Dixie Diamond's Reviews > Into the Wild

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
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Apr 15, 08

bookshelves: biography, outdoors, 1990s, my_books
Recommended for: Don't Try This At Home
Read in April, 2008

** spoiler alert ** My grandfather--not an Alaskan but an experienced outdoorsman--would have tied this kid to a tree and let the bears play tetherball with him.

A small part of me appreciates the effort Krakauer put into researching this book. A much bigger part of me is completely disgusted both with McCandless himself and with Krakauer's mindless adoration of him. Krakauer pulls out all the stops to make McCandless look like a phenomenon, and seems to agree with McCandless that the world should have handed itself to him on a silver salver because he was just so darned special. We're told he was brilliant, independent, funny, kind, musical, athletic, visionary, talented. Can you see the halo? Unfortunately, the impression that comes across is of a snotty adolescent who has never seriously thought of anyone but himself and is used to getting by on charm and flippancy rather than making good use of his considerable gifts (and I do not doubt that he was gifted). The conflicting aspects of his personality don't sound quirky; they sound devious and self-serving.

Krakauer tries half-heartedly to disguise his fascination but his admissions that McCandless was a clueless young hothead sound insincere; he has to say it to sound credible to his readers, who are less smitten. Krakauer makes an apt comparison between himself as an idealistic and foolhardy young man, and McCandless, and then dismisses himself because "he didn't have [McCandless':] intellect". This sounds utterly bogus after all we have been told about McCandless' foolish mistakes, and the obvious fact that Krakauer is not stupid. Two chapters that could have provided some insight into his hero are wasted because Krakauer sounds like a religious fanatic, with McCandless as his unknowable God and Krakauer as the I'm-not-worthy follower.

McCandless' (and Everett Ruess') overconfidence speaks to a fascination with nature but not a respect for it. Courage is not the same as not knowing when we ought to have a healthy degree of fear. Instead, McCandless arrogantly drives his car into the habitat of an endangered species of poppy. He butchers a moose, wasting the life of a beautiful and well-adapted animal because he could not be bothered to learn ahead of time how to preserve it.

This was not a tragedy; this was inevitable. I don't believe he was schizophrenic or suicidal. Bipolar or ADD, maybe. His own friends readily admitted that he had a lot of enthusiasm but little common sense and didn't know much outside of academia. There are so many glaring outdoorsmanship errors made in the first two chapter that even I was cringing.

I write this with full admission that I am not much of an outdoorsperson. However, I don't believe for a minute that he lasted longer than most of us would have, or that "at least he tried it", as so many of his fans insist. I wouldn't try it, not because I'm scared, but because I can tell from here that ten pounds of rice and no preparation is a recipe for failure. I don't need to try it, and if I did, I'd want to live to get something out of it. Lots of other people have gone into the wilderness and come out just fine because they knew the magnitude of their own insignificance and planned ahead.

I'm not jealous of his alleged brilliance, either. I was accepted to Emory. And the University of Chicago. And a couple of other amply respected schools. Lots of people are. Big deal.

1) His bourgeois status made his adventure possible in the first place. He had money to pay his college tuition; the rest of us graduated and went to work to pay off our loans. He also had the gall to complain about his parents' offers to help him out, which smacks of a kid given so much that he doesn't know how fortunate he is.
Furthermore, living with nothing by choice is very different from living with nothing because you have no alternative. Though I'm sure he would have denied it, McCandless had the option of going back to his affluent life if he had wanted to, or if he had had to in an emergency. Maybe it would have knocked his self-image for a loop, but he would have been sheltered, fed, and nursed back to health. A lot of people live in poverty without that safety net.

2) Now is not the time to be squeamish about killing animals. Hint: There are no vegetarian Aleut. This guy was a history and anthropology major. I learned in anthro that you can eat plants and lean protein until you burst and still starve to death if you aren't getting enough calories. It's very difficult to feed yourself if you're alone and don't have a lot of practice at it.

3) If he got this idea from Thoreau and London, he wasn't reading very carefully. McCandless should have read less Thoreau and more Donner Party. London's Alaskan experience was during the Klondike Gold Rush when he had plenty of help from others. Thoreau lived in a cabin on the edge of town, a mile and a half from the family home. He was not in the wilderness. Furthermore, Thoreau's civil disobedience was a protest against the Mexican War and slavery, not a petty defiance of matters of public safety such as mandatory car insurance. McCandless was a rebel without a cause.

4) Book-smart can't save you now. Success-only learning does not work. Krakauer goes into raptures about McCandless' education and intelligence to demonstrate the supposed tragedy of his loss. Nice brain gymnastics, but apples to oranges when what you need is practical knowledge.
This guy was idolized by some my college classmates, most of whom were sheltered, relatively wealthy urbanites. They had the same vague and pathetic need for "real" experiences and arrogant expectation of success that comes from never having failed at anything in their lives.

