Author: Jon Krakauer
Publisher: Villard, 1996
Pages: Paperback Edition, 224 pages
Rating: 3 /5
I don’t really prefer Krakauer’s journalistic writing style. Rather than a book, I felt like I were reading a very long story in a newspaper, which makes sense because this “book” is just an expansion of an article he wrote for the January ’93 issue of Outside magazine.
At one point, there were about five pages of Krakauer’s personal experience and details of his family life and I was in awe of how a person can so blatantly use another person’s death as a promotional tool for oneself.
That said, his writing was fairly intelligent — although he couldn’t seem to make up his mind on certain things, often giving a contradictory statement to what he had just written a few paragraphs before.
Chris McCandless’ death is tragic, absolutely. Death is always tragic, especially for someone so young and with so much potential. However, he ignored common sense and died as a result of his own arrogance and unwillingness to heed caution to people with more experience than he possessed.
The sort of hero worship the author has for his subject matter was also very off putting for me. Speaking so highly of McCandless, you’d think he was overlooking how damaged and selfish Chris was in his lifetime, always in search of new experiences and mistreating the people that cared about him, much like Chris seemed to look over his own idols’ flaws in the ways of Jack London or Thoreau.
I did, however, like the other people that Chris meets and knows. From his trip through the desert to working his way up to Fairbanks, he did meet some very interesting people and I enjoyed reading the bits of history and factoids that Krakauer shared about them.
All in all, I would give it a 3 out of 5. Very informative and paints a beautiful picture of the great American dream of freedom, self-discovery and idealism, but in the end you have to take it for what it is — a story about a selfish’s boy’s unfortunate (and completely avoidable) demise in the Alaskan wilderness that left many people heartbroken and with unanswered questions. I don’t find anything noble, courageous or brave about that.
** NOTE: According to Krakauer, Chris died of poisoning from some of the seeds/roots he ate. He states this matter-of-factly in the book (and in the film adaptation), but THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO SCIENCE TO SUPPORT THIS. In fact, there is SCIENCE that specifically proves that he did NOT die from being poisoned, but from general malnutrition coupled with the fact that he could not get himself out of the bush. Scientists tore the plants apart and did tests on Chris himself, and the definitive ruling was that his cause of death was starvation, not poisoning or starvation as a result of poisoning.
There was a possibility that it was the mold on the ingested roots/seeds that are what poisoned Chris, and Krakauer took this possibility and spat it out as fact. It is not fact, and it upsets me that people take this at face value from watching the film or reading the book without actually investigating the cause of death. Chris’ lack of preparation and skill are what caused his death. It’s tragic and unfortunate, but scientifically proven and factual. Trying to put blame upon something that would have been out of Chris’ control (similar plants, mold growing on seeds, etc) further goes to support my claims of the “hero worship” displayed by Krakauer on the subject.