I haven’t read John Krakauer’s “Into Thin Air.” Why bother when you’ve already seen “Everest,” and the made for TV version of the same story. However, I always did enjoy reading John Krakauer’s work in Outside magazine. My favorite of his stories included a long article about a 24 year-old boy found starved to death in an abandoned school bus in the Alaskan wilderness. This article soon became “Into the Wild,” Krakauer’s Sherlock Holmesian detective job tracking down the where and how Christopher McCandless spent the last three years of his life.
This book works for a couple different reasons: Krakauer is both a good writer and a good reporter; and he has honed in on a fascinating subject with which you can’t help becoming involved with for a few hundred pages. The premise of this true story is relatively simple: an upper middle class kid named Christopher McCandless graduates with honors from Emory University, gives away his $25,000 savings and disappears from the lives of his family without a note or a phone call. A few years later he is found dead in the Alaskan wilderness, alone and emaciated. Given only a beginning and an end, Krakauer was able to piece together what seems like a seamless recounting of the time that elapsed in between.
This task was made easier by the gregarious and memorable personality of McCandless and the neat trail of postcards and letters he sent to various people he met along the way. For three years he drifted around the west, from North Dakota to California to Nevada, living as close to the moment as a rich kid from the East Coast could possibly do all the while searching as hard as he could for his soul. Krakauer also infuses McCandless’ story with relevant excepts from the journals and biographies of other outsdoorsmen and naturalists who had similar thoughts and vision quests.
The only faults with this nearly perfect book are the few instances where Krakauer, in an attempt to draw parallels between himself and McCandless, becomes a bit self aggrandizing about his own accomplishments. Interrupting the enthralling tale of McCandless with personal anecdotes, albeit somewhat relavant, occasionally takes away a bit of the impact of Krakauer’s account. “Into the Wild” is as compelling a story as you’re likely to find. Why a bright kid from an affluent family would abandon everything to live off our modern landscape? Almost every day you can hear frustrated workers everywhere mumble something about just picking up and moving away from it all. Chris McCandless had the courage of his convictions and the will power to really see it all through. Unfortunately he wasn’t able to find a happy medium while he was still up. Krakauer comes closer than most of solving the McCandless puzzle, and does so in a way that encourages people to listen first, and judge second.