What would possess a gifted young man recently graduated from college to literally walk away from his life? Noted outdoor writer and mountaineer Jon Krakauer tackles that question in his reporting on Chris McCandless, whose emaciated body was found in an abandoned bus in the Alaskan wilderness in 1992.
Described by friends and relatives as smart, literate, compassionate, and funny, did McCandless simply read too much Thoreau and Jack London and lose sight of the dangers of heading into the wilderness alone? Krakauer, whose own adventures have taken him to the perilous heights of Everest, provides some answers by exploring the pull the outdoors, seductive yet often dangerous, has had on his own life.
I don’t read many biographies, but having liked a Krakauer book in the past, I wanted to give this one a go. In the end, I came away from this conflicted, while Chris McCandless’ story is undoubtedly interesting and tragic, Krakauer pushed his biased way of thinking of Chris on the reader and I didn’t agree with all his points.
It’s clear that Chris was a brave and, somewhat, inspiring person, his drive to give everything up to fulfill his dream of living off the land was impressive. In that respect, I thought Chris was admirable, and it’s clear that Krakauer feels the same way. However, there were elements to Chris that I didn’t like which I don’t think were given enough thought. I thought a lot of Chris’s actions were selfish and thoughtless, his journey across America was impressive, but ultimately, done for all the wrong reasons. He came across as naïve and privileged in so many ways too. It’s of course extremely tragic that Chris dies out in the wild, but I don’t necessarily believe that he should now be heralded as a hero for living this way. He left behind a lot of hurt, especially for his family who he chose not to contact for over 2 years.
As for how the story is told, Krakauer has a way with words, and his nonfiction is easy to read. Unfortunately, it was filled with a lot more than just Chris’s story, and it felt perhaps that was because there wasn’t enough to say about Chris to warrant an entire book. There are almost two whole chapters where Krakauer talks about an expedition he performed himself that I think was meant to be relatable to Chris, but for me, felt unnecessary for the story to move forward.
Overall, I wasn’t hugely impressed by this biography, too much filler was spotted throughout, and as I found myself forming my own opinions about Chris, I found it hard to relate to Krakauer’s unflinching portrayal of him as this wonderful wild child who’s to be regarded as heroic for acting out his fantasies and abandoning society as we know it.
Edition Published: 2011
Genre: Nonfiction, Biography, Adventure
Goodreads Av. Rating: 3.99