Now that I've discovered the books of Jon Krakauer I imagine I'll be giving them all 5 gold stars if they're as good as this one (and Into Thin Air).
Into The Wild is the story of Chris McCandless, aka Alexander Supertramp, a brilliant, idealistic young man who chose to reject the conventional world into which he'd been brought up, and the life his parents hoped he would follow, and live as a wanderer, rejecting society and 20th century civilisation. In August 1992 his decomposed body was found by a group of moose hunters in the Alaskan wilderness.
In this book Jon Krakauer unfolds Chris's story gradually, starting at the end of his short life and taking the reader back through his travels of the previous couple of years via recollections from the people Chris met, all of whom found him charming, charismatic; many became very fond of him. Krakauer compares his ideals and experiences to other ill-fated adventurers (such as Gene Rosellini, John Mallon Waterman and Everett Ruess; their tales are described, and fascinating reading they make, too), and explores the psychology of those who are drawn to such lifestyles ~ including himself. There's a large section about the author's own youthful attempt to climb the Devil's Thumb in Alaska, detailing what drew him to cross the boundaries of safety and 'normality', by way of giving insight into the personality type.
Chris's family background is explored, along with the effect of his decisions upon them and those who grew close to him. Finally, Krakauer convincingly outlines his theories about what actually led to Chris's death. He was criticised for his original article in Outside magazine, and I think this book must surely have silenced all those who responded negatively to both writer and subject. He talks of the mixed feelings he had about how he'd dismissed his own father's desired path for him, and compares this to Chris's difficult relationship with Walt McCandless.
"He'd built a bridge of privelege for me, a hand-paved trestle to the good life, and I repaid him by chopping it down and crapping on the wreckage."
This is a terrific book, perfectly put together (I kept applauding the structure all the way through), and it's sympathetic towards Chris without making him out to be some kind of hero. It's so sad, fascinating, and made me think about so many things ~ I just loved it. Can't recommend it too highly. Now, which one next?
on 17 September 2012
Into The Wild, by John Krakauer, was my second venture into the land of the non-fiction audiobook. My first was a disappointing expedition which you can read about here. This time, however, I was pleasantly surprised.
This book is a kind of semi-biography of Chris McCandless, a young man who was looking to get away from too-civilised society and wander into the wilderness. Krakauer's narrative of McCandless' last months is a piecing together of letters, postcards, interviews and notes scrawled in the margin of a book about edible plants. Despite the somewhat scattered threads, Krakauer manages to sew together a tale which is both incredibly inspiring and sadly cautionary.
Readers of this book will, I imagine, fall into one of two camps. One group will see McCandless as an ungrateful fool who didn't make the most of the privileged situation into which he was born. Yes, he gave his money to charity, but it could be argued that someone with McCandless' brains and education could have made more of a difference to the world around him if he had used his idealism and tenacity (and that $25,000) to benefit others instead of indulging his desires to be an intrepid explorer.
The other camp will admire McCandless' daring willingness to live a life less ordinary. He wanted to do something so he did it. He wanted a different kind of life and wished for a different kind of world, and did all he could to make these things a reality. That's a noble ideal, right? Brave even. But also, yes, undoubtedly selfish and somewhat foolhardy.
I find myself with a foot in each of the camps. I understand McCandless' thinking. He was looking for an adventure, for a new and more poignant existence in some untamed part of the world. Unfortunately, he was looking for the sort of adventure that just isn't possible now. There are no blank spots on the map. No "Here be dragons" marking the far reaches. McCandless' desire to explore was like that of a boy who's watched a lot of adventure movies...
