Into the Wild follows the final days and nights of a young idealist named Chris McCandless, speaks to anyone who has ever yearned for something pure, to be free of the affluenza of American life, to be self-reliant.
Like Into Thin Air, Into the Wild began as an article in Outside. But the book combined that investigation with material from new sources, people McCandless had met en route to Alaska who were brought out of the woodwork by the article. One of those whom McCandless touched most profoundly was Ronald Franz (not his real name), an 80-year-old so taken with the young man that he waited at McCandless’s campsite in the desert near the Salton Sea for his return.
From the accounts of people like Franz to close readings of McCandless’s underlined copies of Doctor Zhivago and Walden (“No man ever followed his genius till it misled him”), Krakauer not only gets why McCandless retreated to the bush, but makes use of his own backcountry experience to empathize with him. Some readers have suggested that Krakauer is too easy on the kid and that McCandless ought to be viewed as suicidal, manipulative, or ridiculous, but Krakauer keeps it all an open question. Into the Wild reminds us that the very qualities of being in the wilderness that thrill and restore us or lead us, as Roderick Nash wrote, to “either melancholy or exultation” can swiftly take our lives.
Dan is an explorer for The Outbound and founder of The Proper Function, an outdoor editorial. He is passionate about exploration and can’t stay put for more than a week.