Thursday, August 12, 2010

170 (2010 #35). Into the Wild

by Jon Krakauer

This is the (mostly) true story of Christopher McCandless, who spent 100+ days trying to live off the land in a remote part of Alaska and ended up dying of starvation in August 1992 at age 24. I say mostly true because Krakauer does do some speculating on exactly what caused McCandless' death.

Krakauer starts his book with the hitchhiking Chris being let off at the Stampede Trail near Denali National Park at the end of April 1992. He next writes about the discovery of Chris' body a little over four months later in an old bus that was hauled down the trail in 1961 to serve as housing for road construction workers. He then looks at Chris' early life, and his cross-country travels after graduating from college in 1990 (and some of the interesting people he met along the way). Krakauer uses Chris' own journal entries to detail his days in Alaska, with little more than a rifle, knife, and ten pounds of rice to survive on. He also talks about the effect of Chris' death on his family, friends and acquaintances.

In addition, Krakauer compares McCandless to others who challenged the wilderness, such as Everett Reuss, who went missing in the Utah desert in 1934 at age 20, and the author himself on a rather risky solo climb. He tries to show that the urge to challenge oneself against nature is fairly common.

Krakauer presents arguments that McCandless took unnecessary and even foolish risks, but also postulates that he died from mistakenly eating poisonous or moldy seeds. Krakauer states, on page 194, that "If true, it means that McCandless wasn't quite as reckless or incompetent as he has been made out to be." There's a lot of controversy about this theory. Many feel Krakauer is an apologist for McCandless, while others admire what Chris was trying to do. In any case, Krakauer's book is well-written and engaging, and I'd love to read more by him.

I read this for my local book club's meeting this month, which unfortunately I'm going to have to miss. I think this book will make for a good discussion. In general, I feel Chris lacked common sense and made foolish mistakes, especially going into the wilderness so unprepared. On the other hand, I have a son who is the same age as Chris (and can be just as arrogant at times), and looking back at myself at age 22-24, I also engaged in a lot of risky behaviors. Thinking about that, I have a lot more sympathy for McCandless.

© Amanda Pape - 2010

[This book was borrowed from my university library and has been returned.]

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