5) For most of his trip, McCandless was neither independent or self-reliant. He got lost in Mexico; it would have been more self-reliant to get a map and take charge of his own navigation. He didn't eat for days until somebody felt sorry for him and fed him. Once he was in a situation where there was nobody to step in for him, he died (in this respect, I disagree with Krakauer that McCandless was any different from Carl McCunn). Even at that point, he left a note on the door of the bus begging for rescue.
The best (and most independent) outdoorsmen spend years learning. Just because you were a superstar student and athlete doesn't mean you get to skip all the hard work. I've no doubt that McCandless was smart, but he was mind-bogglingly ignorant and inexperienced.

6) Why are these self-discovery escapades always so self-centered? How about joining the Peace Corps? Teaching in inner-city schools? Working in healthcare in a remote South Asian village? If you're so disgusted with society, why don't you do something to improve it rather than keeping all the enlightenment for yourself?

7) Nature is not your babysitter. Nature doesn't care if you live or die. It's survival of the fittest, and humans, compared to most animals, are slow, weak, poorly-armed, poorly-insulated, have no stamina; have poor senses of smell, eyesight, and hearing; and are ill-adapted to go without clean water and food for any length of time. We are clearly meant to live in groups and use tools. This guy didn't even bring an ax.

8) He was already controlled and tainted by society or else he would not have worked so hard to avoid it. His anti-society and anti-materialism were as controlling of him as is the materialism of those who think they can "find themselves" by buying the right clothes or drug habit or SUV.

9) Unprepared people who set out on ill-planned "adventures" and need to be rescued are jackasses. A lot of other people–-better-prepared, better-trained, and more sensible people such as park service, volunteers, and EMT's–-end up spending a lot of time and money, and risking their own necks, to save them. McCandless spared everyone that trouble, but I'm sure there's a whole line of wannabes lined up to try it. I hope they have to pay back every penny spent on their rescues.

And Truth? The bad news is that Truth is relative. It doesn't exist in a vacuum. What a waste.
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Comments (showing 1-50 of 69) (69 new)


Terry Thank for taking the time writing this review. I feel the same way. I really like 2 of Krakauer's other books but was disappointed by this one. He is a great researcher but his subject matter was poor.


Dixie Diamond I just felt like there was this HUGE elephant in the room that Krakauer refused to acknowledge: In a nutshell, that McCandless might not have been the hero figure the author wanted him to be. He might just have been a brilliant but flawed, self-centered, and unprepared kid.

Which is not even a criticism of McCandless. He wasn't the first wannabe-outdoorsman to get in over his head, and he won't be the last. I felt like Krakauer tried too hard to make the "bigger meaning" bigger, or other than, it really was.


message 3: by Rhonda (last edited Jan 27, 2009 07:23AM) (new) - added it

Rhonda What a wonderful and intricately argued review you have written! Although I have not read this book and probably have no intention to do so, I was drawn to the reviews and began to find out more about the book. The first thing that I wondered was whether either the author or subject had ever read London's To Build a Fire.
While reading your review, I couldn't help thinking of so many of the fair haired boys in and out of corporate life, those seemingly charmed souls who glide along with talent only surpassed by their hubris. What I see most is the ready desire to transfer talent in one area to another completely unrelated field as if by magic, in this case outdoormanship.
I recall being a young self-centered "expert" pilot of a 27 foot sailboat in a storm off the Miami coast one day, staring down God as the storm ripped at me. The result didn't make me less confident a sailor, but it did teach me something about how nasty the elements could be... and how not to place myself into the ways of temptation again.
I find that the differences between people, ones who have undergone the near misses, is that some come through this feeling that they are leading special lives and others begin to realize what makes life special. The matter of one's self-destruction, bravado and empty dreams for self-recognition should never be confused with courage. That's reserved for people who actually try and help others ....with a plan.


Josh I loved your review of the book and agree with it completely, though I personally enjoyed reading it. Still, all of your arguments are dead on. And I couldn't help but have a long laugh a point #9 because it's so simple and true.


Dixie Diamond I enjoyed reading it in a perverse kind of way. It's always sort of enjoyable to read something that's familiar (in this case, because he was such a raging Gen X'er and so much like my college classmates, and because the outdoorsy aspect did remind me of Grandpa), even if I don't like the book overall.


CrossProduct Man. This is not a book review. This is a pathetic attempt to stab somebody, who is already dead, in the back one more time.

Seems you are completely unable to relate to what happened. Some people are naive when it comes to nature but at least they try do something different with their lives.

Of course it is much better to spend your life on the internet and stab dead people in the back in book reviews.


Dixie Diamond And, what--I'm alone in my disgust?

He was free to do as he pleased. I am free to disagree and be put off by others' blind adoration. That he's dead doesn't make him a hero.


Jason Yes, your points are spot-on, but I think there's a single reason that could explain all your vitriol, and may have been overlooked by most. Check out my review, and tell me what you think.


Dixie Diamond OCD? I'm not convinced. Not that we'll ever know since it's too late to interview or observe him. I find it a bit odd that somebody who was obsessed with the idea of living off the land would have been so careless in his preparation. (Unless there was [also:] ADHD involved, if we want to attribute this to functional disorders.)

