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.
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.
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 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 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.
on 13 June 2016
I listened to the audio version of this book and Philip Franklin does a great job with the narration. I haven’t read Jon Krakauer before and I enjoyed the author’s writing style and the gradual unfolding of Chris McCandless’ story. I’d never heard of Chris McCandless before this and I found the story fascinating, tragic and scarcely credible in parts. If this had been fiction I can imagine the reader or listener berating the ‘hero’ for his lack of foresight and preparation before embarking on such a dangerous and uncertain journey.
Jon Krakauer explores Chris’ McCandless’s life, and death, through his family, Chris’ own notes, photographs and letters, plus the people he met on his travels, most of whom felt a compelling pull towards the young man and came to love him.
Basically, I’m not sure what to think. Here’s a highly academically intelligent young man who had a privileged upbringing, protesting strongly against world hunger and the wastage of food. He was angry at his father who lead a double life for several years, which is understandable. Perhaps it was a combination of these things, coupled with the books he was fond of reading by authors such as Jack London, Tolstoy and Thoreau to name just a few, which fired his imagination and passions for the idea of travel and survival in remote and unforgiving areas, ultimately the wilderness. He believed a person should own nothing apart from whatever they could carry. No longer would he answer to Chris McCandless; he was now Alexander Supertramp, master of his own destiny.
The story begins on April 27th, 1992 as Chris, or Alex as he now calls himself, is hitching from Fairbanks, Alaska and is offered a lift by Jim Gallien. He wants a ride to the edge of Denali National Park so he can just walk into the bush and live off the land for a few months.
Chris’ death was a tragedy which could have been avoided if he’d prepared for his stay in the wilds of Alaska with practicality and learned enough about endurance in such a harsh environment. That he chose not to, shows a lack of common sense, an underestimation of the wilderness and what it takes to survive.
Chris’ idealism and intensity caused a tremendous amount of hurt and suffering. It seems he had no thought of how his lack of communication would affect his parents, Walt and Billie, and Carine, the sister he supposedly loved. I can only imagine how distraught his family must have been during the whole time Chris was missing from their lives. Then, to learn he died in such dreadful circumstances had to have been beyond devastating.
During the course of the narrative Jon Krakauer does an impressive job of delving into the mindset of adventurers drawn to the ‘call of the wild’, including himself. It’s apparent, and understandable, that he feels a fascination for, and identifies with, Chris McCandless, given the parallels between their lives. He doesn’t claim to be an impartial biographer, quite the opposite. I don’t, however, agree with the view that Chris’ mistakes were innocent ones. He deliberately went into the Alaskan wilderness rashly, unprepared and without the basic necessities or any kind of reserve or support should he find himself in an emergency situation, despite all advice to the contrary.
In the end, Chris lived his life the way he wanted to, mostly isolated from people and minus the pointless, as he saw it, trappings of a materialistic society, and paid the ultimate price. It’s still a very sad end to such a short life. I found the recounting of the last few weeks of his life, via the journals he kept, very poignant. Especially since it seems Chris was ready to return to civilisation and, had he possessed the relevant map and knowledge, would more than likely have made it. Jon Krakauer’s theory on the cause of Chris’ death seems the most reasonable explanation and makes a lot of sense. I’ll be checking out more of this author’s work.
on 2 September 1999
It is not apparent that this book will appeal to everyone and even less apparent that it will appeal to those that have read Into Thin Air, Krakauers compelling recant of the 1996 Everest disaster. It is, nevertheless, a book about a purist and will appeal to anyone who has dreamt of the ultimate opt out. Krakauers prose vividly captures the desolation of the Alaskan wilderness. Moreover, he brings to life, through interviews with people who McCandless touched during his strange sojourn, the essence of a man possessed to do what, for most people, is an idle reverie. The fact that, to a lesser degree, Krakauer did the same thing and describes the experience therein, makes the book all the more poignant.
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?'