The text on the dust jacket of Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild makes it clear that the thread of suspense running through this compelling book isn't necessarily tied to the fate of its subject. "In April 1992 a young man from a well-to-do family hitchhiked to Alaska and walked alone into the wilderness north of Mt. McKinley," the jacket reads. "His name was Christopher Johnson McCandless. He had given $25,000 in savings to charity, abandoned his car and most of his possessions, burned all the cash in his wallet, and invented a new life for himself. Four months later, his decomposed body was found by a moose hunter."
With the demise of McCandless already revealed, Krakauer concentrates on the forces that drove the devotee of Thoreau, Tolstoy and Jack London to the icy environs of Alaska and, ultimately, to his death. Krakauer's skill as an investigative reporter is impressive, but it is his ability to reveal McCandless' inner motives that makes Into the Wild such an intriguing book.
Instead of coming across as just an antisocial misfit, McCandless emerges as a disciplined, uncompromising individual guided by an earnest brand of asceticism. The same determination that helped him excel as a high school cross-country star enables him to survive the vagabond lifestyle he embraces after college. For McCandless, rejecting mainstream society doesn't mean publishing a zine. He rides the rails, canoes to Mexico on a whim and survives it all on nothing more than wits, luck and an ever-present bag of rice.
In an increasingly crowded world, it was difficult for McCandless to find the physical isolation he sought, but his inward journey was more important than his external surroundings. Krakauer, a writer for Outside magazine who obviously shares McCandless' wanderlust, explains often esoteric inclinations in a clear, revealing way.
"In coming to Alaska, McCandless yearned to wander uncharted country, to find a blank spot on the map," Krakauer writes. "In 1992,...