You really need to read this to decide which camp you fall into. It might be easy to judge the man's notions and ideals based upon a few tabloid news reports and a movie, but Krakauer's narrative adds a depth and reason to the last days of final McCandliss' life. He could have chosen a better adventure. He should have taken measures to ensure that his need for change wouldn't have hurt those who cared about him. But he was also willing to "be the change". In my mind, that made him special.
on 10 July 2008
Chris McCandless had courage, imagination, passion, desire, humility, intelligence, intellect, creativity, spirit, buckets and buckets full of spirit, standards, principles, morals, strength, stamina, ability to cope in adversity, individuality, conviction and many, many other attributes that could go on forever. He also had weaknesses and he sometimes made judgements that were wrong. He was incredibly human in that respect. His story is one of the greatest stories I have read and it has inspired me and filled me with enthusiasm for the wonder of life. Whatever his mistakes were that lead to his death well I for one could never criticise him for any of them. He accepted his mistakes like a man and got on with them, even the mistake that lead ultimately to his death. He didn't blame anyone else and he never complained. He died following his adventurous spirit and he willingly took himself on a journey that had masses and masses of risk. He knew that and went on regardless of the risk, not in a wanton disrespectful way as some of his critics may have you believe, but in a testing himself and a desire to achieve self-reliance and discover himself. That takes courage of the sort very, very few people on this planet possess.
The book is a brilliant read and the stroy of Chris McCandless' life is told and analysed with a great deal of perspective through careful investigative journalism and the descrptions of other similar characters and fates over the last couple of hundred years. It isn't all romanticism, it is placed in the context of reality. But even in that context, Chris McCandless spirit rises powerfully above it all.
I expect his parents and sister are bursting with pride at what their son has achieved but filled with pain at his continued loss. I would so wish to tell them how sorry I am he died and how much of a great impression their son has made on me.
This is a poignant, compelling narrative about Chris McCandless, an intelligent, intense, and idealistic young man, who cut off all ties to his upper middle class family. He then 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 investigated 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 retraced McCandless' journey, interviewing many of those with whom he came into contact. What metamorphosed 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 1 December 1997
"Into the Wild" is worth reading simply to learn the story of young Chris McCandless, who walked (not very far) into the wilderness and didn't live to tell the tale.
As in his latest bestseller "Into Thin Air," author Jon Krakauer tells this tale with such careful attention that seemingly insignificant details become loaded with ominous import.
But even more than in his most recent work, in "Into the Wild" Krakauer's pomposity nearly destroys the book. Why in the world must we traipse our way through two chapters in which he laments his troubled relationship with his father and brags about a boring and ungraceful solo mountain climb? And though he exposes McCandless family secrets of a very intimate sort, when he compares his family to theirs he brushes over the details with vague allusions. It is galling to see him hang out another family's dirty laundry and then avoid exposing his own.
Krakauer's conviction that he has the right to include himself in the story is so errant that it taints his credibility from there on out.
Still, the detailed recounting of the days leading up to McCandless' walk into the Alaskan "wilderness," and of the final days of his life, are very compelling. Also fascinating are the stories about other men in history who have made treks into the Western wilderness with similarly ill-fated results.
If Jon Krakauer could check his self-absorption at the door, his books would be among the most-required reading of the current day.
on 6 September 2009
I had watched the film of this book and was very intrigued by the nature and thoughts of Chris Mc Candless. I hoped that the book would give more information not present in the film and help me to piece together more of this young mans life.
The details of this mans life were entirely engaging and thoroughly interesting. Certainly, this was the first time I heard of anyone conducting the lifestyle Mc Candless did. I found this fascinating and was intrigued by his thoughts and the letters he wrote and the course of life he chose. Perhaps it is ironic, but I believe that by Mc Candless death, he is actually able to impact more people's lives than perhaps his life would have done. Would his story be so compelling if he had stayed alive and come back to civilisation? I do not know and could only offer speculation.
I identify fully with the beliefs that Mc Candless had and congratulate him on standing against the norm. I love the freedom he talks of and pursues. However, personally, I believe that freedom can be found internally as well as externally.
I found the author's intrusion unwelcome in the latter stages of the book as my interest remained fully on the life of Chris Mc Candless. I was hoping for full extracts from the journal Mc Candless had kept but was only given brief and short excerpts.
