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Into the Wild Paperback – January 20, 1997
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"God, he was a smart kid..." So why did Christopher McCandless trade a bright future--a college education, material comfort, uncommon ability and charm--for death by starvation in an abandoned bus in the woods of Alaska? This is the question that Jon Krakauer's book tries to answer. While it doesn'tcannotanswer the question with certainty, Into the Wild does shed considerable light along the way. Not only about McCandless's "Alaskan odyssey," but also the forces that drive people to drop out of society and test themselves in other ways. Krakauer quotes Wallace Stegner's writing on a young man who similarly disappeared in the Utah desert in the 1930s: "At 18, in a dream, he saw himself ... wandering through the romantic waste places of the world. No man with any of the juices of boyhood in him has forgotten those dreams." Into the Wild shows that McCandless, while extreme, was hardly unique; the author makes the hermit into one of us, something McCandless himself could never pull off. By book's end, McCandless isn't merely a newspaper clipping, but a sympathetic, oddly magnetic personality. Whether he was "a courageous idealist, or a reckless idiot," you won't soon forget Christopher McCandless.
From Publishers Weekly
After graduating from Emory University in Atlanta in 1992, top student and athlete Christopher McCandless abandoned his possessions, gave his entire $24,000 savings account to charity and hitchhiked to Alaska, where he went to live in the wilderness. Four months later, he turned up dead. His diary, letters and two notes found at a remote campsite tell of his desperate effort to survive, apparently stranded by an injury and slowly starving. They also reflect the posturing of a confused young man, raised in affluent Annandale, Va., who self-consciously adopted a Tolstoyan renunciation of wealth and return to nature. Krakauer, a contributing editor to Outside and Men's Journal, retraces McCandless's ill-fated antagonism toward his father, Walt, an eminent aerospace engineer. Krakauer also draws parallels to his own reckless youthful exploit in 1977 when he climbed Devils Thumb, a mountain on the Alaska-British Columbia border, partly as a symbolic act of rebellion against his autocratic father. In a moving narrative, Krakauer probes the mystery of McCandless's death, which he attributes to logistical blunders and to accidental poisoning from eating toxic seed pods. Maps. 35,000 first printing; author tour.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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"At that stage of my youth, death remained as abstract a concept as non-Euclidean geometry or marriage. I didn’t yet appreciate its terrible finality or the havoc it could wreak on those who’d entrusted the deceased with their hearts. I was stirred by the dark mystery of mortality. I couldn’t resist stealing up to the edge of doom and peering over the brink. The hint of what was concealed in those shadows terrified me, but I caught sight of something in the glimpse, some forbidden and elemental riddle that was no less compelling than the sweet, hidden petals of a woman’s sex. In my case— and, I believe, in the case of Chris McCandless— that was a very different thing from wanting to die."
The quotations from Thoreau to Tolstoy to Jack London (usually sections found highlighted by Chris McCandless) place what could have been a pathetic, self-absorbed adventure gone terribly wrong into a much larger context, making it all start to make sense by the end of the book.
"...suddenly you were on your own, you had to learn to walk by yourself. There was no one around, neither family nor people whose judgment you respected. At such a time you felt the need of committing yourself to something absolute— life or truth or beauty— of being ruled by it in place of the man-made rules that had been discarded. You needed to surrender to some such ultimate purpose more fully, more unreservedly than you had ever done in the old familiar, peaceful days, in the old life that was now abolished and gone for good.
"BORIS PASTERNAK, DOCTOR ZHIVAGO PASSAGE HIGHLIGHTED IN ONE OF THE BOOKS FOUND WITH CHRIS MCCANDLESS’S REMAINS."
I do not share McCandless's obsession with "the wild" but like most of us with a Y chromosome, I can relate at some primitive level. Our species evolved because of our extraordinary curiosity and desire to roam. Our ancestors all walked out of Africa only a few hundred thousand years ago and we have been walking ever since. The idea that there is nothing untamed left to explore or experience offends us somehow. McCandless took this idea to a ridiculous, tragic extreme, but it's hard not to respect the spirit driving him even if we can shake our heads at his naïveté.
There are more questions than answers about this young man and his demise - did he realize he wasn't really in the wild after all but a few miles from a major highway? was he the one who vandalized and trashed the nearby well-stocked cabins? what exactly did he eat that may have so suddenly incapacitated him after he had survived so long on his own wits (and firearms)? had he survived, would he have returned home and reconciled with his family, having answered whatever burning question he had to answer on his own?
I feel that Krakauer is inviting us into a crime scene. We have a body, some clues, but so many more questions. What Krakauer excels at developing is motive, taking us into the mind of this young man (who the author annoyingly refers to as a "boy" although he was approaching his mid-twenties) and walking us through his final days.
It's a fascinating, gripping read. If I could give it 6 starts, I would.
Most recent customer reviews
Wish he stuck to the story at hand
I began to speed read to avoid his spattering s about himself