Into the Wild Book Summary - Into the Wild Book explained in key points
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Into the Wild summary

Jon Krakauer

An unflinching account of the extraordinary life and death of Christopher McCandless

4.4 (49 ratings)
21 mins

What is Into the Wild about?

Into the Wild (1996) is an unflinching account of the extraordinary life and death of Christopher McCandless. McCandless gave up a life of privilege to roam the American West. He lived rough, made friends, and took risks – and for the thrill of adventure, he paid the ultimate price.

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    Into the Wild
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    Key idea 1 of 7

    Chris seemed calm on the surface, but underneath he was roiling.

    Christopher McCandless grew up in Annandale, Virginia, an affluent suburb of Washington, DC. His father, Walt, was a prominent aerospace engineer. He’d moved his family from California to take a job at NASA, earning enough to set up a trust fund for Chris and his sister. 

    Chris had always had itchy feet. At age two, he snuck out of his parents’ house in the dead of night, crept down the street, and broke into a neighbor’s house to steal candy. After his son’s remains were discovered, Walt summed up his son’s adventurousness: “Chris was fearless even when he was little. We were always trying to pull him back from the edge.”

    Chris would have hated to admit it, but he and his father were very much alike – willful, intense, and stubborn. Their inevitable clash – and one key discovery about his family’s past – is what set Chris on his fateful course.

    The key message here is: Chris seemed calm on the surface, but underneath he was roiling.

    In high school and college, Chris appeared to acquiesce to Walt’s strict control. But, inwardly, he brooded, plotting his escape – even as he made plans to attend college in Atlanta. 

    The summer after graduating high school, he drove off in his secondhand yellow Datsun. It was supposed to be the adventure of a lifetime. But while visiting his parents’ old neighborhood in southern California, he made a shocking discovery. Apparently, his father had lived a double life for years, father to two families and husband to two wives. Worst of all, two years after Chris’s birth, Walt had fathered another son. But his mother wasn’t Chris’s mother. She was the other woman – Walt’s first wife. The discovery shook Chris to the core.

    His parents had made their peace. But Chris couldn’t let it go. Over the next few years, he became reclusive, turning away from his family. By his final year in college, he was living in an austere, cell-like room with little more than a mattress on the floor. 

    He told his parents he would be staying on in Atlanta after graduation. But after not hearing from him for a few months, they drove down for a visit. When they arrived, they were greeted with a “for rent” sign outside his apartment. 

    Five weeks earlier, Chris had donated his trust fund to charity and once again lit out west in his yellow Datsun. His plan? To cut himself off from bourgeois privilege and live an unfiltered life of raw existence out on the road. He gave himself a new identity to symbolize his transformation: Alexander Supertramp.

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    About the Author

    Jon Krakauer, a mountaineer and writer, expanded a nine-thousand-word article for Outside magazine into his first book: Into the Wild. It spent two years on the New York Times best-seller list and was adapted into a movie directed by Sean Penn. Krakauer has since written several other best sellers, including Into Thin Air and Under The Banner of Heaven.

    Who should read Into the Wild?

    • People fascinated by the thrill of outdoor adventure
    • Anyone bored by their humdrum life
    • Those looking to understand why some people take risks others find unthinkable

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