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Into the Wild

A book by Jon Krakauer

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A mystery story made better by being real

  • Nov 18, 2009
Pros: The story as a whole, the historical and personal parallels

Cons: Nothing significant enough to list

The Bottom Line: I dont like the protagonist which would usually mean I'd hate the book.  Despite not liking the subject, it is a well crafted and short piece well worth the time.

I didn’t expect that I would read Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild. I saw the film and basically liked it. I did not, however, like Chris McCandless, the “tragic” protagonist. I opted to read the book for a couple of reasons. First, I knew that its structure was much like the one he used in Under the Banner of Heaven. Both Banner and Into the Wild tell the main story intermingled with historical contexts and parallels. These augments generally strengthen his chosen topic. Secondly, I’m working on a larger essay about a specific form of selfishness driven from a sense of entitlement that Mr. McCandless seems to fit quite well.

In 1992, Christopher McCandless finally reached the Alaskan wild after almost 2 years of tramping around the western and northwestern parts of the contiguous states. He died four months later.

In 1990, Mr. McCandless graduated from Emory. The weekend of the ceremony was the last his family would see of him. He cashed in his substantial college fund and donated it all to OXFAM. From there he traveled several thousand miles by car, boat, kayak, rail (as a hobo), semi-trucks, bicycle, and feet—lots and lots of feet. I think that a horse and an airplane were the only means he didn’t use.

He shut himself of his cash and had all intention to shut himself from not just society, but everyone in it, so he shut himself of his name, sort of. He started telling people his name was Alex (Alexander Supertramp is the full monicre). I say “sort of” because Chris writes his journal in the third person, as Alex. This is supremely odd, so apparently Alex did a bunch of stuff while Chris took notes.

To the main theme of the book, the raison de lire: Chris/Alex arrived in Fairbanks in April 1992. He had picked out where he wanted to begin, in earnest, his self-imposed exile, an unfinished road called the Stampede Trail, long enough abandoned to be nothing but a hint of a path. A couple of days into his hike, he finds an abandoned bus he christens the Magic Bus—it is a relic left from when the road was under construction. It was a temporary shelter for folks working on that project (so while odd to find a bus in the almost middle of nowhere, it did have a provenance). He does well for the better part of 90 days, but suddenly becomes sick and deteriorates for the final 20, leaving a body weighing only 65 pounds.

I remember this happening. Mr. McCandless and I were essentially the same age and had somewhat similar personalities with regards to wanderlust, though mine was the abridged version. For different reasons, we had severe issues with our parents. He attended school at Emory University in Atlanta, my home town. Though I went to a small college out of state, I spent roughly half of my year in Atlanta during his tenure at Emory. All that to say I felt connected enough in 1992 to read what was readily available about him.

Mr. Krakauer wrote the story of the finally luckless wanderer for Outside magazine very shortly after the emaciated body of the young man was found. By and large, the book—published in 1996—adds a couple of theories and suppositions that didn’t appear in the original article but the reason I found the book worth reading are the comparisons Mr. Krakauer makes with himself and historical figures with similar motives and mostly the same fate.

In the middle of the book, Mr. Krakauer does roughly what I’ve done—sees himself in Chris/Alex and follows that thread. He recounts a solo hiking/mountain climbing adventure to a mountain in Alaska called the Devil’s Thumb. I didn’t find this self-serving. He was careful in this portion to explain his story and pretty much let the reader draw most of the parallels.

As stated the strongest theme in the book is Mr. Krakauer’s use of other idealistic wanderers, most of whom were never seen again. I opt not to list the names of the men since the book is short enough to read quickly, and I’d rather not spoil what I find the most interesting part of the book by giving quicker access to Wikipedia.

Mr. Krakauer makes what I see as an editorial, but still significant error. He states, unequivocally, how Chris/Alex starved. It was (and to my mind remains) difficult to surmise how a young man simply starved to death after fending quite well for three months. His death occurred in August, so he didn’t experience even a tiny slice of the Alaskan winter. Based on something Chris/Alex wrote, we are pretty certain he became sick due to something he ate, but whether that is actually what happened or what it was is still not answered. My problem isn’t that the writer posits his idea; it is that he states it as fact.

Now having read and seen I can say that the movie seems to do a very good job interpreting what Mr. Krakauer wrote. Still, with a book, you spend just a bit more time with the person/character. The more time I spent, particularly with Alex, the more I came to dislike him, despite the author trying to show him as sympathetic. I can list the specific reasons why, but that strays too far from whether to recommend the book.