I have Asperger's, by the way, which also tends to make people obsessive, ritualistic, and prone to collecting things. Nothing that he did in the book struck me as particularly ritualistic in the disordered sense.

Although, since this was mentioned, how about (and I apologize for resorting to Wikipedia) obsessive-compulsive personality disorder?


Jason Agree. OCPD is probably a more accurate description, but I didn't want to get into the attributes between the two. I had wander-lust as a young man too, and took a lot of stupid, ill-advised journeys. Granted I obviously prepared for them enough to be alive on this side of them, but my relative will launch into their OCD without a care for the obvious. Asperger's runs in my family too. We got all the problems.


Roman Stadtler Dixie, Yes! I completely agree. While my review wasn't as in depth as yours, we agree on all points.
And yes, it was annoying reading Krakauer comparing himself and McCandless's youthful adventures, saying they were the same. Krakauer arranged to have food dropped to him, which was the big difference. He acknowledged his inability to survive without that help and got around it. McCandless sounded like a selfish, immature, and emotionally messed up kid.


Jason Roman, you not buying the OCD diagnosis either?

In my experiences, no one is 'emotionally messed up' without an underlying psychopathology. McCandless never received counseling, but I bet if he did, he'd have some kind of clinical diagnosis. We all agree nobody in their 'right mind' would walk unprepared into the woods like McCandless did, so what was wrong with his 'right mind?' I would have liked Krakauer to replace the 2 chapters of his personal comparison with 2 chapters of interviews with psychiatrists about why McCandless--a smart guy--would do something so foolish.


Nagrom Does McCandles possibly having some underlying psychopathology absolve him of being a fool, or absolve his supporters of promoting his foolishness?
I don't think so. If he is a victim, it is only of himself in whatever fashion. His supporters, if he was suffering from clinically diagnosable disorder or disease, are not only supporting foolishness as positive behavior, but doing so at the expense of a man who died suffering the ravages of mental illness. It's all very messed up, any way you slice it.
McCandless, regardless of any diagnostically definable illness or not, was still a wandering fool, who died a fools death and deserves none of the celebration he's received.

I wandered here to post my own review of Into the Wild, but after reading Dixie's am not going to bother with the redundancy. She hit all my points, and several I hadn't considered. Awesome review.


Roman Stadtler Jason, I couldn't find your review to read (Fb is acting screwy again), so I don't know about the OCD suggestion. Whether or not he had that, I think any counseling would've helped him. He refused to talk about his dad's betrayal, and that anger drove him. He states, in one of his notes to his sis (I think) that he regards his childhood as a lie (since discovering his father's betrayal), so did he also see his identity as somehow empty or false? If so, is that why he's so reckless with himself? Regardless of whether or not he had an undiagnosed condition, getting some counseling may've relieved some of his anger and, who knows?, given him enough presence of mind to bring a map, or wander up or down stream to find a point to cross, both actions that could've saved him. A condition of some sort could explain why he didn't think of those things, but so could simply having your head in the clouds.

Yes, I wish Krakuer had used those chapters for something like what you suggest. His comparison of himself & McCandless wasn't convincing. It actually had the opposite effect, showing how young Krakuer did have the presence of mind to arrange a food drop, doing what he could to improve his odds.




>Jason wrote: "Roman, you not buying the OCD diagnosis either?

In my experiences, no one is 'emotionally messed up' without an underlying psychopathology. McCandless never received counseling, but I bet if he d..."

Roman wrote: "Dixie, Yes! I completely agree. While my review wasn't as in depth as yours, we agree on all points.
And yes, it was annoying reading Krakauer comparing himself and McCandless's youthful adven..."





Roman Stadtler Nagrom, no it doesn't absolve him, or, more importantly, his supporters. His story should be a cautionary tale, one of those "don't be a dumb-ass in the woods," "talk to someone about your problems" lessons. Those who admire & romanticize him are promoting selfishness & almost criminal foolishness.

Nagrom wrote: "Does McCandles possibly having some underlying psychopathology absolve him of being a fool, or absolve his supporters of promoting his foolishness?
I don't think so. If he is a victim, it is only ..."





Jason Dixie, sorry for hijacking your thread.

I agree with all of you and should have stated this up front: I also think the book unnecessarily--or unwarrantedly--glamorized McCandless. Kraukauer's tone should have been cautionary instead of concillatory. That he compared himself for 2 chapters displays a strong objective voice, when at the outset, the author promised to be balanced.

It's a conjecture, but my review tries to claim that McCandless was less responsible for his actions than we give him credit. For example, an Alzheimer's patient wanders into the woods unprepared and dies. Every reader would blame the Alzheimers; end of story. A bi-polar individual walks into the woods unprepared and dies. Every reader would blame the bi-polar condition; end of story. A severly depressed patient walks into the woods and dies. Every reader would blame the depression; end of story.

