Into the Wild (book)

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Into the Wild
Into the Wild (book) cover.png
Cover of paperback, depicting the bus in which McCandless stayed.
AuthorJon Krakauer
CountryUnited States
GenreBiography/True travel essay
Publication date
917.9804/5 20
LC ClassCT9971.M38 K73 1997
Preceded byEiger Dreams 
Followed byInto Thin Air 

Into the Wild is a 1996 non-fiction book written by Jon Krakauer. It is an expansion of a 9,000-word article by Krakauer on Christopher McCandless titled "Death of an Innocent", which appeared in the January 1993 issue of Outside.[1] The book was adapted to film in 2007, directed by Sean Penn with Emile Hirsch starring as McCandless. "Into the Wild" is an international bestseller which has been printed in 30 languages and 173 editions and formats.[2] The book is widely used as high school and college reading curriculum.[2] "Into the Wild" has been lauded by many reviewers but has also been described by Alaskan reporter, Craig Medred, as being "something invented" by its author.[3]


Christopher Johnson McCandless grew up in suburban Annandale, Virginia. After graduating in May 1990 with high grades from Emory University, McCandless ceased communicating with his family, gave away his college fund of $24,500 to Oxfam, and began traveling across the Western United States, later abandoning his 1982 Datsun after a flash flood.

On April 28, 1992, McCandless hitchhiked to the Stampede Trail in Alaska. There he headed down the snow-covered trail to begin an odyssey with only 10 pounds (4500 g) of rice, a .22 caliber rifle, several boxes of rifle rounds, a camera, and a small selection of reading material—including a field guide to the region's edible plants, Tana'ina Plantlore. He declined an acquaintance's offer to buy him sturdier clothing and better supplies. McCandless perished sometime around the week of August 18, 1992, after surviving more than 100 days.


On September 6, 1992, Christopher McCandless' body was found inside an abandoned bus in Alaska (63°52′06.23″N 149°46′09.49″W / 63.8683972°N 149.7693028°W / 63.8683972; -149.7693028Coordinates: 63°52′06.23″N 149°46′09.49″W / 63.8683972°N 149.7693028°W / 63.8683972; -149.7693028).[4] One year later, author Jon Krakauer retraced McCandless' steps during the two years between college graduation and his demise in Alaska. McCandless shed his legal name early in his journey, adopting the moniker "Alexander Supertramp", after W.H. Davies. He spent time in Carthage, South Dakota, laboring for months in a grain elevator owned by Wayne Westerberg before hitchhiking to Alaska. Krakauer interprets McCandless' intensely ascetic personality as possibly influenced by the writings of Henry David Thoreau and McCandless' favorite writer, Jack London. He explores the similarities between McCandless' experiences and motivations, and his own as a young man, recounting in detail Krakauer's own attempt to climb Devils Thumb in Alaska. Krakauer also relates the stories of some other young men who vanished into the wilderness, such as Everett Ruess, an artist and wanderer who went missing in the Utah desert during 1934, at age 20. In addition, he describes at some length the grief and puzzlement of McCandless' parents, sister Carine, and friends.

Cause of death[edit]

McCandless survived for approximately 113 days in the Alaskan wilderness, foraging for edible roots and berries, shooting an assortment of game—including a caribou—and keeping a journal. Although he planned to hike to the coast, the boggy terrain of summer proved too difficult, and he decided instead to camp in a derelict camping bus left by a construction company. In July, he tried to leave, only to find the route blocked by a snow-melt raging river. On July 30, McCandless wrote a journal entry which read, "Extremely Weak. Fault Of Pot[ato] Seed"[5][6] Based on this entry, Krakauer hypothesized that McCandless had been eating what he thought was the roots of an edible plant, Hedysarum alpinum, commonly known as wild Eskimo potato, which are sweet and nourishing in the spring but later become too tough to eat. When this happened, McCandless may have attempted to eat the seeds instead. Krakauer first speculated that the seeds were actually from Hedysarum mackenzii, or wild sweet pea, instead of the Eskimo Potato, which contained a poisonous alkaloid, possibly swainsonine (the toxic chemical in locoweed) or something similar. In addition to neurological symptoms, such as weakness and loss of coordination, the poison causes starvation by blocking nutrient metabolism in the body. However, Krakauer later suggested that McCandless had not confused the two plants and had in fact actually eaten Hedysarum alpinum. Krakauer had the plant tested for any toxins and, through tests on Hendysarum alpinum, it was discovered that it contained an unidentifiable form of toxin.[7]

