Monday 16 December 2019

Book review : Into The Wild - Jon Krakauer

Last summer, we went on a fabulous vacation to Alaska, staying with a friend at his home in the woods by a lake and checking out some of the fabulous places in the state. It was boiling hot and endlessly sunny - they were in the midst of a fairly unusual heatwave - but even so, looking around at the landscapes, it was easy enough to see how isolated some of these places could be in the midst of winter, or even in the springtime, when the melting snow and ice make the rivers rise.

When Sophie chose the book Into The Wild as one of her titles to study last year, I was intrigued and asked her to pass it on to me when she'd finished. The book follows the real-life story of a young man, Christopher McCandless, fresh out of university, who left his well-to-do family behind in Virginia in 1990 and set off across the States, first in his 1982 Datsun, then hitch-hiking. His journey ended two years later in a decrepit school bus in the Alaskan wilderness. How did he make it there? And how did he die ? Was he ill, under-prepared or just plain unlucky? The author tries to find answers to some of these questions, revealing more about McCandless's travels before he made it to Alaska.

The book started out as a  9,000-word article by Krakauer called "Death of an Innocent", which appeared in the January 1993 issue of Outside. In the book, Krakauer also recounts his own youthful adventures attempting to climb Devils Thumb in Alaska, suggesting that he shared many of McCandless's experiences and motivations. He also explores the tales of other young men who shared McCandless's fate in the wilderness, which show that his unexplained choices appear to be more universal.

I found that the character of McCandless remains very mysterious. The author managed to track down various people who picked him up while hitch-hiking and they frequently had long conversations with him, even giving him some of their own equipment to help him survive, but he seemed poorly equipped and poorly prepared, both mentally and physically. He managed to survive for just over 100 days, which was his initial target, but his attempt to return to civilisation and ultimately his death both seem like complete failures, particularly as he was so close to "the real world". 

I found the book to be interesting but fairly unsatisfying, as I still didn't really know what happened in the Alaskan part of his adventures - maybe nobody will ever really know what happened to him, despite the investigations into the plants he ate and the possible mistakes he made when foraging. Ultimately, it probably doesn't even matter. He has been turned into a modern hero for some or criticised as careless, notably by the Alaskans. 

The book was also adapted into a film of the same name in 2007, directed by Sean Penn with Emile Hirsch starring as McCandless. I think I'd like to see this, as I'm sure it would provide more of the Alaskan wow-factor that I was hoping to find in the book. Or maybe I just need to go back to Alaska for another trip !

star rating : 4/5

RRP : £7.19

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Pan; Main Market edition (7 Sept. 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780330453677
  • ISBN-13: 978-0330453677
  • ASIN: 033045367X


  1. Sounds right up my street great review

  2. I have seen the film and really enjoyed it. I should check out the book. The other similar film is Tracks - about a girl in Australia who decides to trek across Australia with camels and her dog. I recommend that as well.

  3. I vaguely remember the film. You definitely need to go back to Alaska, and see all the snowy landscapes. The book sounds intriguing, I think my Mum would enjoy it.

    1. I do need to go back to Alaska, definitely - don't think it'll be next year though. Maybe the year after ?! :)


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