An OCD is, by definition, a mental condition that causes irrational acts--just like Alzheimers, bi-polar, and severe depression. Did McCandless do someting foolish? Absolutely! Was he in total control of his actions? Maybe not. And if you're willing to concede that McCandless was not totally in control of his faculties, well...that puts a whole new light on matters.

Into the Wild was well-written, so it wasn't a total waste, but Krakauer was remiss as an investigative reporter not to proffer a collection of reasons why McCandless did what he did. If most GR reviewers disagree with OCD, that's cool, just thought I'd toss out an idea that kept nagging me as I read it.


Roman Stadtler Jason, I can't get your suggestion out of my head! Now I really want a book exploring the possibility that McCandless had some kind of condition. It's intriguing, and would change my opinion of his story. I recently rewatched the movie again (great music & scenery; still can't stand Saint Supertramp), and many of his actions (in both movie & book) would gain a new, deeper meaning ('though still foolish) if a mental/emotional condition was in the mix. Certainly the way McCandless fixates on, and repeats, certain words (did he do this in the book?) excitedly is symptomatic of certain conditions. Now, I'm annoyed that Krakuer didn't mention that possibility. Maybe it didn't occur to him? It would certainly make his story tragic to me, instead of just a story of an immature selfish dumbass (I mean, it is tragic what he did to his family & friends, but as his story stands now, I have no sympathy for McCandless himself. As an aside, the movie added things that weren't in the book. Was his dad physically abusive to his wife? I don't remember that). Dang. I want a deeper interpretation than what was written.


message 18: by Michael (new)

Michael Excellent review. Are you familiar with Dick Proenneke? In 1967, at the age of 50, he built a cabin by hand in the Alaskan wilderness and lived there for thirty years. Of course he planned, had provisions and tools, etc. When he died, he left the cabin to the park service, and the cabin is still in use. An interesting documentary was made called "Alone in the Wilderness" that tells Proenneke's story. Unlike McCandless, Proenneke was a humble man and has left a positive enduring legacy.


Nagrom Michael wrote: "Excellent review. Are you familiar with Dick Proenneke?"
Proenneke was an amazing man, and I think an excellent counter to McCandless. If people want a wilderness hero, Proenneke is the "real deal" where-as McCandless is a pitiful imitation.




message 20: by Roman (last edited Oct 05, 2009 05:00PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Roman Stadtler Proenneke sounds fascinating, I'll seek out that documentary.


message 21: by David (new) - rated it 1 star

David I loved your review of this book. Most of my friends who have read the book or at least see the film seem to romanticize it.

Would you mind if I add you?


message 22: by Sean (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sean What irks me about this review is when you say it wasn't a tragedy. Did you finish the book? What killed him was a plant that wasn't even documented to be deadly.


message 23: by David (new) - rated it 1 star

David Sean wrote: "What irks me about this review is when you say it wasn't a tragedy. Did you finish the book? What killed him was a plant that wasn't even documented to be deadly."

Sean, it's not entirely sure what killed him 100%. From what I remember reading, the theories range from starvation to eating a poisonous plant.

The poisonous-plant theory is *spoiler* the one featured in the film. McCandless apparently confused two different plants: he thought that it was an edible plant but instead ate one that was known to be poisonous. He misidentified the plant he ate, not that he discovered a new poisonous plant.


Nagrom Sean wrote: "What irks me about this review is when you say it wasn't a tragedy. Did you finish the book? What killed him was a plant that wasn't even documented to be deadly."

The specimens of the suspected/claimed plant from the area around the bus were tested by the University of Alaska, and found to not be toxic.
Given that McCandless weighed less than 70 pounds at the time of his death, its much more likely and probable that he starved to death.

Even if he didn't, he put himself out there depending on things of which he had far less knowledge than most experts deem necessary. It wasn't a tragedy. It wasn't even misfortune or bad luck. It was stupidity.


Roman Stadtler David wrote: "I loved your review of this book. Most of my friends who have read the book or at least see the film seem to romanticize it.

Would you mind if I add you?"


Who are you addressing, David? If it's me, sure, you can add me.




message 26: by Sean (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sean "It would be easy to stereotype Chris 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 the 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 rested from existence lay beyond the comfortable path. Chris distrusted the value of things that came easily. He demanded much of himself, more in the end that he could deliver."

Yep, sounds like stupidity! Pushing yourself and never settling is a terribly stupid thing to do. He followed his dreams and led the life he wanted to lead and it's labeled as stupid.

And yeah, the book that HE had didn't have the plant listed as deadly. Krakauer printed that very clearly.


Jason Stupid, yes; tragic, no. But something underlying that Krakauer never addressed...
http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...



message 28: by Nagrom (last edited Nov 15, 2009 11:28AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Nagrom Sean wrote: " "It would be easy to stereotype Chris 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 the stereotype isn't a good fit. ..."

Take note – After McCandless died, the University of Alaska tested the eskimo potatoes in the area entirely surrounding the van, and found not a one of them to be poisonous. If he poisoned himself, he went far outside of his area to do it.