In conclusion this was a thought provoking read and an interesting account of the life of Chris Mc Candless. I have certainly learnt from the wisdom this man had achieved.
on 9 February 2011
My first pleasant surprise on reading this was how closely the film version had stayed to the book. But this did not make it not worth getting, instead it gave me more detail and more understanding of the characters McCanless met along the way too - most of them were interesting in themselves, and the kindness from strangers he met along the way genuinely surprised me and made me a little less cynical!
Like a lot of readers I suspect, I got the book because of seeing the film. The author Jon Krakauer's own adventures when younger make interesting reading too, as do the references to others who had trod a similar path and provide a relevent contrast where thier's could have (and did in some cases) also go very wrong.
The book certainly made me think and I've even passed it along to friends saying that I'd not say what my own view was of McCandless was until they've read it. What us interesting is that they've all drawn slightly different things from the story, and how long afterward the story has stayed with them. This is testament to the author not foisting his own views on you and is a rare achievement in writing. I'm keeping this book and have no doubt at all I'll be reading it again over the coming years.
Well written, surprisngly thought provoking - weeks later I find myself thinking about it. Well done Mr Krakauer !
Because of the information in the book, if you look on Google Earth, you can actually find and see the bus and where it all happened too.
What might motivate someone to cut all ties with their family, to give away all of their money to charity, dispose of their belongings and adopt a life on the road? In this day and age our possessions and vocations end up owning us, so it comes as somewhat of a shock to the system to see that a young and intelligent man would decide to dispose of the normal trappings of life. McCandless is infamous for having starved to death in the Alaskan wilderness, though the book looks at what brought him there.
In fact McCandless had spent a year or more on the road, moving from place to place throughout western and northern USA, holding down some basic jobs for a short time before moving on, seeming to all as though he were just one more drifter passing through. Though the book delicately looks at the young mans travels and examines the thoughts of McCandless as they are relayed through photographs and the accounts of the people he encountered along the way.
We find it so strange to think that somebody could turn their back on the trapping of society and seek to do nothing more than to travel around without the normal worries we all carry. Whilst I started the book knowing this young man starved to death, I could not help but feel that McCandless was doing something that many people do not have the courage for. A wonderful if somewhat sad read.
The book begins with the impression that Chris McCandless was a reckless, selfish and irresponsible young man who was not properly prepared for the adventures that he sought. By the end of the book it seems more that while he wasn't as well prepared as he could have been, it was bad luck that brought about his end in the wilderness.
McCandless was a deep thinker and wanted to shun the trappings of modern life and escape into the solitude of the Alaskan wilderness. As well as the countless interviews with family and friends of McCandless there are futher insights into his thoughts and feelings through the notes he made in some of his favourite books and his journal writing. Despite his love of solitude, he also formed strong friendships during his hitch-hiking and various casual jobs. He wrote letters and postcards to many of these friends and the correspondence also gives a good feeling for the person that McCandless was.
Krakauer also includes some short stories of other men who had similar experiences to McCandless and there is one chapter where Krakauer relates his own love of the wilderness and striving to complete difficult climbs.
I like my home comforts and I'm not drawn to a life on the road or living in a tent so I found the lifestyle and philosophy of Chris McCandless really interesting.
on 3 August 2012
I picked up this book because I liked the story idea; I didn't have a clue who Jon Krakauer or Chris McCandless was, but now I'm glad I know. The quote on the back cover, by Books Magazine, probably sums it up best:
"An extraordinary and highly moving story ... a classic, haunting, unsettling, yet also inspiring"
It's pretty well written and structured, with some good quotes (by Henry David Thoreau and Leo Tolstoy amongst others) to kick start each chapter - a handful of them were actually highlighted passages in books owned by McCandless. Krakauer's storytelling is inviting and descriptive. McCandless' journey, and his journal entries are interesting and inspiring to read.
You may or may not have heard about the movie as well. Personally, I thought the movie was rubbish. I found myself sticking up for it after watching because I thought so highly of the book and the story itself. But, honestly, I think if you want to see the true emotion and inspiration that seeps so naturally from the book, give the movie a miss. Unless you have 2 and a half hours to spare and particularly like any of the actors in it (any Kristen Stewart fans here?) then you'd probably rather stick to the book. It's so much better.