on 13 June 2011
I bought this book out of pure curiosity; I had heard people talk about how great the film was and caught about fifteen minutes of it on TV once. I was intrigued.
If you have certain sensibilities then the product synopsis will be enough for you to want to read this book. The story of a man who leaves civilised society to discover 'the truth of his own existence', to chase adventure, meaning, truth and beauty in life could be the work of a great fiction novelist. But the story is true and Krakauer's account of Chris McCandless is incredibly moving but also honest; outlining his follies as well as his heart,spirit and intelligence.
One of the best things about this book is that it is not an exercise in pulling in sympathy for Chris or his family. As I said it is very honest and written from the point of view of someone who not only was drawn to the events but who is standing on the outside and wants to understand. In order to do this, John Krakauer draws parallels between Chris McCandless's story and other adventurers' to help uncover what would make someone embark on such a dangerous and brave undertaking. This book is as much of an exploration of human character as it is an account of a tragic 'Alaskan Odyssey'.
This book isnt for you if you are the kind of person who reads the synopsis and dismisses McCandless (and people like him) as arrogant and foolhardy. This book is for you if you have that own sense of adventure yourself. If you do, I dare you to not be moved and drawn into this poignant tale.
This is a poignant, compelling narrative of an intelligent, intense, and idealistic young man, Chris McCandless, who cut off all ties to his upper middle class family, and reinvented himself as Alexander Supertramp, a drifter living out of a backpack, eking out a marginal existence as he wandered throughout the United States. A modern day King of the Road, McCandless ended his journey in 1992 in Alaska, when he walked alone into the wilderness north of Denali. He never returned.
Krakauer investigates this young man's short life in an attempt to explain why someone who has everything going for him would have chosen this lifestyle, only to end up dead in one of the most remote, rugged areas of the Alaskan wilderness. Whether one views McCandless as a fool or as a modern day Thoreau is a question ripe for discussion. It is clear, however, from Krakauer's writing that his investigation led him to feel a strong, spiritual kinship with McCandless. It is this kindred spirit approach to his understanding of this young man that makes Krakauer's writing so absorbing and moving.
Krakauer retraces McCandless' journey, interviewing many of those with whom he came into contact. What metamorphasizes is a haunting, riveting account of McCandless' travels and travails, and the impact he had on those with whom he came into contact. Krakauer followed McCandless' last steps into the Alaskan wilderness, so that he could see for himself how McCandless had lived, and how he had died. This book is his epitaph.
on 7 December 2012
Into The Wild challenges many assumptions. Is it truly possible to go back to basics and to survive in the wilderness without the trappings of modern society?
I found this book to be a good read, well researched and well written. The glimpses of other people's wilderness experiences and of the books that Chris McCandless read up to his death are enlightening.
At the end of it you are still left asking 'why?'. It is unsettling. Here was a young man who had a comfortable upbringing, a high-achiever who opted out of the life path that already seemed to be mapped out for him.
I think part of his motivation was the negative. The need to move out from the shadow of an ultra-achieving parent, the need to assert your own personality, an almost 'I'll show you' attitude as he displayed his own independence, perhaps exacerbated by a late discovery of the skeleton in the family cupboard.
But there is also a degree of irresponsibility - covering his tracks, effectively penalising those who cared about him, and the episode where he drove his car illegally far into the parklands, abandoning it in the gulch after a flood.
After time spent tramping the country, trying to improve his skills along the way, he seemed to be looking for the ultimate 'back to the wild' experience. Just what is this ultimate experience? Is it driving a well-stocked 4x4 down the tracks, parking up where other people might pass, telling friends and family where you are, putting the steaks on the barbecue and opening a few beers, taking a radio, maps, a decent hunting rifle, all the paraphernalia that modern society can provide? Or is it something else? I think Chris McCandless wanted this ultimate experience on his own terms. It meant he had to put his life in danger, and this led him to ignore advice and to take more risks than he needed to. For the experience to be real there had to be a significant risk of death. This meant no comforts, no easy escape routes. And it meant he really could die.
Was Chris' behaviour just a proxy for some kind of long drawn out suicide? I don't think so. He accepted the risk of death, even embraced it. Perhaps death would be the ultimate 'I told you so', but true success would involve surviving the experience; and at the end he was hoping for rescue. If he had a better map, better local knowledge, better understanding of what foods to eat, maybe the outcome would have been different. If...
This book inspired me to try to engage more with nature, but not to try to do what Chris McCandless did.
Christopher McCandless was twenty four when he headed off alone with the intention of surviving by what he could hunt and garner in the wilds of Alaska. People have since labelled him as reckless, arrogant and stupid - but with his idealistic yearning to emulate Tolstoy, Jack London and Thoreau, was he not in fact courageous and noble? He was certainly ill-prepared for such a venture and paid the ultimate price for his odyssey.
