Jon Krakauer - Into the Wild

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Into the Wild: chronicle of a lost life and impossible dreams

Jul 20, 2004
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Severe chronicle of a life that some would consider romantic.

Cons:All the way through, I was thinking, Does this boy have a clue?!

The Bottom Line: Moving story of a wasted life. If you ever thought of moving out to the wild, read this book, it's an education in itself.


After reading Under the Banner of Heaven, I decided to go and track down the other writings of adventurer Jon Krakauer. I had read his horrifying account of the 1996 ascents of Mt. Everest, and liked his style. I had expected a similiar treatment in this biography of a young man, who became literally lost. I found myself to be very mistaken.

In 1992, on a trail near Mt. McKinley (or Denali, to give it the proper name), a group of hikers found the body of a young man, badly decomposing in an abandoned bus. There was the wreckage of his life around him, books, a roughly kept journal, clothing, remains of hunting, and not much else. Wisely, the hikers contacted the authorities, and the search began to find out who he was.

Author Jon Krakauer was contacted by Outside magazine to write up the story of this unknown man, and that article evolved into this book. The subject, Chris McCandless, or as he prefered to think of himself as 'Alexander Supertramp,' was just twenty-two, and had left his life behind in East Coast suburbia to chase his dream of isolation and wilderness. Alex came from a household where there wasn't any physical abuse, he had a family that loved him, he was well educated and well read, and he had a mind that was not afraid of anything.

It was this lack of fear that would eventually kill him. The exact circumstances of his death would remain unknown, but through his diaries and the people he encountered, the picture of a talented, proud young man emerges. Alex felt that wealth was a curse, that hunger should not happen in the world, and that the government was overcontrolling. He was one of those sorts that I tend to think of as living off the grid, so far away from mainstream America that most of us would shake our heads in puzzlement. Instead, he worked odd jobs, left places when he felt like it, never bothered to contact his parents, and viewed himself as a free spirit. Ultimately, he would slowly die of starvation in a place where there was assistance less than thirty miles away.

It's the paradox of this life that Krakauer shows us. That Alex was liked is readily apparent in the conversations and notes that I read, and he could make friends easily. People trusted Alex, often in situations that most of us would not dream of doing -- such as picking up a hitchhiker, or inviting a stranger into our homes. But Alex also sowed a lot of sadness in his wake, from the friends and family that would be left hurting and confused by his sudden disappearances and lack of communicating. Then, just as suddenly, he would turn up.

Krakauer uses his own life towards the end as a mirror to Alex, chronicling his own brush with adventure scaling a remote Alaskan peak. But unlike Alex, he was well prepared, and knew what he was getting into. His attitude towards his subject is nonjudgemental, and it is left up to the reader to decide what they think of Alex. He does use several historical examples of other travellers who have ended up in diasasterous situations, and the mix of intellegence and hubris that led to making fatal decisions.

By the end of the book, I felt immense sadness for Alex's family and friends, who were left to sort through the wreckage, and a great deal of anger at the young man himself. If I could have spoken to him, I would have asked him if he had any idea what he was doing, was he aware of what he was throwing away? One example was his donating to OXFAM more than $24,000 that he had leftover from a college fund, instead of going onto graduate school. And drawing from writers who have also taken the rough way, from Tolstoy and Thoreau to Jack London, it's clear that Alex viewed himself as a spiritual heir to these thinkers. It's a sobering look at a life without responsibilities, and I'm certain that it will leave more questions than answers for the readers.

Into the Wild
Jon Krakauer
Anchor Books, Doubleday
ISBN 0-385-48680-4


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