Review: Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

Who hasn’t thought, however briefly, of leaving the rat race behind and getting closer to nature?

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer is a nonfiction account of Chris McCandless, aka Alexander Supertramp, a bright, 24 year old college graduate who gives all his money to charity and drops out of society on an Alaskan quest. Leaving his family and friends behind, he tells no one where he’s going. For 3 years, he wanders, having adventures and preparing for Alaska. He makes it to Alaska and walks into ‘the wild’ with 10 lbs of rice and not a whole lot more. He survives the Alaskan wilderness for 16 weeks before succumbing to starvation.

Was he stupid? No. Was he suicidal? I don’t think so. So how did this happen?

Jon Krakauer attempts to answer that through research and interviews with McCandless’ family and those who met him during his “lost” years. He makes comparisons to other “adventurers” and assorted nutballs who did similar things, with similarly disastrous results. It is a well written account of what may have happened to Chris during his odyssey. Granted, much of it is speculation, but Krakauer’s research is thorough and was made easier by the fact that McCandless left an indelible impression on those he met.

He felt things deeply, passionately. He stayed in written contact with people he met only briefly. People gave him rides, boots, jobs, sandwiches, advice. In one case, an elderly gentleman was so affected by him that he offered to adopt him. He brought out a protective instinct in acquaintances. Maybe they could see what he was.. a bright, caring, idealistic, naïve, ill-prepared wanderer who needed help.

I think my opinion of Into the Wild might have been different in my youth. Maybe I could have related better to Chris’ wanderlust. But, as a parent, I had so many mixed emotions. For almost 3 years, this kid (ok, sorry, Young Adult) wandered the western states without so much as a phone call or a postcard to his parents or sister. 3 years! I couldn’t help thinking, “Grow up! Call your mom!” This was not a kid from a broken home; he was not abused or neglected. He just selfishly wanted to be lost. And so he was..

For another book set in Alaska, check out my review of Winterdance: The Fine Madness or Running the Iditarod

13 Responses

  1. Great review! I think you hit the nail on the head. As a parent, I wouldn’t be able to understand either his not staying in touch with his family. It’s just a sad story.

    By the way, One Thousand White Women was a BIG hit at my book club meeting last night – everyone enjoyed it and the discussion was very interesting.

  2. Steph, thanks for your kind comment.

    Really? A BIG hit?? I’m surprised! Our meeting for 1KWW isn’t until the 21st and I’m looking forward to it. It’s the first book we’ve been truly divided over. I expect some heated discussion!

  3. ABC World News Tonight had a story about Into The Wild a couple weeks ago. Kids are reading that book and trying to relive it themselves. They made a Mecca out of the old bus McCandless died in. I admire back to nature people, but concept needs to remain practical.

    I’ve read a number of travel books and often wondered about how the parents of the writers felt. Why are these kids taking such changes. Why don’t they keep in contact with home. Is this just a form of grown-up running away from home?

  4. I agree, well said! For me the book also raised some questons about why some people are such risk takers, adrenaline junkies, thrill seekers… whatever you want to call them. I’m married to one, and after 21 years together I still don’t understand it. C’est la vie.

  5. James, I wish I’d seen that World News Tonight story. How sad that kids are trying to copy McCandless. Crazy!

    Sara, thanks for the comment! I’m still stuck in Alaska mode after this book.. I’m currently reading “Winterdance: the Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod” by Gary Paulsen. Talk about an adrenaline junkie…!!

  6. […] Winterdance: The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod After finishing up Into the Wild about a week ago, I found myself still thinking about Alaska and the pull of the Great White […]

  7. Did I miss somthing. He WAS a kid from a broken home. He watched his parents abuse each other daily and from what I’ve read he and his sister suffered plenty of abuse from his controlling parents. Then he finds out that his parents were lying about being married for years and that his father had another wife and child. I think that would pretty much damage anyone. I can see why he would be afraid of human relationships. I belive that there is a lust for the wilderness and risk taking in many young men. It is not uncommin for young people to do stupid things he was not unique in that capacity. I think he was just a young man trying to heal his wounds.

  8. Hi LIsa, thanks for stopping by. It sounds to me like you saw the movie. In the film, the relationship of the parents was dramatized to seem like they were always fighting, but that did not come from the book. Chris discovered as a young adult that his dad had a first family.. he was not divorced yet from his first wife when he started dating Chris’ mother, and there were a couple of years when he went back and forth between the two fact he had another child with his first wife after they separated. There were several children from the first family, and the half siblings got together several times during the years Chris was growing up. But Chris was NOT a kid from a broken home. His parents are still together. They were never abusive towards him, according to an interview with his sister.

  9. I can’t believe people are trying to copy Chris and trek to that bus! I saw the film recently (excellent) it had some beautiful footage and portrayed him as a very energetic, independent and almost charismatic young man. It also made it seem like he was bitter about society, rules, something? and his parents didn’t really know who he was. I’m not sure if that’s true, and am very curious to read the book now!

  10. he was not doing anything stupid, he was just living
    Stupid implies naivety, or a lack of intelligence–neither of which even remotely describe McCandless. Remember that he died not of freezing to death, or of dangerous terrain, but of an unidentified supposedly nonpoisonous plant. There was no real unfixable mistake that he could have been aware of, merely an accidental ingestion of a supposed non-poisonous plant.

  11. Thomas, You say he wasn’t stupid, and I would agree, but he DID do some stupid things. He went to an extremely remote location unprepared without even a map of the area. To me, that seems basic. There was that little matter of a harmless creek turning into an impassable raging rapids from the snow melt by summer’s end– anyone with a bit of common sense could have figured that one out.

  12. aye, i can settle for that
    the map…he would never have brought
    the creek incident was his biggest mistake

  13. […] book I read last year was like that in certain places.  Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer was, for the most part, an easy read.  I read it for my book club.  One sentence […]

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