Jon Krakauer, the author of the book, had a particular, vested interest in the tragic tale. He too as a young man had experienced a similar compulsion to set himself against the wild elements, to rebel against his conventional lifestyle and upbringing. In his opening note, Krakauer seems to apologise for including his own story of setting out to conquer a mountain and almost losing his life in the process; but I found this account even more intense and compelling than the sometimes over-meticulous details of everyone encountered by McCandless in his last months.
The unavoidable conjecture as to McCandless's motivation, his troubled family background, and state of mind in his last awful weeks, make a compelling reason for using this book as a set text in schools. Most cultures have a kind of "coming of age" ritual, especially for young men, who have to test themselves, set themselves against the establishment. There is much in the book that should open discussion with teenagers - though surely there must be a way to opt out of the conventional path most unquestioning people's lives take, without sacrificing their own life, as most of the rather depressing examples quoted in the book do.
on 19 December 1999
I came to this book after the Times had listed it as one of the best paperbacks of the year, I have to agree. The tale of Chris McCandless is facsinating, how many people have thought "western society is corrupt, centred around making money and little else, I am off to do what I want, to find my true self". I know that I have and that is what Chris did. There is little doubt that he took it too far and ended up hurting those that cared for him. The book is well written and comparisons with other similar cases are well made. I also enjoyed the exerts from literature, as they helped indicate how a strong willed, virile young man can be influenced by what he reads. I recommend this book to everyone who has the good sense to ask questions such as "why?" and "isn't there a better way for society to function?" and if you don't it may make you ask those questions.
on 1 March 2011
After watching the film a few years back I finally read the book. It is quite simply amazing; I really couldn't put it down. The tales of McCandless's travels and his subsequent demise allow you to feel every emotion- sadness, admiration, happiness, devastation, empathy- it is a real 'Thinker'. Whilst there are people who will struggle to understand and who will criticise the decisions he made, you cannot help but to become completely entranced by the book, the experiences he had and the unfortunate and moving end that befell him.
I have reccommended this book to just about everyone I have spoken to since finishing it. Its a book you won't forget and a story that will remain with you. It makes you contemplate life, it's purpose, your choices, his choices, the 'what if's...' a truly enthralling read.
I would 100% recommend reading this book.
I was inspired to buy this book after seeing Sean Penn's amazing film. At the beginning I thought it was just going to underline how faithful Penn's film is to the book, but Krakauer does give a lot more background to the McCandless saga, which is really fascinating.
I really enjoyed the quotations at the beginning of each chapter, some of which have introduced me to new authors like Anthony Storr. Krakauer also weaves in accounts of other idealistic young adventurers, which gives a useful perspective. He has also his own dramatic story to tell, which he does in a very understated way.
The subject matter is extremely absorbing and Krakauer writes beautifully and tells the story at beguiling pace. He quotes the story of Everett Ruess by means of comparison, and he quotes how Everett Ruess's father mused after his son disappeared in the desert, "The older person does not realize the soul-flights of the adolescent. I think we all poorly understood Everett."
The amazing bravery and foolishness of McCandless that reminds us of our own adolescent soul-flights, and how, beneath our exteriors, we have so much yearning and anguish.
on 3 February 2005
A brilliant illumitive writer in this book Jon Krakuer has given us a unique insite into a young man's mind as he travels while seeking himself within. The start of each chapter contains extracts and quotes from the minds of others also seeking themselves through isolation and nature. A profound book, read it!
on 11 November 1999
A wonderous, moving account of a young man's struggle with having to conform to society. This story leaves the reader visiting their own sense of whether we are trapped in a Human Zoo of our own making. It awakens feelings of wildness and adventure and makes you crave for more.... The reader ends up asking the question `Was Chris McCandless complacent with his life or adventurous and brave?'
on 25 August 1999
This is certainly a well written and researched book. I particularly liked the way Krakauer compares McCandless's wilful desire for dangerous expeditions into the wild with his own. It is also interesting that the author cites other, older examples, so that what happened to McCandless is not seen as an isolated incident.
It has to be said that there is something quite moving about this book. We live in and age of instant gratification,(in the western world anyway)in terms of technology, convenience foods, ease of lifestyle etc. For a young man to shun all of this and choose to live in the bleak landscapes of Alaska, alone, for several months is somewhat admirable. I think it's important that as we head for the new millenium there are still people out there with this kind of determination and strength of purpose. People who totally reject the mercenary and materialistic world we live in. Maybe I'm just being idealistic, but 'Into the Wild' certainly made me think about my life!!
Having said all that, I did find the the constant literary references a little irritating. McCandless was clearly well read and inspired by people like Jack London, but I felt that Krakauer was perhaps taking McCandless a little too seriously. He was obviously well liked by those who shared his company, but he also sounds rather arrogant and self-absorbed.