‘Into the Wild’
— Jon Krakauer
Shortly after graduating from Emory University in 1990, with honors, young Christopher McCandless gave away essentially all his possessions, including $25,000 in savings, and embarked upon a walkabout that would shame an ascetic.
McCandless found euphoria in his new, austere existence in the margins of America, but in doing so severed himself almost completely from family, friends, and society. His journey ended in a remote corner of the Alaskan wilderness, where he had endeavored to live alone off the land, when his body was found in 1992 by hunters.
Stories of young men vanishing into the wilderness are not new (ie, the Herzog film Grizzly Man), but author Jon Krakauer makes this a potent book by making it intensely personal.
Krakauer can't help but admire the audacity and commitment that McCandless demonstrated. Moreover, Krakauer includes a chapter from his own life—an ambitious but misguided attempt to summit the unclimbed north face of the Devil's Thumb in the Alaskan Wild.
Interrupting the narrative to inject himself into the story is a risk, but one that pays off.
Krakauer's adventure on the Devil's Thumb makes for nail-bitting reading. Had the enterprise proved fatal, as perhaps it should have, Krakauer wonders if his own eulogy would have been any different from McCandless'. It's an interesting argument: is death the ultimate arbitrator of what is rational and what is mere human folly? If Mark Twight, for example, had fallen off some icy face at a young age, would he be viewed, like McCandless, as just another naive kid who courted his own end?
Krakauer isn't willing to explore what seems to be another, more obvious possibility: that McCandless was mentally ill. The sudden shift of behavior that McCandless demonstrates—and its severity—suggests more was at work here than just a young man looking for adventure. In any case, Into the Wild remains a compelling tale of a young man's odyssey into the wilderness—one that ultimately consumed him