Title: Into The Wild
Author: John Krakauer
Narrator: Philip Franklin
Length: 7 hours and 9 minutes
Audible Release Date: 2nd August 2007
Publisher: Random House Audio
Taken from Audible
In April 1992 a young man from a well-to-do family hitchhiked to Alaska and walked alone into the wilderness north of Mt. McKinley. His name was Christopher Johnson McCandless. He had given $25,000 in savings to charity, abandoned his car and most of his possessions, burned all the cash in his wallet, and invented a new life for himself. His body - along with a camera with five rolls of film, an SOS note, and a cryptic diary written in the back pages of a book about edible plants - was found six months later by a hunter.
Into The Wild, by John Krakauer, was my second venture into the land of the non-fiction audiobook. My first was a disappointing expedition which you can read about here. This time, however, I was pleasantly surprised.
This book is a kind of semi-biography of Chris McCandless, a young man who was looking to get away from too-civilised society and wander into the wilderness. Krakauer's narrative of McCandless' last months is a piecing together of letters, postcards, interviews and notes scrawled in the margin of a book about edible plants. Despite the somewhat scattered threads, Krakauer manages to sew together a tale which is both incredibly inspiring and sadly cautionary.
Readers of this book will, I imagine, fall into one of two camps. One group will see McCandless as an ungrateful fool who didn't make the most of the privileged situation into which he was born. Yes, he gave his money to charity, but it could be argued that someone with McCandless' brains and education could have made more of a difference to the world around him if he had used his idealism and tenacity (and that $25,000) to benefit others instead of indulging his desires to be an intrepid explorer.
The other camp will admire McCandless' daring willingness to live a life less ordinary. He wanted to do something so he did it. He wanted a different kind of life and wished for a different kind of world, and did all he could to make these things a reality. That's a noble ideal, right? Brave even. But also, yes, undoubtedly selfish and somewhat foolhardy.
I find myself with a foot in each of the camps. I understand McCandless' thinking. He was looking for an adventure, for a new and more poignant existence in some untamed part of the world. Unfortunately, he was looking for the sort of adventure that just isn't possible now. There are no blank spots on the map. No "Here be dragons" marking the far reaches. McCandless' desire to explore was like that of a boy who's watched a lot of adventure movies...
You really need to read this to decide which camp you fall into. It might be easy to judge the man's notions and ideals based upon a few tabloid news reports and a movie, but Krakauer's narrative adds a depth and reason to the last days of final McCandliss' life. He could have chosen a better adventure. He should have taken measures to ensure that his need for change wouldn't have hurt those who cared about him. But he was also willing to "be the change". In my mind, that made him special.