Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer - A Tragic Tale Of A Young Man Alone by garyp900

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									        Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer




                     A Tragic Tale Of A Young Man Alone...


I recently reread Into the Wild, and its as good the second time as it was
the first. Author Jon Krakauer deserves accolades for doing two difficult
things. First, he did exhaustive research on an elusive person by literally
tracing his path across the U.S. over a period of months. Second, he
thoughtfully put together the elements of psychology, family history, natural
history, and literature into this unforgettable book. Its one thing to do
research; its another thing entirely to present it efficiently and with deep
emotion.

Ultimately, I dont think I would have liked Alex McCandless, the subject of
the book. Though I have an independent streak, Im not a dreamer, and I
dont have a lot of patience for dreamers. Id probably have been impressed
with his skills and his energy, but Id want to convince him to direct his
energy towards something productive. But those reasons dont diminish the
power of his story for me.

The story of Into the Wild is well-known by now. Chris Alex McCandless
was a smart, athletic, and musically talented son of a NASA engineer. He
chafed against authority and structure throughout his childhood, but he
graduated from Emory University and seemed on his way to a career as
some type of environmentalist or environmental lawyer. Instead, he
dropped out of society, never to communicate again with his parents or
sister. He embarked on two years of wandering around the U.S. West and
Northern Plains. Mostly, he hitchhiked or rode the rails. He camped out in
the desert, paddled a second-hand canoe into Mexico, slept under
overpasses, and scrounged meals at missions. He worked at hard
minimum-wage jobs. He was basically a tramp.

Eventually, he got it into his head to live in the Alaskan wilderness for a
few months. His plan was to get as far from modern society as possible.
This would be his greatest challenge, and one that he hoped would bring
him spiritual strength and show him the truth hed read in Tolstoy, Thoreau,
Pasternak, and others. He got to the wilderness and did reasonably well
for three months. Then, when he tried to leave, he realized he was trapped
-- or, rather, he thought he was trapped. He didnt think very clearly about
how to get back to civilization (which was less than 20 miles away), nor,
apparently, did he explore any alternate means than hiki ng out on the
exact route he took to come in. He starved to death.

Author Jon Krakauer meticulously tracked down people who met Chris
(who renamed himself Alex McCandless) during his sojouns. Since those
people live well outside the mainstream, Krakauers investigation brings to
light fascinating asides about the underbelly of our urbanized country. And
he uncovers some possible motivations for Alexs restless pursuit of his
own form of a nomadic, monastic existence.

Yet, Krakauer does not romanticize Alex. As a world-class climber and
hiker, Krakauer understands both the things that motivate people to
challenge the elements and the skills that are necessary to come back
alive. He has empathy with Alexs motives (which are not unlike
Krakauers), but he lays out in stark detail why Alexs lack of knowledge led
to his horrific death.

In this way, the book serves as both an inspiration and a cautionary tale.
Alex inspires because he pursues a dream, because he seeks truth,
because he feels pain and joy to the maximum, and because he is not
afraid to be afraid. Few of us will ever step off the well-trod path in any
aspect of our lives, but Alex did it to the ultimate degree. Yet, the book is
obviously also about mistakes, and what it means to be so full of our vision
that we dont see the real world that is around us, too.

A couple of other thoughts. First, Krakauer deserves huge credit for
revisiting his original story about Chris McCandless and explaining what he
got wrong in that piece, and the impact that those errors had on Chris
reputation after death. In an era when many reporters have been shown to
lie, its extraordinary to find a reporter who seeks to declare the truth, even
when it puts him in a bad light. Second, some people have suggested that
the book praises Alex too much. On the contrary, I think it downplays his
courage and strength. Think about it: Could you hitchhike for months on
end, scrounge food and live off the land, and then muck-out grain silos for
a little cash, while charming every person you meet? All in a search for
truth?



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