In 1993, journalist Jon Krakauer was assigned to write an article in “Outside” magazine about a young man named Christopher Johnson McCandless who was found dead in a bus in Alaska, having seemingly starved to death. After the articles completion, Krakauer could not set aside McCandless’ tale, and spent the next year somewhat obsessively retracing the events that led McCandless’ to Alaska and his subsequent demise. The result of Krakauer’s investigative research is the non-fiction book Into the Wild.
The book opens with Christopher McCandless graduating with honors from Emery University. The son of an affluent family, well liked, and a high achieving track and field star, McCandless seemed to have been doing everything “right” in his life up until this point. On the day of his graduation, however, McCandless informs his family that he will be spending the summer in his beloved yellow Datson on road trip West. This interaction would be the last the McCandless family would ever see of Chris. After abandoning his car only two months into his adventure, McCandless, or “Alexander Supertramp” as he renames himself, spends the next two years hitch-hiking around the north and southwest, with a stint in Mexico, carrying only a small pack with his few possessions. Along the way McCandless meets and befriends many interesting people, whose own stories are also highlighted in the book. Never wanting to remain in one place for too long though, as well as wanting to evade the threat of human intimacy, McCandless passes out of these people’s lives as quickly as he entered.
Jon Krakauer spends a significant amount of the book analyzing McCandless take on how life “should” be lived and his anti-establishment views. Among McCandless’ favorite authors were Jake London and Leo Tolstoy, whose philosophies undoubtedly influenced his decision to renounce modern society’s rules. McCandless admired both author’s condemnation of capitalistic societies and admired their depictions of the natural, unadulterated world. He admired how they forsook a life of wealth and privilege to wander among the destitute.
Into the Wild is not a strict biography of Chris McCandless’ life, his political views, the relationships he forged, and his subsequent death. The book also tells the story of a handful of other young men who went off on their own in a similar fashion as McCandless. Included in these tangential stories is the personal experience of author Jon Krakauer. While Krakauer attempts to remain an impartial author, and in my opinion mostly succeeds, he admits to greatly relating to McCandless and uses examples from his own youth and experiences to shed light on a deeper side of what might have motivated McCandless.
Over all, the book is an elegantly written dedication to the natural beauty and mystery of this country, and the grip that that beauty and mystery can have on one’s imagination. Particularly in young men of a certain age and mind set—typically those who are anti-establishment, thrill seeking, and usually highly intelligent—Into the Wild tells of the seductiveness that the American wilderness can have on us.
Those who enjoyed reading Into the Wild will most likely be pleased with the movie rendition of the book, which follows the book fairly accurately. The soundtrack for the movie, comprised completely of Eddie Vedder’s more mellow songs, is also excellent and worth a listen. For books similar to Into the Wild, try Aron Ralston’s Between a Rock and a Hard Place, Call of the Wild by Jack London, or Jon Krakauer’s second book, Into Thin Air.