Chris McCandless walked into the Alaskan wilderness in April 1992 with 10 pounds of rice, a collection of paperback books, a .22-caliber rifle and a vision. He was 24 years old, a dream-seeker bent on independence, self-knowledge and the theories of his literary heroes: Jack London, Tolstoy, Thoreau. When his emaciated body was discovered by hunters four months later in an abandoned bus, the local reaction was disdain. The young man, they said, had been stupid, incompetent, lacking in respect for the land. But while it was true that he was cocky and ill-prepared—going into the backcountry without a map, enough food or a weapon with which to hunt the moose and caribou he expected to survive on—McCandless's story was not so simple.
Jon Krakauer, a contributing editor to Outside magazine whose article on the tragedy was nominated for a National Magazine Award, was intrigued enough to continue his investigation. What really happened to this bright and engaging boy, an Emory University honors graduate who had given his savings of $25,000 to charity, abandoned his caring, upper-middle-class family and set out to travel the West calling himself Alex Supertramp?
Through interviews, journal excerpts and postcards, Krakauer has followed the thread of McCandless's odyssey, observing it against the background of other American adventurers and the author's own wilderness experience climbing the Devil's Thumb, a treacherous Alaskan peak rising from a glacier.
Although well-researched, his effort to explain McCandless's death is not as convincing as his incisive exploration of a fearless spirit whose luck, sadly, ran out too soon. (Villard, $22)