on June 10, 2004
Last Christmas I gave this book to my father. I thought he might enjoy the adventures of Alex (though you know from the start his life will end badly), and thought if things went well I might use this to try to explain to him why it is that I spend all my extra money on travel and why I do illogical things in pursuit of my dreams. His reaction, though, was nothing but frustration with Alex's "idiocy."
The difference between my response to the book - that Chris/Alex lived an extreme form of the longing I and many others feel - and my father's response is the same gulf that this story seeks to bridge. Jon Krakauer, who has also sacrificed a great deal and risked his life in pursuit of his dreams, clearly feels some sympathy for Alex's wild decisions. But the result of Alex's tramping is his own death and the heartbreak that ensues, which seems to outweigh any selfish satisfaction Alex may have received from his experiences.
When people create great art or invent something remarkable, society celebrates their achievements in spite of any collateral damage. But Alex is an example of someone whose idealism was far greater than his accomplishments. The art he left behind in his notebooks is unremarkable, and the few friends he made in his travels have not been catalysts for improvement in the world. His one success (or failure) was that he was able to unbind himself from his expected, normal life and give himself wholly to his ideals. So many of us secretly wish that we had the courage to do something similar, and this book forces us to confront that desire. Is the pursuit of a dream a worthwhile end, in and of itself?
There are no clear answers, in this book or in life, but the question is worth asking, no matter whether you see Alex as someone to be admired or throttled.
To avoid repeating what so many others have already said about the facts of this tragic case, I will just say that in my opinion, this book is as much a statement about society as a study of Chris McCandless's ill fated actions.
Jon Krakauer presents a unique and quite fascinating account of the many subtle psychological and sociological factors which may have influenced this unusual young man, and I think he did it very well.
I don't think it is possible to put him into any category. He was true to himself, and above the petty judgments of others, so quick to call him names, who nevertheless fall short of Chris's boundless courage and his idealism.
I believe that in time McCandless will become an icon for other idealistic young men who are sensitive to the call of the wild, and feel the spiritual impoverishment of our society. Many are sensitive to that mystic call.
on April 2, 2013
I've enjoyed all of Jon Krakauer's books, but found this one surprising in its accomplishment of taking what on the surface seems a cut and dried story (foolish idealist from urban environment pursues wilderness adventure completely unprepared and perishes kilometres from civilization), and provides a completely reasonable and unexpected account of the facts and of the character behind the story.
on November 8, 2007
Some Alaskans reacted contemptuously to Krakauer's magazine article about a young man who starved to death one summer in the shadow of Denali. Chris McCandless was an idealistic fool, they said. He didn't equip himself properly, couldn't tell moose from caribou, didn't know Alaskan rivers become unfordable torrents in the summer melt: hubristic ignorance dictated his fate. Such acid responses won't greet this book-length expansion of the article, a drama constructed deftly enough to earn a place in the canon of American nature writing. First, there is mystery: the emaciated body found in September 1992 in a bus-hut had no identity papers, just a name and a terse diary of final days. Then there is the question of personal identity: What existential longing led the twentysomething McCandless to that bus and at what cost to himself and his family? And finally, there is the majestic stage set of the American Far West, which Krakauer draws on to create his lyrical, mesmerizing testament to McCandless' odyssey. Krakauer starts with the discovery of McCandless' body and works backward, revealing that McCandless graduated from Emory University, severed contact with his family, assumed the alias "Alexander Supertramp," and began two years of vagabondage in search of Truth in living as advocated by Thoreau and Tolstoy, of whose works "Alex" was enamored. His earnestness indelibly impressed the itinerants he easily befriended--whom he, in truth, somewhat callously jettisoned--as Krakauer reveals throughout this sensitive narrative. You Must read the great novel DEAD SCARE and THE KILLING GAME, both by Demello--that is, if you are interested in another wild ride!
on April 27, 2004
The quick pace, interesting story and talented writing-style all made it difficult to put this book down. I've read three of Krakauer's books and enjoyed them all immensely.
I'm not sure what to think of Chris MacCandless and his deadly adventure; my opinions changed frequently while reading about his life. While opinions as to why he chose such a secretive and lonely journey could be debated forever, it was the emotional torture that his parents and family endured that really tugged at my feelings. No matter what his motivation to go alone into the wild (and I do believe some mental instability played into it), there was no excuse not to contact family in even some tiny way. As we can tell from his letters, he had no problem sending communications to even the most casual of acquaintances he met along the road.
