I initially had some reservations about reading this book. I had heard a lot of hype about it, both good and bad, and it seemed like most people who read it focused on judging the decisions made by the subject, Chris McCandless. It’s definitely tempting. An educated young man from an affluent family decides to live as a bum, ultimately ending up in the wilds of Alaska where he dies, seemingly from his own recklessness, when he could have opted for one of the many opportunities at his disposal instead and had a bright and successful future.
Well, there are no guarantees in life. McCandless could have died just as easily while crossing the street. He could have seized the more conventional opportunities that life presented him with and ended up living a miserable, if lucrative, life. Who’s to say which is a better choice for someone else to make? So as I read this book, (with the exception of noting that the book is well researched, and the author seems passionate about getting the facts straight), I considered it a work of fiction, thereby freeing myself from making judgements about McCandless and worrying that my comments would in any way be construed as condoning his behavior.
Jon Krakauer has an easy writing style that holds the attention. He tells the tale of a young man who seeks a deeper meaning which can only come from within. In order to achieve the level of introspection needed to accomplish this, the young man leaves his family and hits the road, learning to live in solitude, off the land, and in extreme conditions. The man enjoys the company of others and is by no means a recluse, but seems to feel that the answers he seeks can only be discovered when stripped of company and comforts. It is by no means a new tale, as narratives abound in which man turns to nature to answer the questions that burn within his soul, but it is a retelling that I enjoyed very much.