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Into the Wild

Jon Krakauer

Average Review Rating Average Rating 9/10 (1 Review)
Book Details

Publisher : Pan Books

Published : 2007

Copyright : Jon Krakauer 1996

ISBN-10 : PB 0-330-45367-X
ISBN-13 : PB 978-0-330-45367-7

Publisher's Write-Up

Immediately after graduating from college in 1991, McCandless had roamed through the West and Southwest on a vision quest like those made by his heroes Jack London and John Muir. In the Mojave Desert he abandoned his car, stripped it of its license plates, and burned all of his cash. He would give himself a new name, Alexander Supertramp, and , unencumbered by money and belongings, he would be free to wallow in the raw, unfiltered experiences that nature presented. Craving a blank spot on the map, McCandless simply threw the maps away. Leaving behind his desperate parents and sister, he vanished into the wild. Four months later, his decomposed body was found by a moose hunter. How McCandless came to die is the unforgettable story of Into the Wild.

By examining the true story of Chris McCandless internationally bestselling author Jon Krakauer explores the obsession which leads some people to explore the outer limits of self, leave civilization behind and seek enlightenment through solitude and contact with nature.

When McCandless's innocent mistakes turn out to be irreversible and fatal, he becomes the stuff of tabloid headlines and is dismissed for his naiveté, pretensions, and hubris. He is said to have had a death wish but wanting to die is a very different thing from being compelled to look over the edge. Krakauer brings McCandless's uncompromising pilgrimage out of the shadows, and the peril, adversity , and renunciation sought by this enigmatic young man are illuminated with a rare understanding - and not an ounce of sentimentality. Mesmerizing, heartbreaking, Into the Wild is a tour de force. The power and luminosity of Jon Krakauer's stoytelling blaze through every page.

'An astonishingly gifted writer: his account of 'Alex Supertramp' is powerfully dramatic, eliciting sympathy for both the idealistic, anti-consumerist boy - and his parents.'


'A compelling tale of tragic idealism.'

The Times
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Reader Reviews

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Review by Chloe Lizotte (301111) Rating (9/10)

Review by Chloe Lizotte
Rating 9/10
Krakauer on McCandless: Into the Enigma.
"If this adventure proves fatal and you don't ever hear from me again, I want you to know you're a great man. I now walk into the wild" (3). These words, handwritten on a postcard, marked the beginning of Christopher McCandless's fatal journey into the Alaskan interior. A college-educated twenty-four year old with a penchant for the writings of Thoreau and Tolstoy, McCandless's story of survival is one that caught widespread public attention in 1992. Deciding to run a cover story on the boy's death, Outside Magazine hired a writer named Jon Krakauer to investigate McCandless. Thus began Jon Krakauer's fascination with McCandless's life, driving him to pen Into the Wild. Krakauer provides a clear and detailed account of McCandless's story in an effort to help readers understand why McCandless decided to drop out of society.

An apt title,Into the Wild follows McCandless as he ventures straight into the wild. After graduating from Emory University, McCandless donated the contents of his savings account to OXFAM and drove to the western United States, where he strove to live off the land. Motivated by his literary idol Jack London, McCandless decided to isolate himself from the modern world as he sought personal depth and meaning. Krakauer's account explains the events of McCandless's journey thoroughly, describing how McCandless was able to survive. Deeper, though, it elaborates on who Chris McCandless was and how he thought, allowing the audience to understand him and his actions to a greater depth. At the beginning of each chapter, Krakauer includes literary quotations pertaining to McCandless's views of nature, occasionally citing quotes that McCandless had underlined in his copies of these books. One such quote, from Paul Shepard, declares that in the wild "the leaders of the great religions have sought the therapeutic and spiritual values of retreat, not to escape but to find reality" (25). Into the Wild is an account of McCandless's quest for such understanding.

