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Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

At least 10 years ago, I have always wanted to read this book.

In April 1992, after he graduated with a first in college, Chris McCandless set off alone into the Alaskan wild. He gave all his savings ($24,000) to Oxfam, abandoned his car and his possessions, and burnt the money in his wallet, determined to live a life of independence and living off the earth.

Four months later he was found… (here I’m not introducing any spoiler as it is a well known fact, explained right at the beginning of the book), starved to death near Lake Wentitika in Denali National Park and Preserve. In piercing together the final days of travels of Chris, who nick named himself Alexandra the Supertramp, Jon Krakauer writes about the story of Chris, the heart of wilderness (being a lover of wilderness himself), its terrible beauty and its unforgiving harshness.

Chris appears to be a polite, well-liked, intelligent young man. His favourite and adored writers are Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Jack London. Why would a young man with a promising future walks into the wild without telling his parents where he is going?

Chris did not head straight to Alaska at the first instance. He actually spent a year or so, travelling around America, hitchhiking and working his way as he go along, ultimately wanting to head North to Fairbanks, Alaska. The book kept detail accounts of people that he had met. Most people said the same thing about him: likeable, polite and well read. Sometimes he sends postcards to friends he made on his journey, ironically not to his family, which I think is very sad.

Chris holds a fascination to the Wild and to the snow-covered North:

He read and re-reads The Call of the Wild, White Fang. He was so enthralled by these tales, however, that he seemed to forget they were works of fiction, constructions of the imagination that had more to do with London’s romantic sensibilities than with the actualities of life in the subarctic wilderness. McCandless conveniently overlooked the fact that London himself had spent just a single winter in the North and that he died by his own hand on his California estate at the age of forty, a fatuous drunk, obese and pathetic, maintaining a sedentary existence that bore scant resemblance to the ideals he espoused in print. – page 45

For many moments while reading this book, I criticised Chris for being irresponsible, for not making contact with his parents and siblings, for being totally self-absorbed with his own mission and ideology. Then Krakauer gave me an insight into the childhood and upbringing of Chris, and I soon understand why Chris feels estranged from his family. Chris lives on his impossibly high ideals that no one could understand. Chris is a high achiever, a person who has many natural talents: entrepreneurial, plays the French horn, talented in sport and was a serious long distance runner. His father Walt said “Chris has so much natural talent, but if you tried to coach him, to polish his skill, to bring out that final ten percent, a wall went up.” Chris is an idealist and people around him often misunderstood him and many are unable to meet to his lofty standards. In so many ways I can relate to that.

It would be easy to stereotype Christopher McCandless as another boy who felt too much, a loopy young man who read too many books and lacked even a modicum of common sense. But that stereotype isn’t a good fit. McCandless wasn’t some feckless slacker, adrift and confused, racked by existential despair. To the contrary: His life hummed with meaning and purpose. But the meaning he wrested from existence lay beyond the comfortable path: McCandless distrusted the value of things that came easily. He demanded much of himself – more, in the end, than he could deliver. – page 183

Children can be harsh judges when it comes to their parents, disinclined to grant clemency, and this was especially true in Chris’s case. More even than most teens, he tended to see things in black and white. He measured himself and those around him by an impossibly rigorous moral code. – page 22

A haunting picture of Chris next to an abandoned bus where he died of starvation

This book falls under the travel literature genre but I felt it undermines the weight of the book. It is a book about humanity, about family, ideology and a test of human boundaries that has gone awry. It also carries nuances of mystery as the book peel the layers of truth through witnesses’ account and investigations to arrive at the most sound conclusion for the cause of his death. The book also records 3 or 4 figures from the past who had wander into the wilderness, Alaska and the desert, and met their end; in a discussion to find out why these people did what they did. If there is any gripe about the book, it’s about Krakauer including a chapter which draws parallels between his own experiences and motivations and those of McCandless; which I thought is fair and well but the book is really about Chris McCandless, is it not?

“I have had a happy life and thank the Lord. Goodbye and may God bless you all!” is the entry in the diary, dated 12 August 1992. Chris felt that his body was weakening, that he was losing weight fast, that his end was near. On or shortly after this day, he died. Three weeks later, his body was discovered by a group of hunters. Had Chris still been alive, this encounter would have saved his life. If Chris hasn’t throw away his map, he would have crossed the river using the aluminium tram at further downstream of the Denali river.

