This story overflows with vivid descriptions of the country McCandless traversed, and a reader can easily trace his peregrinations by pencil on an atlas of the continental United States, although some smaller or more obscure place names may prove elusive and tricky. This account also travels back and forth through time as Krakauer includes sharp descriptions of the forbidding Alaskan terrain that McCandless battled in his doomed bid to survive and the ice-locked mountainside that nearly claimed Krakauer himself as a young man. These Alaskan depictions are especially graphic, striking, and thrilling—probably because this land and the bus that became his home on the Stampede Trail constitute the cold and mysterious heart of Krakauer's haunting narrative.

Descriptions of Chris's middle-class upbringing are full of references to a bustling blended family and the kind of high school and university activities that many young people will find comfortably familiar. He was always a precocious little boy with a gift for making money, competing athletically, and excelling at just about anything he attempted. His parents had come from humble backgrounds and grew affluent as they raised their family in a comfortable Virginia suburb. This picture of middle-class comfort contrasts sharply with one story about a teenaged Chris dragging a friend into a destitute Washington, D.C. neighborhood, armed with good intentions and a bag of hamburgers for the homeless. More starkly different yet are the descriptions of his largely bohemian lifestyle on the road.

His ill-fated journey began in the Mojave desert where,...

(The entire section is 664 words.)