The second-floor event hall at the Tattered Cover LoDo was packed last Monday as people anxiously awaited author Jon Krakauer, who was going to speak about his new book, Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman.
As I walked in and took a spot along the wall, some people read the first chapter of the book as if cramming for a test. One young man chatted about the personal connection he felt to the book since he'd lived in Arizona when Tillman went to school there. The man was so excited, he was nearly foaming at the mouth. But Glory wasn't the only Krakauer book he felt a connection to: all his books were like that for him.
I had to laugh a little, because I knew exactly how he felt. I have those moments when I read Krakauer, too. Known for his epic tales of man versus mountain, Krakauer chose to write his latest about the war in Afghanistan -- yet the main characters are still overshadowed by the "place." That's common in Krakauer books, whether they deal with the haunting Alaskan wilderness, the unforgiving sides of Mount Everest or the dangerous terrain of the Afghanistan mountains.
When Krakauer appeared to read, there was a thunder of applause. Dimming the lights, he incorporated maps and video that he'd shot while he was embedded with the Army for five months in 2006 to 2007. While he was there, Krakauer went on missions and even drove a Hummer through tight canyons he said would remind you of Zion National Park.
Krakauer wanted to learn what it was like to be a soldier and to understand what happened to Pat Tillman, the football-star-turned-Army Ranger who was killed by friendly fire. What he says he discovered is that friendly-fire deaths are more common than the Army likes to admit or report.
Tillman's case was unusual, though, because the Army was caught lying about the circumstances of his death. Tillman's death, Krakauer says, was spun in the same way as Jessica Lynch's rescue (coincidentally, 27 U.S. soldiers were killed by friendly fire on that day). However, the Tillman story didn't stick like the successful Lynch propaganda.
But the book is about more than Tillman, Krakauer said. "I learned how hard and dangerous it is to be a soldier," he explained. "Most of us, 99 percent of us, go along our normal lives largely unaffected by war, but there is that one percent whose lives are transformed by war. This book was not just about Tillman, but about the nature of war and how he (Tillman) was swept up in the currents of history."
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To bring this point home, Krakauer also talked about the Boulder-based group Veterans Helping Veterans Now, which he approached not long after returning from Afghanistan.
Following the twenty-minute reading, Krakauer took questions for more than thirty minutes on subjects ranging from his opinion on the current course of the war to the natives of Afghanistan. One lady argued that Krakauer fell short in his duties as a writer by not interviewing regular Afghani people. Krakauer responded by saying that it would have been impossible for him to conduct objective interviews.
Afterward, as the autograph line formed, I noticed that a number of people had brought his previous books, although they were only supposed to bring Glory. It didn't matter to Krakauer. For a man, who has seen the top of the world and the depths of Hell, this evening was a cake walk, and he laughed and chatted with his fans as he happily signed every book he was handed.