Book Review: Into the Wild by Jack Krakauer


Like many that love to travel, I also love to read. I’m not a big fan of fiction, but I do enjoy a good story, which is what I found in Jack Krakauer’s Into the Wild. The outcome is no secret. In fact, it’s clearly stated on the front cover:

"In April 1992 a young man from a well-to-do family hitchhiked to Alaska and walked alone into the wilderness north of Mt. McKinley. His name was Christopher Johnson McCandless. He had given $25,000 in savings to charity, abandoned his car and most of his possessions, burned all the cash in his wallet, and invented a new life for himself. Four months later, his decomposed body was found by a party of moose hunters…"

However, just because we know our hero (?) doesn’t make it out of the final pages alive doesn’t mean the story is predictable. An interesting part of the tale is how it’s told.

There are no first-person interviews with Chris McCandless, a young man who referred to himself as “Alex” during his journeys. Instead, the author is forced to rely on McCandless’ journal and stories told by his parents, friends and acquaintances. There is a great deal of speculation involved, and since he died alone in the Alaskan wilderness at the age of 24, it’s hard to tell exactly what happened.

And there’s plenty of debate surrounding his death. Many have called McCandless a fool and even disrespectful to think he could survive in the Alaskan wilderness. He proved to be ill prepared for the journey and the truck driver McCandless hitched a ride with noted as much when dropping him off near the Stampede Trail.

Nevertheless, there are many that see great things in McCandless and how he lived his life.

The book’s roots come from an article Krakauer wrote for Outside magazine that discussed the disappearance and eventual death of McCandless. After the initial article was published, the author couldn’t get the events out of his mind and he continued to research the young tramper, his relationships, and his death. One reason Krakauer couldn’t shake the story was that he saw a lot of himself in the young man as he researched McCandless, particularly the complicated relationship between son and father.

McCandless grew up in an affluent part of the Washington DC metro area and graduated from Emory University in Atlanta, but purposely distanced himself from his family. He was well read, despised money and material possessions and preferred a life of solitude. McCandless took to the road, changed his name, didn’t speak of his past and travelled throughout North America for nearly two years before his “last great adventure” into the harsh Alaskan wilderness.

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