In April 1992 a young man from a well-to-do family hitchhiked to Alaska and walked alone into the wilderness north of Mt. McKinley. His name was Christopher Johnson McCandless. He had given ,000 in savings to charity, abandoned his car and most of his possessions, burned all the cash in his wallet, and invented a new life for himself. Four months later, his decomposed body was found by a moose hunter. How McCandless came to die is the unforgettable story of Into the Wild.
Immediately after graduating from college in 1991, McCandless had roamed through the West and Southwest on a vision quest like those made by his heroes Jack London and John Muir. In the Mojave Desert he abandoned his car, stripped it of its license plates, and burned all of his cash. He would give himself a new name, Alexander Supertramp, and , unencumbered by money and belongings, he would be free to wallow in the raw, unfiltered experiences that nature presented. Craving a blank spot on the map, McCandless simply threw the maps away. Leaving behind his desperate parents and sister, he vanished into the wild.
Jon Krakauer constructs a clarifying prism through which he reassembles the disquieting facts of McCandless’s short life. Admitting an interst that borders on obsession, he searches for the clues to the dries and desires that propelled McCandless. Digging deeply, he takes an inherently compelling mystery and unravels the larger riddles it holds: the profound pull of the American wilderness on our imagination; the allure of high-risk activities to young men of a certain cast of mind; the complex, charged bond between fathers and sons.
When McCandless’s innocent mistakes turn out to be irreversible and fatal, he becomes the stuff of tabloid headlines and is dismissed for his naiveté, pretensions, and hubris. He is said to have had a death wish but wanting to die is a very different thing from being compelled to look over the edge. Krakauer brings McCandless’s uncompromising pilgrimage out of the shadows, and the peril, adversity , and renunciation sought by this enigmatic young man are illuminated with a rare understanding–and not an ounce of sentimentality. Mesmerizing, heartbreaking, Into the Wild is a tour de force. The power and luminosity of Jon Krakauer’s stoytelling blaze through every page.”God, he was a smart kid…” So why did Christopher McCandless trade a bright future–a college education, material comfort, uncommon ability and charm–for death by starvation in an abandoned bus in the woods of Alaska? This is the question that Jon Krakauer’s book tries to answer. While it doesn’t—cannot—answer the question with certainty, Into the Wild does shed considerable light along the way. Not only about McCandless’s “Alaskan odyssey,” but also the forces that drive people to drop out of society and test themselves in other ways. Krakauer quotes Wallace Stegner’s writing on a young man who similarly disappeared in the Utah desert in the 1930s: “At 18, in a dream, he saw himself … wandering through the romantic waste places of the world. No man with any of the juices of boyhood in him has forgotten those dreams.” Into the Wild shows that McCandless, while extreme, was hardly unique; the author makes the hermit into one of us, something McCandless himself could never pull off. By book’s end, McCandless isn’t merely a newspaper clipping, but a sympathetic, oddly magnetic personality. Whether he was “a courageous idealist, or a reckless idiot,” you won’t soon forget Christopher McCandless.
555 of 579 people found the following review helpful
Brilliant and Unforgettable,
This review is from: Into the Wild (Paperback)
There is little suspense (in the traditional sense of the word) in Krakauer’s Into the Wild, as anyone who reads the synopsis or picks up the book instantly learns that it is the story of a young man, Chris McCandless, who ventures into the Alaskan Wilderness and who never gets out. Chris’ body is found in an abandoned bus used by moose hunters as a makeshift lodge, and Krakauer skillfully attempts to retrace his steps in an effort both to understand what went wrong, and to figure out what made McCandless give away his money, his car, and head off into Denali National Forest in the first place.
His book was one of the most haunting, unforgettable reads in recent years for me. I was mezmerized by passages in the author’s other best-selling masterpiece Into Thin Air, such as the passage involving stranded and doomed guide Rob Hall, near the Everest summit, talking to his pregnant wife via satellite phone to discuss names for their unborn child. However, I was unprepared for the depths of emotion felt in reading Into the Wild – it literally kept me up at nights, not just reading but thinking about the book in the dark.
Some reviewers criticized the book because they thought McCandless demonstrated a naive and unhealthy lack of respect for the Alaskan wilderness. This is no hike on the Appalachian Trail – Chris was literally dropped off by a trucker into the middle of nowhere, with no provision stores, guides, or means of assistance nearby at his disposal. He had a big bag of rice and a book about native plants, designed to tell him which plants and berries he could eat. "How could he have been so stupid?", they ask.
Well, I certainly didn’t feel compelled to give away my belongings, pack some rice and a Tolstoy novel and walk into the woods after reading the book, but the author does a remarkable job of exploring McCandless the person, including passages derived from interviews with the many poeple whose lives he touched in his odyssey as he drove and then hitch-hiked cross country from his well-to-do suburban home. Some of the more touching parts of the book involved tearful reminisces by some of these old aquaintances when they learned he had perished.
Krakauer also throws in for good measure an illuminating passage about a similar death-defying climb that he foolishly attempted at about the same age as McCandless, with little training and preparation, providing insight into what makes a person attempt a dangerous climb or hike. He even tells several fascinating tales, all of them true, of other recreational hikers who were stranded in the wilderness.
By the end of the book, I thought I understood McCandless’ character, and I thought Krakauer was probably right in putting his finger on exactly what caused his death. I was moved by his plight regardless of his possible foolishness in venturing into Denali, and the final scenes involving Chris’ family were emotionally devastating. You need not be an outdoorsman to appreciate it, and in fact unlike Into Thin Air the book is completely accessible to those who know nothing about the subject. I think this book is destined to become a classic.
