Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
Anchor Books, 1996
Nonfiction; 207 pgs
First Sentence: Jim Gallien had driven four miles out of Fairbanks when he spotted the hitchhiker standing in the snow beside the road, thumb raised high, shivering in the gray Alaska dawn.
Reason for Reading: This is my fourth selection for the Nonfiction Five Challenge and my 1990's selection for the Reading Through the Decades Challenge. I had read Jon Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven, which I found quite interesting. As a result, Into the Wild was added to my collection. It did not hurt that the book has received quite a bit of praise from fellow readers.
Comments: The idea of a young man striking out on his own, leaving behind a family that loved him with hardly a word, giving away his savings and burning what cash he had, changing his name and disappearing into the wilderness at first struck me as crazy. As the beginning chapters of Krakauer’s account of Christopher Johnson McCandless’ life unfolded, it crossed my mind several times that the man was probably suffering from some sort of mental illness.
He seemed to avoid intimacy, rebel against authority, isolated himself from family and old friends, completely broke off all his family ties, and was very reckless. That he made the dean’s list in college, was a good musician and in general had a good head on his shoulders, did not make a difference. In fact, Chis, aka Alex Supertramp as he was known on his travels, did make friends along the way and even kept in touch with many of them throughout the two years he was estranged from his family. He worked hard when he worked, was compassionate and caring. He experienced life in ways that many of us can never imagine. He seemed happy and content with his chosen path.
Jon Krakauer maps out Chris’ journey across America, into Mexico and Canada, and touches on moments in the man’s past that led him to be the man he became. Chris lived off the land, the generosity of others, worked for his food when he could, and, for the most part, shed the skin of materialism that he had grown up with. He set his own rules, traveled at his own pace, and answered to no one but himself. He was not completely selfish, however. It is quite clear that Chris had a big heart and even bigger ideals, realistic or not. He was intensely passionate and once he set his mind to do something, he did it. Was he someone to be admired? I came away from the book believing that he was in some respects. Mostly though, he was just your average early twenty-something year old questioning the establishment, testing himself, and searching for answers to questions that he probably did not even fully understand. Like many his age, he felt somewhat immortal and was overconfident. He was more adventuresome then most, perhaps even more driven. What happened to him was a tragedy.
Critics call him crazy, ill prepared, and reckless. Certainly to some extent he was ill prepared and reckless. Maybe even crazy. Had he survived and made it home again, his actions would be admired and he would be applauded for his strength and fortitude. Here would stand a guy who went after his dream and made it come true. Many would see that as success and something to admire. Because he died, however, it is easy to find fault and condemn him for his actions and to pick holes in his behavior and philosophy. The qualities we would admire in him if he had lived, he is criticized for in death. He was a risk taker, a dreamer, and definitely full of passion. For better or worse. Christopher lived his life according as he believed it should be lived.
Chris’ path is not one I would take nor is it one I necessarily agree with. I will not deny that at times I thought he was pretty careless and oblivious for a guy who supposedly was so smart. By the end of the book, I felt great sadness. Sadness for his family and his friends, especially those whose lives he touched. And sadness for Chris and the contributions to society he could have made if he lived.
Jon Krakauer’s account of Christopher Johnson McCandless’s life is painted in a kinder brush than certainly some of Chris’ critics would like. The author admits to relating to the subject of his book on a personal level, and even touches upon an experience of his own similar to the journey Chris set out on. I do think that Mr. Krakauer does a fair job of bringing up the viewpoints that do not match is own, countering them in turn.
Into the Wild is not the usual type of nonfiction book I am attracted to, and I cannot say I am eager to run out and read a copy of Into Thin Air. I’m sure it’s a fine book, but extreme sports like mountain climbing holds little interest for me. Maybe someday. After reading Into the Wild, my interest in visiting Alaska someday has intensified, I will give it that.
Miscellaneous: I was thumbing through Entertainment Weekly recently, soon after finishing this book, and came across mention of a movie based on the book. After Sean Penn read the book (multiple times, I might add), he was eager to bring it to the big screen. His dream has finally come true. Check out the movie trailer for Into the Wild. The movie is scheduled for US release on September 21st.
Read what Jeane had to say about this book:
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