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Into the Wild ()

Mr. Doggett's Suggested Summer Reading for Students

In April 1992, a young Emory University graduate named Chris McCandless, who had just given $25K to Oxfam and changed his name to Alex Supertramp, walked into the Alaskan wilderness with a couple books, a bag of rice and a .22 rifle.  He starved to death about 113 days later.  I'm not sure there's any way to say this without sounding harsh, so I won't try, it is hard to believe that the human gene pool wasn't strengthened by his death.

Jon Krakauer seems to have set himself a formidable career task--to explain to the average Joe why people venture out into nature and do profoundly idiotic things.  I fear the task may be more than he, or anyone else, can accomplish.  He goes to great lengths to try to render Chris McCandless sensible to us, dismissing the notion that he was insane out of hand, comparing his own youth to Chris's adventure, contrasting Chris to early explorers who met similar deaths, but in the end, he seems to be arguing a losing case.  It seems likely from his behavior that Chris McCandless did have some kind of mental illness or else he was so profoundly disrespectful of the might of the wild, that in some sense, he deserved to die.

As I write this, in June of 1999, there's a young fella I work with who is heading off to Alaska with several friends for a six week hike across a patch of wilderness that no humans may have ever previously walked across.  He's a nice enough kid, bright (graduated from Bates & when he gets back he starts a Doctoral program at Dartmouth), sociable (he's going with friends), stable (he seems likely to get married in August) and, most of all, realistic.  He and his friends have made thorough and complicated preparations for this trip: they are taking everything from bear spray to antibiotics; they are being resupplied by air in mid trip; they'll have survival beacons, etc..  In short, they recognize that this is a hazardous venture and have taken sensible precautions to minimize the dangers.  I still want him to make my kids the beneficiaries of his insurance policy, but I don't think he's acting out some kind of death wish.

Chris McCandless' expedition stands in such stark contrast to this model, that, if he was sane, then I for one feel he did little more than commit suicide.


Grade: (C)


Jon Krakauer Links:

    -REVIEW: of Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith by Jon Krakauer (Robert Wright, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith by Jon Krakauer (Laura Miller,

Book-related and General Links:
    -Outside Online: Jon Krakauer: Into the Wild (original article, review of book, etc)
    -Review: Taking Risk to Its 'Logical' Extreme (NY Times,  Christopher Lehmann-Haupt)
    -Review: Adventures of Alexander Supertramp (NY Times, Thomas McNamee )
    -Review: Civilization and Wilderness (First Things, John P. Sisk)
    -Bold Type: Jon Krakauer