As for stupidity -
My dream is to fly. If I jump off a bridge with a cardboard wing taped to my back because I want to fly, is anyone expected to have sympathy for me? I certainly hope not. Hopefully, that would be rightfully called Stupid.
If I go and get training to use a hang-glider, become proficient in its use, and then take a running leap off a span with it strapped to my back, and still get splattered by a downdraft, then maybe I'd merit some sympathy and understanding.
There is a vast difference between striving for your dreams in an appropriate and safe manner, and doing it in a wild and reckless fashion. When your dreams involve circumstances and situations which might easily kill you, persisting in behaving wildly and recklessly is extremely unintelligent. The wilderness is an unforgiving mistress for anyone, but the unintelligent pay a particularly high price.

McCandless may have been a driven, accomplished, young man in his life prior to striking out on his journey. His drive and passions, his valuation of the hard earned life, obviously shone through in the things he did. That, however, is not a testament to (or against) his intelligence, certainly not his intelligence about the wilderness.
His failing isn't that he demanded more than he could deliver, his failing is that he did not demand enough. If he had been more demanding of himself and his preparedness, he'd probably still be here. But, he isn't, because he didn't have it in him to do the right thing.

I grew up forty miles from a paved road (farther, by a great deal, than McCandless died from a paved road, I'd note), and have lived most of my life outside of civilization. In addition to living in it, I've cowboyed, hunted, guided, and fought fire in the wilderness. It takes a great deal of knowledge and practiced skill to make a successful go of working, much less living, out. McCandless didn't have what it takes - He could have easily achieved it with a little prior planning and preparedness. He didn't do that. He simply went, and expected the world to take care of him.
While some seem to find that innocence and naivety charming, it's really not. Charming naivety is not the mark of the genetic stock that got the human race to where it is today. Such innocence is not sweet or sympathetic - It's unrealistic, its dangerous, and in the end, for McCandless, it was stupid. Stupidity is willful ignorance, and McCandless was extremely willful (he wouldn't have gotten where he did without strong will). He willed himself to make it, and in willing himself to make it he willed himself right out of taking the steps that would have ensured he would have made it. Stupid.

I could do what McCandless did, I've done similar things as a matter of living, and I'd still be here to talk about it. That doesn't make me special, there are thousands of people (probably millions) in North America alone who could do that. There are people who live that way as a matter of their natural existence every day the world over. They can do it too. None of us are special, we just aren't naïve and foolishly unprepared. McCandless was the special one, in that he couldn't do what millions of people, over thousands of years of human existence, have done in far worse conditions than he was living in.
McCandless was not an unfortunate, he was a reckless lunatic who got, in the end, what he set himself up for. It was, whether poisoned or starved, a horrible way to die, and I wouldn't wish it on him, but he did bring it on himself.


message 29: by Sean (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sean You realize that using your flying analogy and comparing it with someones intent to live off the land is a fucking horrible analogy right?

"
There is a vast difference between striving for your dreams in an appropriate and safe manner, and doing it in a wild and reckless fashion. When your dreams involve circumstances and situations which might easily kill you, persisting in behaving wildly and recklessly is extremely unintelligent."

Tell that to him: http://www.teachnet.ie/fwilliams/2006...

"He could have easily achieved it with a little prior planning and preparedness. He didn't do that. He simply went"

Yeah, but what you are failing to understand is that that was the entire point. He was cocky. Stupid, no. Cocky, yes.

"
I could do what McCandless did"

lol

"and I wouldn't wish it on him"

wow, that's so sweet of you!



Nagrom Sean wrote: "You realize that using your flying analogy and comparing it with someones intent to live off the land is a fucking horrible analogy right?

"
There is a vast difference between striving for your dr..."

Brother, there's no need for cursing like that. The analogy isn't to living off the land, its to following your dreams whatever they may be.

Even if it were that direct of an analogy, it would be no worse than yours to Gandhi.
Gandhi was an intelligent, and experienced, man. He had a great deal of wisdom and knowledge about himself, about people and about the world he was trying to change. Comparing what he did, to the irrational and unprepared efforts of Chris McCandless is ridiculous.

I'm curious what your wilderness experience actually is, because you seem to be one of these people with an overly romantic notion of how it really is and whats required to succeed out here.

Cocky is stupid. If you'd ever worked in a dangerous profession, or a dangerous place, where the demands on men/women and their characters was high, you'd know that. The wilderness is just such a place. There is little for cockiness - Being cocky will never replace knowing and ability for the tasks at hand. The only allowance for cockiness should be for that which earned - Jet jocks are cocky, speed boat racers are cocky, hotshot crews are cocky, professional mountaineers are cocky, because they do something which requires exceptional skills and critical thinking abilities, without which they could easily die.
McCandless had no right to be cocky, he had earned nothing. He had no professional or competent level of skill or aptitude. And he proved that.

