Friday, 4 May 2012

Cannonball Read #15: Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

The film ”Into the wild” is one of my favourite films. It is a film that touches me very deeply. So I was looking forward to reading the book it was based on.

Jon Krakauer documents the life and journey of Chris McCandless. McCandless was a college graduate, coming from a well-off family, who decided to leave it all behind and embark on a road trip of sorts. He travelled and worked in many different places until he finally headed off to Alaska to spend some time in the wild, living off the land. After surviving almost three months there alone, he tried to get back to civilisation but failed. He died there, apparently with no regrets.

Krakauer gathers information about McCandless' encounters and adventures from people who have met him. McCandless' tragic fate has a way of dividing people; either you get inspired by his anti-consumerist ideals and down-to-basics lifestyle, or you think him an idiot for causing his family and others so much pain. Krakauer makes it clear from the start which side of the fence he's on, but that doesn't prevent him from presenting the voices of people who are more critical. As admiring as he is of McCandless, even seeing himself in him, he doesn't shy away from the emotional mayhem he left in his wake.

Despite the fact that this is a factual book, a biography of sorts, the language Krakauer uses is not dry. The inspiration he seems to draw from McCandless is reflected in the careful way he chooses his words to describe events and places, especially in his depiction of the wilderness. His account of his own close call with death had me at the edge of my seat, although I did think it a bit out of place at first.

In the end, it is in human nature to seek thrills. Some people go to amusement parks to get theirs. Some bet money on horses. Some do drugs. But in a way, the most primitive, most authentic thrill is to live at one with nature. That's where our primal instincts were honed, that's where humankind learned to survive, that's what a lot of us risk our lives for. And – if one is to buy Krakauer's (and McCandless') argument – you can only get the real thing if you risk your life for it. Modern society provides us with all sorts of safeguards against Mother Nature, but by doing that it takes away the thrill.

Krakauer's book filled in a lot of blanks that the film had left for me. It presented a slightly different version of McCandless than the one Sean Penn crafted. A young man with faults, one whom you might call arrogant if it weren't for the fact that he wasn't out to impress anyone – you can't help but like him in the end. At least he lived, and died, true to himself and to his ideals.

A fascinating, sad, inspiring book.


  1. One of my favorites, I reviewed it a while back too :)