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CLASSIC KRAKAUER

ESSAYS ON WILDERNESS AND RISK

For fans, a nostalgic stop in a celebrated oeuvre. For newcomers, a welcome introduction to a veteran of the form.

An investigative journalist’s early work portrays his enduring fascination with human daring.

Krakauer (Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town, 2015) gathers essays that were published in magazines such as Smithsonian and Outside from the mid-1980s through the 1990s along with two from 2014. The majority feature awe-inspiring locales that are enlivened by the author’s naturalist eye, and robust action and suspenseful pacing enhance careful explorations of power and innovation. A handful highlight larger-than-life people, including Californian surfer Mark Foo, who drowned at Mavericks (California), “one of the world’s heaviest waves,” and mountaineer Fred Beckey (1923-2017), “the original climbing bum.” Three pieces examine death in the context of industries that include surfing, rock climbing, and wilderness therapy camps. Among the strongest essays is "Loving Them to Death," an exposé on abuse and teen deaths that happened under the neglectful watch of a camp leader. A solid mix of conversations, background, and travel adds up to cleareyed reportage that still shocks. In the reverent, often beautiful "Gates of the Arctic,” memory splices with reflections on the Alaskan Brooks Range and the damaging footprint left by locals and visitors. In two essays, Krakauer considers the future from different angles. In one, the author writes about Mount Rainier and the danger of inevitable mudflows. In the other, Krakauer chronicles his journey with scientists who study microbial life in the hope that it will spark long-term research on Mars. The author effectively balances natural drama with thoughtful reflection and fascinating facts. When the writing is cautionary, it plucks at emotional chords. When it travels wild vistas and tense excursions, it shows Krakauer at his best. A few pieces remain outliers, such as the closing essay, which was delivered as a speech and shuttles toward a reluctant conclusion. A profile of Christopher Alexander, an “iconoclastic architect of international repute,” is less hard-hitting and only mildly interesting.

For fans, a nostalgic stop in a celebrated oeuvre. For newcomers, a welcome introduction to a veteran of the form.

Pub Date: Oct. 29, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984897-69-5

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Anchor

Review Posted Online: Aug. 3, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2019

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INTO THE WILD

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS

FROM MEAN STREETS TO WALL STREET

Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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