Laurel's Reviews > Into the Wild

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
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's review
Sep 02, 14

really liked it
bookshelves: non-fiction, travel-adventure
Read in April, 2009

[If you don't already know the basic story of what happened to Chris McCandless, then this review will contain spoilers].

After graduating with honors from Emory University, Chris McCandless opted out of law school and instead donated all of his savings ($24,000 worth) to charity, abandoned his possessions, gave himself a new, silly name (Alexander Superstar) and, without telling his family (something I found quite troubling), spent two years on a journey of self-discovery as he traversed across the United States. His journey ended in tragedy after a three month solo adventure into the Alaskan wilderness.

Whether you admire McCandless for his passion, idealism and sense of adventure, or you believe he was nothing more than a self-absorbed numbskull -- this IS an interesting story.

I personally found myself oftentimes confused as to whether I even liked McCandless. I kept getting annoyed at his multitude of immature decisions, and had to keep reminding myself that I, too, thought I was invincible when I was 24 years old. And whether you ultimately end up liking him or not, the fact of the matter is, the poor kid died. I saw some other reviewers have said they feel no sympathy for him because his death came at the fault of his own errors and irresponsibility. But how many people can say they have never made poor decisions in life? Who hasn't, at some point, been over-confident, foolish and irresponsible? Certainly we don't each deserve to die for sometimes being careless. The difference is, most of us live to tell our story and learn from our mistakes. Chris McCandless did not.

It's worth noting that despite his inexperience, he DID survive three months in the wild with no significant problems. Ultimately, what killed him was one simple mistake: he ate some poisonous potato seeds. The seeds blocked an enzyme in his stomach, causing him to slowly starve to death. While this seems a careless mistake to the more advanced outdoorsman, McCandless at least had the foresight to purchase a book of botany before his adventure, which he brought with him. The book listed in detail which plants and berries were and were not edible. Unfortunately, however, it mentioned nothing of the toxicity of this particular seed.

Of course, if he'd brought a map with him (I mean, who knowingly goes into the wilderness without a map?), he'd have known civilization was not all that far away, and could have tried going for help. If he'd brought enough food with him, he may have been healthy enough to fight off and eliminate the toxin on his own, or perhaps would not have even eaten the seed in the first place. But, he didn't do these things, and it cost him his life.

Jon Krakauer tells this story well, and the details of McCandless' life and experiences are meticulously researched. My only complaint would be that, at times, for comparison's sake, the author often went off on long side stories about other adventurers who never made the journey back home. I found these stories interesting, but somewhat distracting. I kept wanting him to stay focused and get on with the details of McCandless' story instead.

Overall, this is a fascinating (albeit depressing ) book. I noticed one reviewer commented on the fact that it was ultimately a cautionary tale, and I would agree. Though McCandless himself would likely not concur, his story is not only a lesson about following one's passions, ideals, and dreams, but of how equally vital it is to do so responsibly.
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Laurel Completely agree on all points!! I couldn't help but think of my own travels and hunger for adventure when reading his story. I of course never ventured into the wilderness on my own (I don't think I'd last even 2 days), but I did backpack through Europe and drove across the U.S. for 2 months with a friend. We made mistakes along the way, too -- not packing warm enough clothes, not having food with us during long train rides, getting off trail while hiking in a national park, etc. All proved harmless, but I think sometimes people forget how easy it is to misjudge your situation and make mistakes.

I have never been to Alaska but would love to go someday! And, of course, stay in a nice hotel with lots of amenities. ;)

Laurel Mademoiselle -- it is definitely a haunting tale. I finished it a week ago but keep thinking about it. Just so sad such a young, intelligent and passionate life was lost.

Chandra -- your Yellowstone comment made me laugh. So true! :) I could also relate to your Paris experience. My friend and I ran into a similar situation in Rome when we arrived only to find all the youth hostels were booked. We ended up staying in this REALLY nasty (and kind of scary) pensione because it was all we could find. Same thing happened in Berlin and we had to stay in the hostel's closet! :) Again, all harmless things, but it made me realize that when you're young, it is easy to make the assumption that all will just work out and you can make it up as you go along. But it doesn't always work out, unfortunately.

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