We have decided to make this the first book reviewed in a book club that some friends and I have started. I can't wait to hear the ideas and opinions of others. I know there will be much heated debate.
on March 1, 2004
Chris McCandless was an idealistic young man who ventured out into the wilderness alone, made a few mistakes and died. This doesn't seem like much of a story but Krakauer does a wonderful job of reconstructing the last years of McCandless's life and give some insight into this man's motivations.
I personally don't think McCandless was a crazy loner or anything like that. He was a very idealistic man who saw the purity in nature and wanted to be a part of it. This certainly has some appeal to me. I found myself identifying with McCandless quite a bit. I've often felt the urge to split and wander about for a few months. He was quite personable with the people he met on his travels, and he touched the lives of several of the poeple he met.
It is tragic that he died, if he had only had a simple map of the area he would have survived his excursions and been able to return to his life. It seems like he was ready to re-enter the world when he died.
Krakauer tells the stories of other men who have been similarity affected by nature and have traveled into the wild never to return. Despite the tragic ending, I found the book inspiring and I do certainly admire Chris McCandless's courage for leaving behind everything and venturing out for what can only described and a personal adventure with an uncertain ending.
I'd highly recommend this book to anybody, my tiny piece of advice for anybody considering this sort of travel is to get a good map, good boots, a warm coat, and be prepared for anything
on December 28, 2003
I would like to comment on two separate points in this review. First, Jon Krakauer's writing and telling of the story; second, a brief comment on the main character.
Krakauer does a fine job of bringing the reader closer to an understanding of Chris McCandless. The style of writing flows well and I was spellbound and could not put the book down until I read it straight through. Although it is obvious that Krakauer is biased in favor of McCandless (in his beliefs and actions), the book is well written and extremely enjoyable. Krakauer seamlessly weaves into the story his personal experiences and shows that he is the perfect person to present the story to the reader. He succeeds in getting the reader to become absorbed into the tale as it unfolds.
Now, on to the actions of our "hero." While I admire and respect McCandless for some of his beliefs and his amazing travels and triumphs over adversity, I feel that he was immature, ignorant, arrogant and just plain stupid in regard to other things. His unpreparedness to enter the wilderness (not really wilderness since he was so close to others), his lack of understanding of nature and of his immediate surroundings, and his absolute refusal to accept advice from others reveal his childlike immaturity and simplistic approach in his quest for truth. As I say, I respect him for what he "wanted" to do and achieve, but the way he went about it showed that he was a complete fool who had very little understanding of the Nature that he so adamantly loved. Examples of this are going into the woods with no maps, no compass, no axe, improper clothing, insufficient food, the wrong type of rifle, no knowledge of how to preserve meat and a ridiculous feeling of invincibilty.
I feel badly that McCandless died in the manner that he did, but unfortunately, his death was his own fault and not an accident.
on December 21, 2003
I'll admit that I (figuratively) devoured this book and was mesmerized by this extraordinary, tragic story. But I've thought about it for a while now and I've come to the conclusion that I just can't agree with what Chris did, and am not so certain that Krakauer was justified in portraying Chris in such a sympathetic manner. He does seem to have been a bright and unique individual, and his disdain and attempt to disaccoiate himself with our corrupt, flawed society has to be commended. But the fact of the matter is, that in attempting to buck convention, Chris went about it in a very Western manner: selfish, individualistic, disrespectful. I could go on about this for a long, long time; but I'll only touch on the last aspect. In the book, Krakauer states that he received numerous letters following the publication of his article in OUTSIDE. One was to the effect that Chris had no respect for Nature; Krakauer contends that he did, and tries to defend Chris on this point. I have have to disagree with Krakauer completely. Chris' actions denoted a profound disrespect for Nature, an attitude that unfortunately has been an habitual flaw in weltanschauung of our "civilization." His death therefore is nothing more than a tragic waste.
on December 21, 2003
Book review: Jon Krakauer's, Into The Wild
My sister and I enjoy the outdoors and undertaking various adventures, especially above the timberline. As a tradition, we get together to make our annual October ascent up to the summit of Mount Whitney. A few Harvest Moons ago and after one of these trips, my sister gave me a book by a relatively unknown author at the time named Jon Krakauer titled Into The Wild. We had just read Krakauer's book, Into Thin Air, and as I much enjoyed this riveting adventure-documentary, she said that I would enjoy this earlier release. I anticipated an interesting, high-quality adventure story. It was strikingly more than that to me. Krakauer articulates a painfully moving story that avails one not to stop reading.
