⭑⭑⭑½ (3.5/5 see book reviews)

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.

ALEX. (Alexander Supertramp, Chris McCandless’s alter-ego)

Jon Krakauer’s “Into the Wild” chronicals the end Chris McCandless’s life. McCandless died from either starving to death or poisoning himself while living alone in the Alaskan wilderness.

The book is an expansion of Krakaeur’s 1993 Outside magazine cover story. “Into the Wild,” was adapted into a 2007 film by Sean Penn—which I saw well before reading this book.

After watching “Into the Wild,” I’d wondered why anyone would choose to lionize McCandless. I realized after reading this book that I’d missed the point.

It is easy, when you are young, to believe that what you desire is no less than what you deserve, to assume that if you want something badly enough, it is your God-given right to have it.

– Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild

The point of this book seems to be: we were all young and invincible, once. And only luck separates the brave from the stupid.

McCandless was luckless, brave to excess, and a bit of an asshole—unlucky and young, I guess, is another way to say that.

This book reads like a long article in Outside magazine (which I should have expected, I guess). It’s morbidly fascinating, well-written, and maybe just a tad exploitative.

The parts that suck about this book are when the author wildly speculates—for example, about how (exactly) McCandless died, or about McCandless’s sexuality—the book tries to be more interesting than factual. It is interesting, it’s probably close to factual.

Asides

I liked this note from McCandless to a friend where he tries channeling his inner Thoreau:

“The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.”

– Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild, quoting Chris McCandless

One of the best parts of the book was about the author’s own reckless Alaska adventure as a young man: attempting to solo climb the Devil’s Thumb:

Early on a difficult climb, especially a difficult solo climb, you constantly feel the abyss pulling at your back. To resist takes a tremendous conscious effort; you don’t dare let your guard down for an instant. The siren song of the void puts you on edge; it makes your movements tentative, clumsy, herky-jerky. But as the climb goes on, you grow accustomed to the exposure, you get used to rubbing shoulders with doom, you come to believe in the reliability of your hands and feet and head. You learn to trust your self-control.

– Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild, quoting Chris McCandless

Both Annie Dillard (in “the Writing Life”) and Jon Krakauer here seem to have a deep distain for Jack London. I’ve only ever read “Call of the Wild”—and it was fine ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

McCandless conveniently overlooked the fact that London himself had spent just a single winter in the North and that he’d died by his own hand on his California estate at the age of forty, a fatuous drunk, obese and pathetic, maintaining a sedentary existence that bore scant resemblance to the ideals he espoused in print.

– Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild

Details

  • Title: Into the Wild
  • Author: Jon Krakauer
  • Pages: 231
  • Format: EBook
  • Publisher: Anchor
  • ISBN: 0385486804
  • Genre: nonfiction, travel, adventure