In April 1992 a young man from a well-to-do family hitchhiked to Alaska and walked alone into the wilderness north of Mt. McKinley. His name was Christopher Johnson McCandless. He had given $25,000 in savings to charity, abandoned his car and most of his possessions, burned all the cash in his wallet, and invented a new life for himself. He would give himself a new name, Alexander Supertramp, and, unencumbered by money and belongings, he would be free to wallow in the raw, unfiltered experiences that nature presented. Craving a blank spot on the map, McCandless simply threw the maps away
Four months later, his decomposed body was found by a party of moose hunters. How McCandless came to die is the unforgettable story of Into the Wild.
When I first gave Into the Wild five stars, it was with a wavering finger and a little doubt. The book really touched me and I loved every minute that I was listening to it but, thought I, was that because Christoper McCandless' story was so moving or was it the book? Could I give a book 5 stars because I found its non-fiction subject matter affected me? It took me a little while to realise that the question is stupid. It wasn't only McCandless' story that had been so moving but Krakauer's telling of it.
I understand that the story wasn't particularly positively reported in the American press, not least because McCandless' fatal journey into the Alaskan wilderness was seen as reckless and juvenile and that, when it came down to it, he was a victim of his own stupidity and nothing else. When Krakauer originally published an article about McCandless in 1993, his empathy was derided. A few, however, reached out to Krakauer and provided letters and postcards and memories of McCandless/'Alexander Supertramp'.
Those letters and the stories of the people who knew McCandless are meted out perfectly. Alongside the pieced together narrative of McCandless' life are stories of other young people who for their own reasons took off into the wilderness, never to be heard from again, and Krakauer's own recollections of mountaineering. The effect is really quite something. I listened to most of it while training for a half marathon and all the talk of nature and freedom and outdoor living fit perfectly at a time when I needed all the inspiration I could get to keep pounding the pavements at less than sociable times of the day.
Into the Wild actually made me want to do more than that - Krakauer's sympathetic chronicle of McCandless' ambitions and dreams made me want to live more cleanly and more freely and with less of a focus on Things...
"The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun. If you want to get more out of life, you must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life that will at first appear to you to be crazy. But once you become accustomed to such a life you will see its full meaning and its incredible beauty" [Taken from a letter Christopher McCandless wrote to a friend]
Ok, so I might not exactly be camping in the wilderness, spurning all of my worldly possessions and retreating from my family but this book made me think that there's some beauty in the simplicity of the aspiration to just be a little braver and a little less shackled by routine.
Five stars it is.
Overall: I don't read a lot of non-fiction so the fact that I've given this 5 stars hopefully says more than any snappy sentence I could come up with here. In case it doesn't: Into the Wild is a moving account of a young man who wanted to live differently, and very nearly managed to prove that it was possible to branch out and live on your own terms with nothing but a backpack full of Tolstoy and rice. If you're looking for something that might give you a new perspective and a fresh way of approaching things (or even just something that you can have a good cry over), Into the Wild is for you.
Date finished: August 2015
Source: Borrowed from my local library
Genre: Non-fiction; Biography
Pictured Edition Published: in January 1997 by Anchor