevance than the author intended."

Eiger Dreams: Ventures among Men and Mountains (essays) 1990
Into the Wild (nonfiction) 1996
Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster (nonfiction) 1998
Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith (nonfiction) 2003

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