I could do what he did (minus the starving and dying bit), but my point is not that I'm special for it, but that damn near anyone could with the right preparations, or coming from the right lifestyle. McCandless didn't try and fail at something noble... He tried and failed at something that legion of others have accomplished. It doesn't make him a hero, it makes him a fool.
And the only worse fool, is the fool who follows him.

There are a lot of real deal wilderness heros, people who lived off the land and their own hard work for decades in truly remote places. There are people who pushed the extremes of human ability in some of the worst and most hostile places in the world. Some of them died, some of them succeeded. But they took it to the limit, and they did so with knowledge, preparedness and skill, and when they died, they did it fighting. Not starving, not vomiting, not squatting in an old bus a few miles from a road.



message 31: by Sean (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sean Yes, maybe the Gandhi analogy is ridiculous, but it was ridiculous only on its own, not in context to your horrible one a few posts ago. Gandhi did nothing in a safe or appropriate manner and that was the correlation.

And cockiness isn't necessarily stupid. Often times it is, I'll give you that, but when you are talking about a guy who graduated with honors from a prestigious university, stupid is not the best word to describe him. I saw him more as someone who was immature and wanting to live out his dream.

I'm happy that you could do what Chris did, really, I am. We live in a country that is populated with fat, lazy, apathetic idiots and for you to say you could do something that most couldn't is quite a feat. But most people could not do it. I think I read somewhere that over 75% of the population is overweight, which is pathetic and disgusting.


Larry Farlow My daughter had to read this book for school. It looked interesting so I decided to read it as well. I'm about half way through now and am already disgusted with "Alex". I think Dixie has hit the nail on the head. She says exactly what I've been thinking so far about this book.

The definitive statement is this:

"Lots of other people have gone into the wilderness and come out just fine because they knew the magnitude of their own insignificance and planned ahead."

This was a kid who had a hugely inflated sense of his own importance and no wisdom (not the same as intelligence) which proved to be a deadly combination.


message 33: by Alveena (new)

Alveena kameeno koi book to rakho perhnay wali..... dash dash dash ouaaaaaaaaaaannnnnn oaaauuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuunnnnnnn :(((((


Bagerberf i think McCandless is not a stupid man as you said he was an extraordinary man. no matter what he done we are talking about him right now. living like everybody do (go jop, come home every day )

you will die and no one will remember one of your words


Meaghan Your thoughts are spot on.....however, I don't understand why the discussion has to be whether McCandless' act of self-expulsion was right or wrong. Why can't it just be? Maybe I am a naive reader, but I read Krauker as mostly just showing it "like it was;" merely offering up for the reader a pretty, more neat and tidy picture of McCandless' life--though at the same time highlighting others' less regarded views of the boy and his lifechoices--enabling the reader to ponder both perspectives, not simply digest the story unchewed.

I am a very intense person. So I very much relate to Krauker, McCandless, and other reckless adventurers like them. What I do as an outlet may not please everyone; but I am who I am and though try as I may to curb or negate the effects of a restless and insatiable appetite for experiences and stimulations, I ultimately will live my life how I live my life, and there may be some severe repercussions (both for me and those that I love) along the way because of that.

So Chris McCandless hurt his family. And he didn't join the Peace Corp. So...do we think this is WORSE than the person who sends money to International Aid organizations and spends a couple summers volunteering to walk dogs at the ASPCA, yet closes his mind to the injustices that are apparent in his daily life by, for instance, continuing to eat from suppliers where there have been repeated, documented accounts of torture and by engaging in the constant and unburdened use of products that we eventually don't need and that, when later junk, will have to be burned, buried, or sent to rot and leak its juicy toxic stew into (as of now) fertile soil of that same developing country that his fifty bucks a month is going to through USAID??

What is the right Truth? Did Krauker explicitly say or even implicitly infer that McCandless was onto this right Truth? I did not think so. I think he showed that McCandless did what he needed to do to quench the thirst that was readily apparent inside of him from the day he was born. He thought, through deep introspection and soul searching, that he could no longer go on the way he was living in society. That's what he came up with. I liken it to those who choose to commit suicide rather than live with their demons: not many understand how the pain can get bad enough--enough to hurt so many others, cause so much grief, leave so much open and unfilled. It is a selfishness not understood by many, but it is nonetheless real.

McCandless lived his life--probably to THE BEST OF HIS ABILITY. And I bet he lived a life--short though it was--more exciting and fun-filled than many of us. Selfish? SURE!! But I think to label the narratives of Krauker, McCandless, and others as "bad" or "stupid" or "irrelevant" is reactionary and ethnocentric.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, why can't we just view the story as one that portrays an individual who thought about a lot of things very deeply--probably too deeply, but more deeply than a large share of our population--with all the best intentions of finding himself happiness, and ended up being sucked into this extreme spiritual journey that only he could understand the importance of fulfilling and that ultimately ended his life?