Krakauer crafts Into the Wild in a straightforward style, attempting to objectively present the events of McCandless's final days. His language is concise and easily understood, making his writing accessible to readers as Krakauer runs through the facts of McCandless's story. While many biographers opt to create imaginary, though likely, scenes and events in order to make the account read more like a narrative, Krakauer instead chooses a journalistic approach to his writing. For the majority of the book, he employs an informative tone, using easily comprehensible language and logical analysis in order to make McCandless's story as clear as possible. He builds a body of evidence to support all of his claims, whether it is deep research to clarify any uncertainties or a selection from McCandless's own journal. Near the end of the book, for example, Krakauer explores a few theories surrounding McCandless's final fatal mistake. He remarks that "from all the available evidence, there seemed to be little doubt that McCandless – rash and incautious by nature – had committed a careless blunder" (192) by deciding to eat the poisonous roots of a sweet pea. However, Krakauer became increasingly dissatisfied with this theory, since there was solid evidence from McCandless's records that he had safely eaten wild potato roots without confusing them with sweet pea roots. After some investigation, including the collection of sample plants, lab analysis, and reading veterinary literature, Krakauer finally concluded that McCandless was "probably killed instead by the mold that had been growing on [wild potato] seeds" (194). Through extensive research such as this, Krakauer builds ethos and presents a reliable, logical conclusion. He acknowledges counterarguments but elaborates with just enough detail to disprove them, making his arguments all the more persuasive. Since some aspects of McCandless's final weeks will remain a mystery long into the future, this type of in-depth research proves extraordinarily helpful in filling in gaps with the most likely scenarios.

Krakauer's prose features many direct quotations from those closest to McCandless, including his immediate family and people he met while on the road. Though McCandless made a distinct effort to keep those he met at an arm's length, the quotes Krakauer chooses to include make it clear that this could be difficult for his acquaintances to accept. Particularly moving is Krakauer's passage regarding McCandless's decision to leave Ronald Franz, an elderly man whom he had met in Southern California. While McCandless felt the need to "[evade] the threat of human intimacy, of friendship, and all the messy emotional baggage that comes with it" (55), Franz felt a very strong emotional attachment to him. "'Even when he was sleeping, I was happy just knowing he was there'" (55), Franz revealed in an interview with Krakauer, even sharing that he felt strongly enough to ask McCandless if he could adopt him as a grandson. McCandless, who felt "uncomfortable with the request," decided to "dodge the question" (55) before leaving. Emotional accounts such as this convey notable elements of McCandless's psyche. Though he made a positive impact on most people he met during his travels, McCandless was never comfortable with these connections, using his solitary travels as a means of distancing himself from these people. His strong inclinations towards solitude and disillusionment with connections are exposed through testimony from his acquaintances.

Although Krakauer maintains a significant distance from the material for most of the book, during the second half he incorporates some emotion into the story to develop key themes and ideas. Earlier in the book, in fact, in the foreword, Krakauer admits that "a dispassionate rendering of the tragedy [would be] impossible" (2) for him to write. Krakauer recalls his own experiences climbing a mountain in Alaska, in the hope that drawing a parallel would "shed an oblique light on the enigma of Chris McCandless" (2). He describes climbing to the summit of the Devils Thumb, a terrifying journey that could have ended in a death similar to McCandless's. The fact that Krakauer survived, he writes, was "largely a matter of chance" (155). In his account, he emphasizes the danger of the climb just as much as his perception of that danger. In his twenties at the time, Krakauer felt that death was "largely outside [his] conceptual grasp" (145), and his long-time obsession with reaching the summit overrode any potential fatal consequences. McCandless was very much the same, so blinded by his romanticized idea of the natural world that he chose to face death head-on. Krakauer admits that he, like McCandless, was naïve in his idealism about the natural world, but because of his obsession with climbing the Devils Thumb, "life thrummed at a higher pitch" and "the world was made real" (134). Many of McCandless's critics speculate that he was suicidal, since his chances for survival seemed slim at best, but Krakauer states that he can understand McCandless's motivations. He makes a persuasive case against such critics by including this narrative, which also closes the distance between Krakauer and his audience, adding an affective side to his writing.

Krakauer has achieved something commendable through Into the Wild. Instead of walking away from the book with knowledge of a young man's final traipse into nature, readers close the pages of Into the Wild with a thorough knowledge of McCandless himself. What might have been a mere adventure story becomes a psychological portrait of an adventurer whom readers identify with, and possibly one day become.
Chloe Lizotte (30th November 2011)

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