What began as an article for Outside magazine is a story about twenty-four year old Christopher McCandless. Chris was a college graduate with an array of uncommon abilities who came from affluent, yet "stifling," Annandale, Virginia. Immediately after college in the summer of 1990, McCandless traded a seemingly bright future for a "raw transcendent experience" venturing throughout the western United States as a vagabond until his death twenty-eight months later. Ultimately, hunters at a small camp near Mount McKinley in Alaska found his emaciated body.
Krakauer begins by relaying the account of an Alaskan man who, as the last known person to see Chris, recollects picking up a hitchhiker in Fairbanks, Alaska, drives the "congenial and well-educated" hitchhiker to his desired location, and then feels perplexed as he watches this young man begin walking down the Stampede Trail near Healy, Alaska. Next, the author relates the brief story of the haunting discovery of McCandless's body. From there, Krakauer then effectively backtracks to include McCandless's personal and family history, travels, and stories from people Chris met and "kept [. . .] at arm's length" during his two-year "odyssey" following his graduation, with honors, from Emory University.
The reader accompanies the author as he traverses Chris's tour de force revealing what must have been for Krakauer, as evident by brave, expository interviews with many people especially Chris's family, a tenacious, exhaustive, and emotional effort toward research; it is obvious that the author chased down the details "with an interest that bordered on obsession."
As a wilderness-adventure journalist and journeyman mountaineer with extensive backcountry-adventure experiences abroad including Alaska, the author, Krakauer, relates the results of his research well with qualified and sincere insight. In general, many people can perceive wilderness adventurers, usually posthumously, as heroes; otherwise, many people tend to see adventurers as brash, heedless risk-takers. In fact, many people mistakenly refer to these "risk-takers" as having a death wish. This understanding, as well as his being intimately apart of the unique and intense mind of the wilderness-adventurer community, is a tremendous asset for the author toward understanding the heart and mind of Chris McCandless. With his finger on the pulse of this very complex breed of human being (of good heart), Krakauer confronts the common mistake of those who neatly stereotype McCandless as reckless and arrogant - "a wacko" with a death wish. In agreement or not, the author perspicaciously offers that Chris's "life hummed with meaning and purpose [. . .] the meaning he wrested from existence lay beyond the comfortable path: McCandless distrusted the value of things that came easily. He demanded much of himself."
Essentially, Krakauer refreshingly poses hypotheses throughout Into The Wild to the unanswerable question at the end: Did Chris intentionally commit suicide or was this a tragic accidental death? Because McCandless' situational cause and effect is family based, and with its finality, this story hits a nerve. Indeed, the pleasure or nuisance of Into The Wild is that, because seemingly obvious pieces of Chris's personality can not fit neatly into a corresponding slot. It is plainly evident by the many forums of correspondence that, as this book normally begins as an entertainment, commonly becomes one of an equidistant self-reflection of family relationships and an exploration of personal moral values.
Krakauer's qualifications allow him to recognize insightfully McCandless's young idealism that greatly contributed toward his death and constructively heads-off dismissive knee-jerk characterizations of Chris, and those like him of the impulse to engage in dangerous activities, without stoking speculative conclusions. The author effectively explores an enigmatic personality and of his reckoning truth. A stirring read even for the armchair adventurer, the author "will leave it to the reader to form his or her own opinion of Chris McCandless" and of his odyssey into the wild.
For whatever it's worth:
Concerning reasonable fulminating viewpoints, it is apparent to me to conclude that Chris did not have any desire to commit suicide; he accepted fate's death (as well as fate's life) per his constructed parameters, but hoped for rescue from (even if self-created) peril. This became for him necessary to obtain truth [. . .] from God and/or his family and for him there was no other way.
on December 19, 2003
Why would a talented and gifted young man walk away from his life of promise and lead the life of a penniless wanderer? Jon Krakauer, the nature/travel journalist, takes on this question in the story of Chris McCandless, who after two years of coast-to-coast travel, was found dead in the Alaskan wildreness.
Krakauer retraces McCandless's steps from his childhood to his days at Emory and uncovers a smart, compassionate young man who revelled in the works of Tolstoy, Jack London, and other figures who advocated a simple self-sufficient existence, turning away from money, government, etc. He interviews several people that Chris, "Alex Supertramp" as he calls himself, met in his hitch hiking travels and discusses his journal writings. I came upon this book after reading Krakauer's newest book, Under the Banner of Heaven. I appreciated Krakauer's style of being in the story as an author/journalist, but keeping the story in its purest form.
Krakauer first encountered this story after McCandless's death in 1992. He wrote a feature story in Outside magazine, but was very interested in McCandless, so he decided to research the events more. This book is the further research. He provides some insight and answers some of the questions with his own experiences as a mountaineer and outdoor-lover.