From Into the Wild, who was Chris McCandless?

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A vigorous debate broke out in the early 1990s over the question of who Chris McCandless was. This debate helped inspire Jon Krakauer to expand his popular 1993 Outside Magazine article on Chris's death into a best-selling book. As readers argued about Chris's death, two factions emerged: those who thought Chris was an arrogant fool who went into the wilderness unprepared and deserved to die, and those who understood Chris as a sensitive visionary whose death was an unfortunate byproduct of following through on his ideals—ideals that made him deliberately reject some of the precautions he was condemned for not taking.

Krakauer falls openly in the latter faction: he writes the book out of his identification with and sympathy for Chris and his quest. He presents Chris as an idealistic, if angry, young man searching for his identity. His Chris is a passionate reader of writers like Tolstoy and...

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