Title: Into the Wild
Author: Jon Krakauer
Okay, I'll admit that I ventured north to Alaska without ever having read Into the Wild. I feel it was a great sin of omission and I'm publicly repenting. Once we got to Alaska, most of our tour guides alluded in some way to the story of Christopher McCandless, the young Emory graduate who disappeared from society after college and drifted around the western US before heading up to Alaska to have a great adventure living on his own. Two months later, he was dead.
I think that McCandless's story is interesting, but what made this book really memorable for me is Krakauer's obsession with the story. When he was assigned to cover the story for Outside Magazine, he realized that McCandless's life had many parallels to his own life, so in many ways probing the story of McCandless's life and death was an exploration of what could have happened to him if the circumstances had been slightly different. The book is well-written, but I disagree with Krakauer's assertion that McCandless didn't have a mental illness-- his whole lifestyle (drifting from job to job, hitckhiking, not keeping any money on principle, severing all ties with his family) doesn't seem healthy or normal to me, but whatever, I am not a psychiatrist. I've often bristled at Krakauer professionally (I thought Under the Banner of Heaven was a bit of a cheap shot, using the strangest branch of a fundamentalist sect to represent mainstream Mormonism, and I think he's being downright nasty to Greg Mortenson), but I can't read this book without admiring his writing. And it's short-- so bonus.