According to Krakauer, a well-nourished person might consume the seeds and survive because the body can use its stores of glucose and amino acids to rid itself of the poison. Since McCandless lived on a diet of rice, lean meat, and wild plants and had less than 10% body fat when he died, Krakauer hypothesized that McCandless was likely unable to fend off the toxins. However, when the Eskimo potatoes from the area around the bus were later tested in a laboratory of the University of Alaska Fairbanks by Dr. Thomas Clausen, toxins were not found. Krakauer later modified his hypothesis, suggesting that mold of the variety Rhizoctonia leguminicola may have caused McCandless's death. Rhizoctonia leguminicola is known to cause digestion problems in livestock, and may have aided McCandless's impending starvation. Krakauer hypothesised that the bag in which Chris kept the potato seeds was damp and the seeds thus became moldy. If McCandless had eaten seeds that contained this mold, he could have become sick, and Krakauer suggests that he thus became unable to get out of bed and so starved. His basis for the mold hypothesis is a photograph that shows seeds in a bag. Following chemical analysis of the seeds, Krakauer now believes that the seeds themselves are poisonous.[8]

The cause-of-death hypothesis presented in the book has been subject to some debate, with the book's author and other sources drawing new conclusions since it was published.[9]

Major themes[edit]

Into the Wild addresses the issues of how to be accepted into society, and how finding oneself sometimes conflicts with being an active member in society.[10] Most critics agree that Chris McCandless left to find some sort of enlightenment.[10][11][12][13] He also tries to find his way in the wild with minimal material possessions, because "it made the journey more enjoyable."[14][15][16] His extreme risk-taking was the hubris which eventually led to his downfall.[14][16][17]

McCandless was influenced by transcendentalism and the need to "revolutionize your life and move into an entirely new realm of experience."[17]


A film adaptation was released in September 2007, directed by Sean Penn and starring Emile Hirsch as McCandless.

McCandless' story is also the subject of the documentary by Ron Lamothe named The Call of the Wild (2007). In his study of McCandless' death, Lamothe concludes that McCandless ran out of supplies and game, and starved to death, instead of being poisoned by eating the seeds of the wild potato.[18]

A survival show set in Alaska, Out of the Wild, is inspired by the story.[citation needed]

The Christopher Johnson McCandless Memorial Foundation, headed by McCandless' parents Bille and Walt, with the editorial and writing input of family and friends, released the book and DVD Back to the Wild: The Photographs & Writings of Christopher McCandless (2010). The material includes hundreds of McCandless' previously unseen pictures and journal entries. Jon Krakauer has written a piece in the book's introduction, while Hal Holbrook—who appeared in the Penn film—narrates the DVD.[19]


  1. ^ Krakauer, Jon (January 1997). "Death of an Innocent". Outside. Retrieved September 1, 2007.
  2. ^ a b "Formats and Editions of Into the wild". Retrieved December 27, 2015.
  3. ^ "The fiction that is Jon Krakauer's 'Into The Wild'". Alaska Dispatch News. Retrieved December 27, 2015 – via
  4. ^ "Hiking to the Into The Wild Bus; Arriving At The Bus!". shanesworld. Retrieved December 2, 2007 – via YouTube.
  5. ^ Into the Wild, page 189
  6. ^ "McCandless' fatal trek: Schizophrenia or pilgrimage?". Anchorage Daily News. April 17, 1996. Archived from the original on June 19, 2008. Retrieved May 30, 2008.
  7. ^ Krakauer, Jon (1996). Into The Wild. New York: Anchor Books. p. 195.
  8. ^ "'Into The Wild' Author Tries Science To Solve Toxic Seed Mystery". National Public Radio. May 1, 2015. Retrieved December 27, 2015.
  9. ^ "'How Chris McCandless Died: An Update". The New Yorker. February 11, 2015. Retrieved May 21, 2016.
  10. ^ a b Anderson, Michael A. (Fall–Winter 2007). "Into the Wild Book Review". Taproot Journal. Taproot Journal. 17 (2): 26–27. Retrieved March 29, 2012.
  11. ^ Machosky, Michael (October 19, 2007). "Into the Wild Book Review". Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Retrieved March 29, 2012.
  12. ^ Kollin, Susan. "Into the Wild Book Review". American Literary History. UK: Oxford University Press. 12 (1/2): 41–78, 38p. Retrieved March 29, 2012.
  13. ^ Raskin, Jonah. "Calls of the Wild: On the Page & on the Screen". American Book Review. American Book Review. 29 (4): 3–3, 1p. Retrieved March 29, 2012.
  14. ^ a b Dalsted, Kyle (March 2007). "Into the Wild Book Review". Teen Ink. Teen Ink. 18 (7): 27–27, 1/5p. Retrieved March 29, 2012.
  15. ^ Williams, Wilda (November 15, 1995). "Book reviews: Science & technology". Library Journal. Media Source, Inc. 120 (19): 96, 1/6p. Retrieved March 29, 2012.
  16. ^ a b Virshup, Amy (May 31, 2009). "Where Civilization Exists on the Fringes of the Backcountry". The New York Times. New York. Retrieved January 13, 2018.
  17. ^ a b Lehmann-Haupt, Christopher (January 4, 1996). "Taking Risk to Its 'Logical' Extreme". The New York Times. Retrieved January 13, 2018.
  18. ^ "The Call of the Wild film".
  19. ^ "Back to the Wild. The Photographs & Writings of Christopher McCandless". Christopher Johnson McCandless Memorial Foundation. Retrieved April 25, 2012 – via

External links[edit]