Krakauer takes you into the journey of the wilderness and also a young man’s soul, in such a beautiful way that  the man and the wilderness became one and I lifted my judgement and lament the death of an extraordinary young man. One of the most thought provoking travel literature I have ever read.


Into The Wild was adapted into a film, which was released on September 21, 2007.

Paperback. Publisher: Pan Books 2011; Length: 203 pages; Setting: United States of America. Source: Reading Library copy. Finished reading at: 13th May 2012.

Other thoughts: Andreas Moser

About the writer:

Jon Krakauer (born April 12, 1954) is an American writer and mountaineer, primarily known for his writing about the outdoors and mountain-climbing. He is the author of best-selling non-fiction books—Into the Wild, Into Thin Air, Under the Banner of Heaven, and Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman—as well as numerous magazine articles.

Krakauer was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, as the third of five children of Carol Ann (Jones) and Lewis Joseph Krakauer. His father was Jewish and his mother was a Unitarian of Scandinavian descent. He was raised in Corvallis, Oregon, from the age of two. His father introduced the young Krakauer to mountaineering at the age of eight. He competed in tennis at Corvallis High School and graduated in 1972. He went on to study at Hampshire College in Massachusetts, where in 1976 he received his degree in Environmental Studies. In 1977, he fell in love with former climber Linda Mariam Moore and they married in 1980. They lived in Seattle, Washington, but moved to Boulder, Colorado, after the release of Into Thin Air.

Into the Wild was published in 1996 and shortly thereafter spent two years on the New York Times bestseller list.


About JoV

A bookaholic that went out of control.... I eat, sleep and breathe books. Well, lately I do other stuff.


28 thoughts on “Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

  1. This is practically the only Krakauer book I haven’t read (and I’m not sure why, although I agree with you that adding stuff about himself would have been a turn-off for me) but I just love the way (in general) he adds suspense and excitement to stories. I particularly loved Into Thin Air and Under the Banner of Heaven, and highly recommend them.

    Posted by rhapsodyinbooks | May 25, 2012, 2:21 pm
  2. I enjoyed the book. I enjoyed the movie more.

    Posted by Ti | May 25, 2012, 4:07 pm
  3. I’ve been meaning to read this book forever too. When will I get to it I wonder. His other books sound intriguing to me as well, so I’m not sure where to start. Since this gets your nod, I think I’ll give this one a priority!

    Posted by mee | May 25, 2012, 5:30 pm
  4. An extraordinary story and insight into humanity, I hadn’t really known anything about it when I watched the film and was really moved by it. Thank you for recommending the book, it always interests me, stories that demand that we seek understanding beyond initial judgements or impressions and his story certainly does that.

    Posted by Claire 'Word by Word' | May 26, 2012, 10:02 am
    • Claire,
      Thank you for your first comment on my blog.
      I have 2 very young boys and feel the pain of a mother if this thing were to happen to a mother and will gladly knock some sense into Chris Candless alike if I ever had a chance to meet them. But I think the cause of his death overturns every prejudice I may have about Chris and his inane act and I truly believe he doesn’t want to die and tried fervently seeking for help, but it was too late….

      Posted by JoV | May 27, 2012, 12:27 am
  5. i enjoyed this book and the movie as well. In fact my husband and I were discussing it last night as we watched the move, The GREY? Have you seen it?

    Hope you’ve been doing well.

    Posted by Diane@BibliophilebytheSea | May 29, 2012, 1:30 am
  6. Years ago I bought this as a Christmas present for my brother-in-law. Unfortunately he’d already read it. But being the good sport that he is, he gave it back to me and told me to read it. I did and I really enjoyed it. I’ve always used what I learned from this book to point out to people that sometimes a person’s unreasonable ideals can sometimes come back to haunt one.
    Glad you reviewed this!

    Posted by maphead | May 30, 2012, 1:18 am
    • Mark,
      It is a very haunting book Mark. It made me want to go out and buy a copy and keep it. Chris McCandless is a very rare breed in the material world and I strongly believe he did’t want to die but he was fated to do so, but also because of his confidence in his ability that he miscalculated the risk. Sometimes it is good to to be a little level headed.

