Saturday, August 11, 2012

Into the Wild


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 moose hunter....

A Review from Amazon by J Mullin:
There is little suspense (in the traditional sense of the word) in Krakauer's Into the Wild, as anyone who reads the synopsis or picks up the book instantly learns that it is the story of a young man, Chris McCandless, who ventures into the Alaskan Wilderness and who never gets out. Chris' body is found in an abandoned bus used by moose hunters as a makeshift lodge, and Krakauer skillfully attempts to retrace his steps in an effort both to understand what went wrong, and to figure out what made McCandless give away his money, his car, and head off into Denali National Forest in the first place.
His book was one of the most haunting, unforgettable reads in recent years for me. I was mezmerized by passages in the author's other best-selling masterpiece Into Thin Air, such as the passage involving stranded and doomed guide Rob Hall, near the Everest summit, talking to his pregnant wife via satellite phone to discuss names for their unborn child. However, I was unprepared for the depths of emotion felt in reading Into the Wild - it literally kept me up at nights, not just reading but thinking about the book in the dark.
Some reviewers criticized the book because they thought McCandless demonstrated a naive and unhealthy lack of respect for the Alaskan wilderness. This is no hike on the Appalachian Trail - Chris was literally dropped off by a trucker into the middle of nowhere, with no provision stores, guides, or means of assistance nearby at his disposal. He had a big bag of rice and a book about native plants, designed to tell him which plants and berries he could eat. "How could he have been so stupid?", they ask.
Well, I certainly didn't feel compelled to give away my belongings, pack some rice and a Tolstoy novel and walk into the woods after reading the book, but the author does a remarkable job of exploring McCandless the person, including passages derived from interviews with the many poeple whose lives he touched in his odyssey as he drove and then hitch-hiked cross country from his well-to-do suburban home. Some of the more touching parts of the book involved tearful reminisces by some of these old aquaintances when they learned he had perished.
Krakauer also throws in for good measure an illuminating passage about a similar death-defying climb that he foolishly attempted at about the same age as McCandless, with little training and preparation, providing insight into what makes a person attempt a dangerous climb or hike. He even tells several fascinating tales, all of them true, of other recreational hikers who were stranded in the wilderness.
By the end of the book, I thought I understood McCandless' character, and I thought Krakauer was probably right in putting his finger on exactly what caused his death. I was moved by his plight regardless of his possible foolishness in venturing into Denali, and the final scenes involving Chris' family were emotionally devastating. You need not be an outdoorsman to appreciate it, and in fact unlike Into Thin Air the book is completely accessible to those who know nothing about the subject. I think this book is destined to become a classic.

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