I take this story as little more than the story of an intense person who lived an intense life. The story is a sad one, but boy is it rich.


message 36: by Mike (new)

Mike Duvall Thank you Ms. Diamond for your extensive comment. I enjoyed reading it and aligned with most. I can see how one can arrive at ..."Truth is relative." But I disagree. Truth is pure and finite. Ask enough questions and it can be found. Too often we tire and stop short. No matter how many layers of fog cut through in search of it, anything short of it leaves one more rock unturned, and remains just one person's opinion or interpretation. Keep digging, for the truth is only at the very bottom of discovery, the last answer.


message 37: by Carol (new)

Carol Neman In Message 37 Bagerberf remarked 'you will die and no one will remember your words'...but that's not true, because I will.


message 38: by Mike (new)

Mike Duvall Good job Carol. Two proofs that you are right are The Bible, and the U.S. Constitution. As long as there remains at least one person in search of guidedance toward an ever-higher quality of life, AND the words are meaningful enough and preserved in ink, then someone will find them, and those words will be remembered. And hopefully change, or at least influence, the way we think and act, toward ourselves and each other.


Karen I had such mixed feelings about this book. I grew up poor, put myself through college by working, am still paying on student loans, and went through a lot of horrible things as a child- in fact I lived with similar parent betrayal. I came out of it ok with a greater respect for myself in the end.

Despite all of this I would never treat my family this way, especially a sister (in my case a brother) that I adored. I don't know if he was mentally I'll, an adventurer, or just and incredibly self centered egotist, but I had a very hard time feeling any sympathy for him. My husband and I regularly hike, back pack, snow shoe, rock climb, canoe, and camp (very regularly off trail) and I would never go out unprepared and think I could come out un-scathed. There is a big difference not only between street smarts and book smarts, but between book smarts and reality in a new situation.

I'm not sure if I read a newer version of the book, but in my copy it says he probably died of starvation due to eating plants that had a newly a discovered fungus on it which blocks the absorption of proteins...

I love and have a healthy fear of nature. His death was tragic, but going into the wilderness alone and un- prepared is suicide.


Ruben Point 4 and 6 are the best points and should be noted for everyone. Trying to free yourself from society by being self-centered doesn't really benefit anyone especially yourself. You are better off trying to do something to improve it. ^^


message 41: by Chris (new)

Chris Excellent review, and quite an interesting discussion following it in the comments. This all reminds me of Timothy Treadwell, who went into the wilderness every summer for 13 years to study bears, ignoring a lot of responsible safety protocols for observing wildlife, thinking the bears were his friends, until his luck ran out in the 13th summer and he and his girlfriend were attacked and eaten by a bear. This was the subject of a documentary Grizzly Man by director Werner Herzog, and of several books. I wish I could remember the title of the book I read about it because it was excellent. All the speculation in this comment thread about bipolar, ADD, obsessive compulsive personality disorder, also relates to Treadwell. (The documentary has a lot of footage he shot of himself and I lean towards bipolar, although there is a lot of comorbidity and overlap between mental disorders.) If McCandless was mentally ill in some way, this story would not be the first time that mental illness was somehow romanticized, implying a greater insight into truth. Quite aside from the mental illness angle, your review, Dixie, outlines many other reasons why this is not a tale to be romanticized.


Dixie Diamond I actually identify pretty well with people who develop unhealthy obsessions with wild animals. Aspies are another group of people who often find animals easier "social equals" than humans. I do especially well with cats. (However, having worked for a veterinarian and seen what kind of damage a scared 10-pound house-cat can inflict, there is no way in heck I'd have a pet tiger.) So, I get it.

On the other hand, I also suspect that these are, at least in some instances, cases of chronic misfits--and again, I do understand the social isolation and the feelings of insignificance, personal failure, and depression that go with this--in combination with a lot of ego. People who want to be special and who want to believe that they have special "privileges" with animals (or nature) that others don't. It's almost a weird kind of "stealth ego": A desire to appear to shun other humans at the same time establishing superiority over them through these privileged relationships.

Sandra Piovesan could be another example. I've no doubt she loved her wolf-dogs, but nobody who actually understood canine behavior would allow one of them to dominate her in this manner and think it was "playful" or "safe". Again, fascination without respect or even genuine understanding.


message 43: by Chris (new)

Chris Thanks for the interesting link. Your mention of people with Asperger's and animals made me think of the Temple Grandin books I've read. There was someone who, to paraphrase you, used her fascination AND respect to achieve genuine understanding of the animals she studied. She benefited animals in a large part because she did not romanticize or anthropomorphize nature. Another example might be Monty Roberts, the horse whisperer. He has said he feels his colour blindness gave him an advantage in noticing the patterns of body language between horses, but never claimed he got inside their heads or was "one with the horses" or any tripe like that.


Karib Thanks for the spot-on review!


Bryan Marple Did we read the same book?? You must have watched the film adaptation. Krakauer is not making McCandless out to be a hero at all. This review is clearly an example of missing the entire fucking point of a book.


