In 1996 Krakauer reached the top of Mt. Everest, but a storm took the lives of four of the five teammates who climbed to the summit with him. An analysis of the calamity that he wrote for Outside magazine received a National Magazine Award. The unsparingly frank book he subsequently wrote about Everest, Into Thin Air, became a #1 New York Times bestseller and has been translated into more than 25 languages. It was also honored as the "Book of the Year" by Time magazine and was one of three finalists for the 1998 Pulitzer Prize.
For the past 27 years, Krakauer's writing has been published in the likes of Outside, GQ, Smithsonian, National Geographic, Architectural Digest, Playboy, and Rolling Stone. An article he wrote for Smithsonian about vulcanology received the 1997 Walter Sullivan Award for Excellence in Science Journalism. His 1996 book, Into the Wild about an idealistic young man named Chris McCandless who perished in the Alaskan bush, spent more than two years on the New York Times bestseller list.
In 1998, as a tribute to his companions lost on Everest, Krakauer established the Everest '96 Memorial Fund at the Boulder Community Foundation, endowing it with royalties from Into Thin Air. As of 2007, the fund has disbursed more than $1,000,000 in humanitarian aid, primarily to the indigenous peoples of the Himalayan region.
In 1999 Krakauer received an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a prestigious award 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."
Krakauer's most recent book is Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith, published by Doubleday in 2003. Currently he is working on a new book-length work of non-fiction, for which he spent 4 months of the past year in remote corners of eastern Afghanistan conducting research. This book, as yet untitled, will be published by Doubleday in 2009.