Mr. McCandless’s story is compelling because it is a mystery. What he did was not new; even had Mr. Krakauer not given histories of half a dozen other idealists running into the harsh reality naturalism creates, we would know Chris/Alex was not unique. But when someone decides, purposely, to remove her or himself not just from civilization but from humanity as a whole, that story is intimate and, more than not, unique. Based on this, I recommend the short volume without reservation.

See Mr. Krakauer's Into Thin Air if Into the Wild isn't tragic adventure enough.


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More Into the Wild (book) reviews
review by . July 01, 2010
(Note:  Personal info)  I work at Outside Magazine (where this story was first published as an article) and received this book from my father back in 1990.  When I applied for my position at Outside, my high school english teacher based his recommendation for my position here, by way of  a comparison between myself and McCandless.  I think many of us can relate to the experience of finding ourselves, often in the most extreme and dangerous of situations. (In my case, I …
review by . June 28, 2010
What a fascinating book!  John Krakauer is a literary genius.  The story of Chris McCandless will live on in everyone's heart and soul.  A young college graduate who decides there has got to be more out there goes on the adventure of a lifetime.  A grippping novel that opens your eyes to a whole new world.  I read this book when it was first published and years later it was turned into a movie, which was surprisingly as good as the book itself!  The way the author …
review by . March 03, 2010
Jon Krakauer just can’t help but write bestselling books that are some of my favorites! Krakauer originally wrote a lengthy piece for Outside magazine about the story of Christopher McCandless, a young college graduate who decides to abandon social norms and the comforts of civilization to venture into the wilderness of Alaska. In 1996 Krakauer expanded the article into this bestselling book and true story. On his way to Alaska, McCandless (who renamed himself Alexander Supertramp) meets several …
review by . July 01, 2010
   This is one of my Favourite books. I love wild life and when I saw the name into the wild I really wanted to watch the film. I saw the ratings of the film and decided to watch thinking it would be about wildlife. But after watching it, I wasn't disappointed. Even though it wasn't about wildlife I really enjoyed it. I love it so much that I googled it and found out that it was a true story and there was a book written about it, I went straight to amazon and ordered a book. After …
review by . June 05, 2010
Into The Wild is an informative and interesting book. I read it quickly, if not exactly easily, and I learned a lot about wildlife and survival in a part of America I was not familiar with. It painted a vivid portrait of the outdoor world. For those reasons I did enjoy the story. It was not, however, entirely enjoyable for me, and in fact the main character infuriated me so much that I often had to put the book down to rant at my fiance about it.      I felt guilty about this, …
Quick Tip by . July 29, 2010
Intriguing investigation of a young man in search of an old ideal. Doesn't give easy answers, but illuminates the situation.
Quick Tip by . July 15, 2010
A fast read and a very interesting look into the victim of Alaska's bush psyche. And a good mix of the stories of other people as well.
Quick Tip by . July 13, 2010
Really well-written nonfiction book. The writer makes you really care for Chris McCandless, while simultaneously disdaining him.
Quick Tip by . July 12, 2010
Excellent book! I loved the message that Alex Supertramp was trying to get across. I think he went on the ultimate adventure, and I only wish I had the guts to try something like that. Tragic ending.
Quick Tip by . July 05, 2010
Found myself feeling less than sympathetic toward the protagonist.
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Paul Savage ()
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I name and describe everything and classify most things. If 'it' already had a name, the one I just gave it is better.
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About this book


Into the Wild (1996) by Jon Krakauer is a bestselling non-fiction book about the adventures of Christopher McCandless. It is an expansion of Krakauer's 9,000-word article, "Death of an Innocent", which appeared in the January 1993 issue of Outside.  The book was adapted into a 2007 movie of the same name directed by Sean Penn with Emile Hirsch starring as McCandless. McCandless died in a wilderness area in the state of Alaska.

INTO THE WILD developed out of an article Jon Krakauer wrote for Outside magazine. Emory University honors graduate Christopher Johnson McCandless--"Alexander Supertramp"--took off after college in rebellion against authority and his privileged upbringing. Krakauer reveals the details leading up to the boy's death in the Alaskan wilderness, where he was found by hunters in September of 1992, at the age of 24. The author shares personal reflections about his own risk-taking adventures, as well as impressions of those who knew Christopher. In 2007, the book was made into a film directed by Sean Penn.

The story of Chris McCandless, a young man who embarked on a solo journey into the wilds of Alaska and whose body was discovered four months later, explores the allure of the wilderness.
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ISBN-13: 978-0307387172
Author: Jon Krakauer
Genre: Travel, Social Science, Nature, Biography & Autobiography
Publisher: Anchor Books
Date Published: August 07, 2007
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