Into the Wild is the true story of the mysterious life and death of Christopher Johnson McCandless, a talented young man from a good family who inexplicably turned his back on everything he seemed to have going for him. He graduated from Emory University in 1990, lost no time in giving away to charity the sizeable balance in his bank account, and then abruptly abandoned his past life and the personal identity all knew him by to basically disappear from the lives of family and friends. He anticipated that his parents would want to stop him, so he arranged to have his mail held for at least a month before it was returned to them, thereby giving himself ample time to leave for unknown parts unhindered by parental intervention. Although he had been outwardly obedient and cordial toward his parents, McCandless seemed to have been inexplicably angry with them for a long time. He immediately set out on a meandering adventure, a vagabond odyssey, as if he had been living a secret internal life all along, one that suddenly prompted him to throw over the affluent middle-class lifestyle he had conformed with previously to seek a purer place to think and feel in. While his family searched for him in vain, he traveled across the United States, living off his wits and the charity of people he met along the way.
McCandless was inspired by the idealism of writers like Leo Tolstoy, Jack London, and Henry David Thoreau, all of whom disdained material wealth and espoused a Spartan existence of the spirit. His spiritual revolt against material possessions must have been partly fueled by estrangement from the values of his parents. Chris had always possessed a generous altruistic streak since childhood, and he now, powerfully influenced by those writers he revered, gave away all his worldly goods and attempted to live a life unencumbered by material things.
As he drifted across the country, McCandless kept a sporadic record of his wanderings and adventures in a series of journal entries written in the third person about his adopted alter ego, "Alexander Supertramp." He also periodically corresponded with some of the many strangers who befriended and helped him in his travels, and who sometimes sheltered him in their houses. He spent two years living a free-spirited and rootless existence, undeterred by frequent, even thrilling, brushes with the law and with disaster, including a bout with heatstroke in the Mojave Desert and a near drowning in the Gulf of California.
Finally, in the spring of 1992, McCandless set out for his ultimate frontier, Alaska, where he seems to have wanted to survive in the wilderness in one final naturalistic experience before, perhaps, settling down. He made it to Alaska, where the last person to see him alive was an electrician who gave him a ride in his truck and who tried to dissuade him from what sounded like a foolhardy adventure. McCandless refused to be put off; after four months, which he documented in a series of journal entries and photographic self-portraits, he was found dead in the broken-down Fairbanks city bus that had become his home. After having survived for two years by his wits, he had been defeated by the dangerous torrents of an unforeseen spring run-off and had starved to death while hoping that someone would rescue him.
Krakauer tells the young man's story with great sympathy and insight in this book that was expanded from an article written shortly after his death for Outside magazine. Krakauer, unsatisfied that he had put to rest a difficult and haunting story, returned to interview family members about Chris's youth and to painstakingly research his later life and final weeks. Into the Wild, though first and foremost a biography, reads almost like a detective story, as Krakauer has pieced together a fluent and readable narrative from a plethora of fragmentary sources. These include infrequent entries in the journals that McCandless left behind describing the exploits of "Alex," sporadic letters and postcards that he had sent to a few of the strangers who befriended him, and interviews with friends and family. Krakauer even includes anecdotes about other ill-fated young adventurers and the story of a near catastrophic escapade from his own youth, all in a bid to provide valuable perspective to the reader's understanding of Chris McCandless. These united fragments of research provide an astonishingly vivid portrait of a bright, likeable, and almost unknowable young man.