      Get another book which he hasn’t read yet to your brother-in-law! or get him to blog or sign up to Goodreads. lol

      Posted by JoV | May 30, 2012, 10:44 am
  7. Thank you very much for the quote and link!
    I still think about this book and the story quite often when I am out somewhere in the wilderness.

    Posted by Andreas Moser | May 31, 2012, 10:26 am
  8. this is one I want to read I really liked the film of it mainly watched it because Eddie Vedder did the soundtrack and I m a huge pearl jam fan but such a sad story but also a story of adventure ,all the best stu

    Posted by winstonsdad | May 31, 2012, 6:47 pm
  9. Jo – what a great review. I haven’t read this book but recently read The Other by David Guterson and parts of that story reminded me a lot of Into the Wild. I loved the film and Eddie Vedders song ‘Society’ is one of my favourites ever. I wondered if the book could live up to the film (unusual as it’s often the other way around) but I think after reading your review, I will give it a go. I agree with you, very sad and not easy to forget.

    Posted by Tracey | June 10, 2012, 4:14 pm
    • Tracey,
      Thank you so much for your kind words. I didn’t finish the movie when it is shown on TV, must really catch the Vedders’ song out, I bet it will be really haunting as well. I always think books live up to the film a lot more than the other way round. 🙂

      Posted by JoV | June 11, 2012, 7:13 pm
  10. You mean Chris actually died?! What a sad beginning!

    You put 5-star. Must be good. I ought to check out my library and see if I can grab a copy!

    Thanks for the recommendation. Somehow this book (out of the recent posts) catches my eyes.

    Posted by Wilfrid | June 12, 2012, 3:16 pm
    • Wilfrid,
      Yes Wilfrid. Chris actually died in the end (and they tell you at the beginning) and trace the story back. There weren’t any straight answers to the cause of it but this book will tell you the hypotheses and you can make your mind up. It is a very sad and tragic true story.

      I look forward to hear what you think about it!

      Posted by JoV | June 12, 2012, 3:30 pm
  11. It’s a great movie…..i really enjoy it….

    Posted by Munna Mazumder | September 29, 2012, 1:13 pm
  12. Nicely analyzed. This movie and story changed my way of looking at things. Here is my take on it: http://darntheworld.wordpress.com/2009/12/27/into-the-wild/

    Posted by Lokesh Sahal | October 28, 2012, 9:45 am
  13. I just watched the film for the second time, you really really have to see him! I didn’t know there was a book too, but no doubt I will read the book now!
    The only thing that maybe is holding me a little, is the fact that it would be to good to be true that the book will even be better than the film…
    And indeed, you also have to check the music Eddie Vedder made for the film, society is also one of my favorite songs ever 🙂
    Thanks for sharing!

    Posted by Karen | January 8, 2013, 9:47 pm
    • Karen,
      Thanks for stopping by.
      I have the movie with me and will in due course see it. I always think the book is better than the movie. I like to start with the book then watch the movie to help enhance the images from the book!

      Posted by JoV | January 8, 2013, 9:51 pm


  1. Pingback: It’s a wrap! June 2012 « JoV's Book Pyramid - July 5, 2012

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Ratings Defined

0 = Abandon the book after first chapter

1 = Waste of paper, we will see what the environmentalist say about this!

2 = Skip it, read the book if you have got nothing better to do

2.5 = An average book, easily forgettable.

3 = A good read.

3.5 = A good entertaining read, a page-turner

4 = So glad that I read the book, a book with substance and invaluable for future reference

4.5 = So glad that I read the book, would pester everyone to read it, invaluable, I would want to own it and wouldn't mind a second read (something that I seldom do)

5 = The book is so good that I feel like I am on scale 4 and 4.5, and more, it blew me away and lingers on my head for weeks!

Books Read

JoV's bookshelf: read
Hold Tight
The Fault in Our Stars
The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon
The Thief
Catching Fire
A Tale for the Time Being
Into the Darkest Corner
The Liars' Gospel
Goat Mountain
Strange Weather In Tokyo
Strange Shores
And the Mountains Echoed
Ten White Geese
One Step Too Far
The Innocents
The General: The ordinary man who became one of the bravest prisoners in Guantanamo
White Dog Fell from the Sky
A Virtual Love
The Fall of the Stone City

JoV's favorite books »
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Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking. - Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)

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