97 of 101 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
This review is from: Into the Wild (Paperback)
After having had this book for some time, I finally set out to make it part of my summer 2000 reading schedule. I am drawn to books of the northern wilderness, which was the initial attraction to this one. I’ll state up front that I have not read anything else by Krakauer, so I cannot draw any comparisons as other reviewers have done.
Krakauer tells the tale effectively. He uses an intelligent vocabulary balanced with a conversational writing style. He easily held my attention as the facts unfolded throughout, employing logic and drawing inferences to fill in many questions that remain. He obviously did his research on the central character, Christopher McCandless, and must have invested countless quantities of money and time to gather accurate information. With so many of the facts of this distressing story remaining obscured probably forever, his assumptions and extrapolations about Chris’ actual fate are posed as theories rather than as irreproachable conclusions. I appreciate this aspect of Krakauer’s account.
Hats off also to the McCandless family, since Krakauer relied upon them not only for information about their son, tragically lost, but also for their courage in allowing many private family issues to be exposed in support of telling the story as thoroughly as possible. Chris’ father, mother, and sister are true heroes in my eyes.
I have some degree of understanding of Chris and his northerly wanderlust, and also an appreciation for the not-so-uncommon desire to conquer the wilderness. What concerns me, however, is the apparent arrogance of the central character. According to the author’s account, Chris seemed to possess an intermittent wariness about his closest acquaintances, along with outright rejection of others who cared for him much more than he cared for them. He treated some important people who crossed his path as disposable. But probably Chris’s most crucial deficiency was the flippant and over-confident approach towards the actual work of survival in the wilderness. He even seemed a bit contemptuous toward relevant learning despite his quality education and intelligence. He especially needed important knowlege about survival in the wilds of the north. However, he apparently rebuffed all attempts from others to assist him in his quest. I have spent considerable time in the extreme north of B.C. (an area not entirely dissimilar to Alaska): it is ridiculous, misguided, and presumptuous to embark on such an adventure with the dearth of equipment, supplies, and knowledge as did Chris. I would want to know everything possible about how to survive such a life and death endeavor. Indeed, I feel a strange combination of sadness and anger as I reflect on Chris’s unfortunate departure. Was his death ultimately caused by youthful innocence or arrogant ignorance? It is a question I cannot answer and I commend Krakauer for his deft ability to stimulate thought in the reader rather than provide tidy little assumptive answers.
My only complaint: the personal reflective chapter towards the end of the book. I understand why Krakauer included it (personal connections with the need for adventure, context, struggles with nature, etc.), but for me it was irrelevant and it de-railed the flow of the story.
Perhaps we can learn from Christopher McCandless’ experience, not in any attempt to qualify him as a martyr or to label him a fool. I have thought about how my appreciation for the north has changed, how families need to be close, the requirement to really listen to and understand people, and countless other themes which have been tweaked by Jon Krakauer’s writing about Chris’ misadventure. I recommend this book highly.
119 of 128 people found the following review helpful
Read it in one night. It’s a well-written book.,
This review is from: Into the Wild (Paperback)
Several words come to mind when thinking of Chris McCandless, as reviewers on Amazon and others in Krakauer’s book note: rash, impulsive, idealistic, individualistic, selfish, histrionic, foolhardy. Indeed, the book had the trappings of apologia for the young man’s destructive nature. Contrary to many reviewers, though, I believe Krakauer gave a fair assessment of Chris.
Krakauer attempts to salvage the good name of Chris, primarily because he saw much of his subject’s characteristics in himself as a young man. The renunciation of a comfortable, secure environment for the aesthetic, ascetic, and the existential does not make sense to some. However, Krakauer admits that these are the same attitudes on which countries capitalize to recruit men into battle. In one of his more eloquent writings, Chris declares that nothing is more destructive to a man’s adventurous spirit than a secure future. Some who have always had security–a life without hardship–begin to look at it with contempt; it becomes something shameful. Giving 25,000 dollars to OXFAM and feeding homeless on K Street was just as charitable as it was self-serving. As is most philanthropy. I admit character portrayal does border on romanticization, but ultimately Krakauer is more sober. Understanding McCandless’s flaws, Krakauer still manages to upon McCandless with empathy
But, all this is beside the point. It would be unfair to attack or support a book solely on a personal judgment about the characters. Let Chris be scorned, but I think Jon Krakauer told a good story, and attempted to fully understand the motivation, emotion, and conflict among his characters. Krakauer’s deviation from the plot to stories of other brash (even psychotic) adventurers and the author’s own experiences does not take away from the text. Even Melville interrupted what would be an excellent adventure story of conquest with encyclopedic entries. Into the Wild is no Moby Dick, but Krakauer’s literary decisions serve the same purpose; to reconcile the speaker’s internal conflict, and to personally comprehend the enigma of human nature. Krakauer tries to show us that the Chris’s characteristic thirst for experience–even a bit of danger–are not idiosyncratic. Rather, they are common to all mankind; latent in many (society inherently discourages wandering into the threatening unknown while encouraging the sanctuary of its uniformity).
The story of Chris McCandless serves as medium for contemplation of our will to live, our insatiable desire for risk, and the choices we make. You don’t have to agree with the decisions of the character to find fulfillment in understanding. Overall, well-written.