Mark's Reviews > Into the Wild

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
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Sep 04, 12

bookshelves: autobiography-biography, books-to-unsettle, the-natural-world, travelogue, heroes-who-are-up-their-own-bums
Recommended to Mark by: Simon Fastnedge
Read from August 26 to September 04, 2012, read count: 1

Being a man who has always lived very close to the sea I have always admired and loved it but I am also very conscious that i have a very healthy sense of its danger and power and uncontrollable force. This book is the extraordinary account of one who loved Nature but who did not appear to have gained that equally important respect. A young man, wanders into the wilds of Alaska so as to commune with nature and 'discover' himself, a few months later his desperately emaciated corpse is found rotting in an old bus which served as a hut for hunters and travellers through the widerness.

The narrative is written, very sympathetically, by a journalist/adventurer who tries to come to a genuine understanding of what Chris McCandless, the lad in question, was trying to achieve. McCandless, though already dead from the beginning of the narrative, is a fascinatingly alive character. As I read his story I was attracted and infuriated in fairly equal measure. He is self-absorbed and opinionated to an astonishing degree; one example being how he lectures a man in his late eighties to go off and get rid of his possessions and explore in the time left to him. The truly extraordinary thing is, the bloke goes ahead and does it. McCandless was certainly supremely confident and rather arrogant in his own self-posession but there quite evidently was something startingly powerful about the lad.

It is particularly noticeable how all but one of the people interviewed for the book who had actually met Chris spoke incredibly movingly about his gentlessness, his goodness, his attractiveness; the fact that they truly loved him and they felt the world had lost a great soul. This was from people who sometimes had had quite short experiences and yet had been wowed by his personality. Those who only knew of him through his death dismiss him as one ill-prepared and ridiculously naive or arrogant and self-aggrandizing. This speaks volumes about the simple wisdom of not making judgements until you actually encounter the person about whom you are holding forth.

Having said all that however, and in danger of totally undermining my last point, I would say that McCandless appeared to rampantly over-estimate his abilities whilst underestimating nature's power. He took with him no map or compass and therefore was unaware that had he walked just five or six miles from the place where his dead body was eventually found he may well have found a place to cross the swollen river which appeared to imprison him in the wilderness and indeed slightly further on again, by the help of a simple map, he would have found greater opportunities to be rescued.

It is an incredibly enthralling account of one man's attempt to live at one with Nature. McCandless is not one who sought to disregard or dismiss Nature but indeed hoped to embrace and luxuriate in it. The tragedy is that in wanting to strip himself of all 20th Century accoutrements he perhaps muisunderstood that the very accoutrements he cast aside were the substitutes for a knowledge and expertise that 20th Century men have lost sight of. His limited and rather amateurish preparations, though they might appear irresponsible and stupid, seem more to have been the result of an over-reliance on the romanticism of Jack London's journey and love affair with the Wild. You know the Jack London who, as Krakauer points out, died obese and drunk in his home far from that wilderness that he himself had only visited once.

This is powerful, moving, well written but ultimately frustrating because it would never be able, owing to the death of McCandless and his privacy before this, to truly understand or fathom his mindset. The real tragedy is that i couldn't help but think, encountering as we do the profound effect he had for the good on the vast majority of people with whom he came into contact, what might he have achieved in his own life and in those around him had he got back from what could have been life changing but ultimately was this life destroying adventure.

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Reading Progress

08/26/2012 page 61
29.0% "amazing narrative of a young man who seeks to live a la jack London but whereas London killed himself as a fat drunk this young lad starves to death in Alaskan outback"
09/03/2012 page 187
90.0% "here he quotes the example of a British explorer who ' regarded nature as am antagonist that would inevitably submit to force, good breeding and Victorian discipline'. need it be said the idiot starved to death along with the 128 men under his incompetent command"

Comments (showing 1-13 of 13) (13 new)

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message 1: by Dan (new)

Dan Schwent Great review. I just watched the movie based on this book a few days ago and thought it was really good.


message 2: by Terry (new)

Terry "The tragedy is that in wanting to strip himself of all 20th Century accoutrements he perhaps muisunderstood that the very accoutrements he cast aside were the substitutes for a knowledge and expertise that 20th Century men have lost sight of."

Excellent point Mark. Funny how a lot of modern "lovers of Nature" seem to forget this.


Gloria An excellent and fair review, Mark. And I love you noted that, obviously, there was something in Chris' personality which drew people to him.

I loved this book-- this story.
I agree that he way overestimated his abilities and confidence, and underestimated the force of nature. I chalk it up to his romantic idealism, fueled by his sensitive personality and his youth.

And ultimately, like you pointed out, I wonder what on earth he could have achieved in this world had his life not been snuffed out so needlessly and early.


Mark Thanks Terry. Yep I think the 'Nature red in tooth and claw' cliche is a quite apt one to always bear in mind.


message 5: by Mark (last edited Sep 04, 2012 06:15AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Mark Thanks Gloria,

Yep he is one of those characters about whom 'what if' could circle endlessly.
Krakauer does have a moment of reflection about Chris' relationship with his dad which I found a little plucked from the air, contrived theories of 'small man syndrome' and unresolved Oedipal conflicts. but as he himself points out " posthumous off-the-rack psychoanalysis is a dubious, highly speculative enterprise that inevitably demeans and trivializes the absent one analyses"
We just have to accept the needless waste sadly


sckenda I want to review this book which profoundly moved me, I'm just not up to the challenge of doing it justice yet. So thank you for saying so well what I could not say myself. I read the book first and then I have seen the movie a half-dozen times, so I do fear confalting the two, so I will probably need to reread.


message 7: by Juanita (new)

Juanita Rice I liked the sensitive handling of your review: honestly deploring the nouveau wilderness ethos that doesn't take account of all the knowledge lost in the late twentieth century. And yet refusing ultimate judgment of the person.
I highly recommend Sean Penn's film of the book; I think he captured so much of what pains us in the story beyond one person's death, and Emile Hirsch gave a stunning performance, even starving himself to portray Chris's last days in Alaska.


Mark Thanks Juanita, I really appreciate your comments. I have every intention of watching the film. A number of people have recommended it already so thanks again.


message 9: by Mark (last edited Sep 04, 2012 12:32PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Mark Steve wrote: "I want to review this book which profoundly moved me, I'm just not up to the challenge of doing it justice yet. So thank you for saying so well what I could not say myself. I read the book first a..."

I will look forward to your review mate which i have no doubt, as they always are, will be moving and a genuine expression of your empathetic soul


message 10: by B0nnie (new)

B0nnie Mark, your analysis is excellent. I saw the movie only, and it left me with a great feeling of depression. Maybe because McCandless seemed like such a great person yet the good he might have done comes to nothing - because he underestimated nature's power, as you say. In a way he has the same fate for the same reason as Timothy Treadwell. Who did not seem like a great person. Still, his end was very tragic too.


message 11: by Mark (new) - rated it 3 stars

Mark Thanks Bonnie. I did not know Timothy treadwell so googles him. Gosh what a horrible way to go. McCandless did come across as an extraordinary person and I shall certainly watch this film that so many of you have mentioned already


Bonnie E. I read the book awhile ago and came away with the same feelings which you so very artfully articulated. Thank you for such a thoughtful review.


message 13: by Mark (new) - rated it 3 stars

Mark Thank you Bonnie. That is a very kind thing to say.


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