by Jon Krakauer (1996). Wonderful moving account of the peripatetic, post-College, two year long peregrination – in the original sense of pilgrimage – of Chris McCandless (alias Alexander Supertramp) throughout the American West and his death from starvation in the Alaskan wilderness north of Mt. McKinley in August of 1992. An intense, idealistic young man from an educated and privileged background, Chris was obsessed by a need for Tolstoyian purity and poverty, living a rigorous, monkish life without any of the trappings of modern civilization, and a need for adventure. Far from being suicidal, Chris managed to survive for more then 100 days in the wilderness on 10 pounds of rice he took along, whatever berries and roots he could scrounge up and on what he could shoot. It reminds me of what the philosopher Richard Watson has written about such driven personalities:
Suicide? Don’t be absurd. They don’t want to die. They don’t intend to die. They choose to do something very difficult right at the limits of human possibility in order to savor the joy and satisfaction of having done it. The risk is essential. It defines how hard it is. Even more, risk of death raises awareness of life to a peak. Socrates said, Know thyself. On the edge we are reminded of our mortality, knowledge of which makes us human.
That’s the way to live my life!
Krakauer uses elements of an earlier, autobiographical story that I love – The Devils Thumb from his collection of essays, entitled Eiger Dreams, about his three week long solo climb of an isolated mountain in Alaska – to explain why some men, driven by unresolved psychodynamic conflicts, find such intense, solitary high-risk experiences so very life-affirming. I confess that I only read the book after I saw the eponymous movie that closely follows the book and the life of Chris.