Vincent I feel like this is a love it or hate it book. My Dad, whom I respect immensely, is the kind of person who would agree with this review. It takes a different type of person, not a better person, but different. I think that McCandless perspective on life is just different, I would do what he did, it sounds amazing. Yeah there's a chance you might die, it's obvious he knew this, but thats not what life's about. He wanted to push himself, love it or not thats how he lived his life. I'm backpacking through Europe this Spring, some people think it's stupid and crazy, but I love it. Some people think McCandless was stupid and crazy and reckless, some share his enthusiasm. Just because you don't agree doesn't mean he wasn't mentally sound or was an asshole. Just means that he saw life differently and valued different things.


message 47: by David (new)

David Dax I don't disagree with your comments about McCandless, but I believe that you are unduly harsh about Krakauer. There is enough ambiguity in his account to give me the impression that he never really made his mind up about McCandless. I just finished reading this book yesterday and am fascinated with both the subject matter and Krakauer's writing of it. I have not seen Sean Penn's film and don't care to, nor am I interested in Ron Lamothe's take on the subject.


message 48: by David (new)

David Dax Rhonda wrote: "What a wonderful and intricately argued review you have written! Although I have not read this book and probably have no intention to do so, I was drawn to the reviews and began to find out more a..."

I recommend that you read Krakauer's book before commenting on him. He referred in some detail to Jack London's "To Light a Fire" and other work.


message 49: by David (new)

David Dax Bryan wrote: "Did we read the same book?? You must have watched the film adaptation. Krakauer is not making McCandless out to be a hero at all. This review is clearly an example of missing the entire fucking ..."

Indeed, Bryan. It amazes me how many people either did not read the book or did so very cursorily. Krakauer's account was meticulously researched, and his feelings about McCandless seem at most to be ambivalent.


message 50: by Winkisdinkis (last edited Dec 08, 2011 12:41AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Winkisdinkis Seriously? At first I was going to comment something about you having missed the point, but it seems like you may have not even read the book.

Let's get one thing out of the way: very little is known about Chris McCandless. Even less is known about his motivations for doing what he did. This is extremely problematic insofar as you review is concerned, because in essences it amounts to a series of crass generalizations and vulgar, baseless assertions (some of which you've been so kind to number for us). e.g:

"Krakauer pulls out all the stops to make McCandless look like a phenomenon [etc., etc., etc.]" [A lesson in rhetoric from Strunk & White: "When you overstate, readers will be instantly on guard, and everything that has preceded your overstatement as well as everything that follows it will be suspect in their minds because they have lost confidence in your judgment or your poise."]
"a snotty adolescent who has never seriously thought of anyone but himself" [It seems you quit reading early on: we're told in the first few chapters that he spent his Fridays as a teen handing out burgers to the homeless. We could even just skim wikipedia: "McCandless donated the remaining $24,000 of the $47,000, given to him by a family friend for his law degree, to Oxfam International, a hunger charity."]
"I don't believe he was schizophrenic or suicidal. Bipolar or ADD, maybe." [Thanks for the expert opinion, doc. But don't you feel like you should maybe meet the patient before making a diagnosis?]
"He had money to pay his college tuition; the rest of us graduated and went to work to pay off our loans." [Like I say, we don't know much about the guy, but something tells me he wouldn't have waited around to pay off his loans, had he acquired any.]
"Though I'm sure he would have denied it, McCandless had the option of going back to his affluent life if he had wanted to, or if he had had to in an emergency." [Again, I would be so sure he would deny it for those reasons. You seem overly concerned with his "authenticity" here. He wasn't really poor, not by circumstance. Unfortunately it doesn't follow that just because some people are poor and want not to be someone who's rich it has no right not to desire to be poor.]
"If he got this idea from Thoreau and London, he wasn't reading very carefully." [I commend you for the "if." We don't know in what way McCandless was inspired by whom. However you really should have followed it to it's logical end and stopped there.]
I'd quote more, but its the same stuff, on and on, ad nauseam.

You've found a character which you (like everyone else) don't know much about, and filled him up with all the imagined flaws you so much dislike in Others. McCandless becomes merely a generalized caricature (the hipster, the idealistic liberal, the young affluent incapable of true suffering (and thus knowing nothing about Life) the hippie, etc.). This is not a book review, nor is it anything to do with Chris McCandless the real life individual. It is a thinly disguised airing of opinion, which, if you'll allow me to digress into the sort of generalization you're so fond of, reads like that of a 16-year-old's post on 4chan.

Once again: no one knows much of anything about McCandless. His myth is interesting, but let's admit it: it's just a myth. We can talk about him, sure, but let's acknowledge that he's a creation, an image, not someone with any really existence we can make valid statements about.

And finally, let's consider that maybe the myth is so popular because it says something about certain tendencies towards safety and self-preservation which might not be as axiomatic as we'd like to believe. That maybe McCandless did those reckless things he did precisely because he didn't want to be safe, much like Krakauer tells us he climbs because there's a very real possibility of death. What's so painful and (literally) narrow-minded about this review is that you refuse to acknowledge such a thing, let alone engage in conversation with it.


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