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Into the Wild - Jon Krakauer

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Author: Jon Krakauer / Format: Paperback / Date of publication: 07 September 2007 / Genre: General / Publisher: Pan Macmillan / Title: Into the Wild / ISBN 13: 9780330453677 / ISBN 10: 0330453677

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      17.05.2012 23:45
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      Give it a try. Who knows, you might actually LIKE the guy.

      In 1992, 24 year old Chris McCandless walked into "the wilderness." Four months later, his emaciated body was discovered by hikers. This book is an attempt by Jon Krakauer at piecing together what happened, and what drove the young man to abandon his comfortable lifestyle and his family in the first place.

      My first problem with the book is that I took an almost instant dislike to Chris McCandless. We are introduced to him via an account from Jim Gallien, an electrician who picked him up as a hitchhiker. Gallien notices that Chris is ill-equipped for the trip he is planning - with barely any food, crappy hiking boots and the idea that he could "climb a tree" to evade any wandering bears he might meet. From the get go he comes across as arrogant, naive and full of youthful swagger.

      My second problem is that I just can't get on board with the basic message of the book: it glorifies stupidity and arrogance. Why not write a book about all the kids who felt the call of the wild and managed to plan a trip with their brains engaged, live off the land for a while and return to civilisation unscathed? Why pay homage to the kid who was so arrogant that he didn't bother to take a map? (His theory was that if he couldn't see the map, he must be in unchartered territory...) As an approach to creating a story, it's as irresponsible and ill-thought out as the TV programme Teen Mom ("What, you'll follow me around with the cameras, as if I were a glamorous member of the Kardashian family, or at the very least, dating Peter Andre? And all I have to do is get pregnant at 15? Count me in!")

      Basically, the book is a paean to selfishness. Yes, Chris did well to live off his wits for as long as he did. Yes, it takes a certain something to walk off into the wilderness and enjoy it as a journey of self discovery. But the problem is, he essentially broke his parents' hearts by leaving, formed no real attachments to anybody, and died in a completely unnecessary way. (He starved while camping in a bus only 16 miles from where hundreds of tourists hike. So much for the great unknown.)

      If he had just bothered to pack a map, he would have survived. His death was pointless, stupid, and vain. But Krakauer is so unashamedly on Chris's side that he becomes a suicide apologist. Having once been a gung ho mountaineer himself, Krakauer can identify with Chris and fully understands the magic that happens when one is pitting one's wits against the outdoors. He quotes an interviewee who had seen many men go missing in the wilderness over the years; "At least they tried to follow their dream. That's what's great about them. They tried. Not many do."

      (To paraphrase then, the opinion he keeps stuffing down the reader's throat is: "Yes, Chris's death was pointless and he was a blithering idiot. But the point is, he DID WHAT HE WANTED TO DO! Stuff his family! That's what we should all be doing, yeah?"

      The reason I dislike Chris so much is partly jealousy, of course. I want to drive to Alaska, and then hitchhike when my car breaks down. I want to hop on a freight train and have a series of cash jobs and kayak down rivers. I want to wake up in the morning knowing that all I have to do that day is walk, and eat berries, and find a good place to camp. (Actually, I did spend six months travelling around the states, but I'm not sure if greyhound buses really count as adventure.) It's clear that Chris was always a bold explorer type; at the age of 2, he got up in the middle of the night, found his way outside without waking his parents, and entered a house down the street to plunder a neighbour's candy drawer.

      "Chris had so much natural talent," Walt (his father) continues, "but if you tried to coach him, to polish his skill, to bring out that final 10%, a wall went up. He resisted instruction of every kind." Hmm. This kind of attitude sort of goes against the advice you'll read in pretty much ANY self help book, doesn't it? But then, teenage boys aren't generally known for their humility and willingness to learn.

      The descriptions of Chris which are apparently supposed to make him sound like a free spirit or an intellectual strike me as being his more irritating traits. For instance, a fellow wanderer describes him thus; "He was playful, like a little kid. I had puppies, and he was always putting them under laundry baskets to watch them bounce around and yelp." Hmm. That's not very nice. Then the lady whose son brought Chris home as a guest after employing him; "There was something fascinating about him... Alex struck me as much older than 24. Everything I said, he'd demand to know more about what I meant, about why I thought this way or that." Fascinating? Sounds pretty tedious to me.

      He also proves my long held view that you can never trust a man who gives himself a nickname. Chris adopts the moniker "Alexander Supertramp" and writes a diary about himself in the third person. "Alex looks quickly around for any sign of trouble, but his entry of Mexico is either unnoticed or ignored. Alex is jubilant!"

      Krakauer views wanderers as being admirably brave and iconoclastic but also points out that Chris was evading the messy intimacy of relationships - slipping away from even the most casual acquaintances on the road. One was Ron Franz, a man who prays that God will keep an eye on Alex; When he hears the news of the young man's untimely death, "I renounced the Lord. I withdrew my church membership and became an atheist." Which seems a tad unfair to God, when Chris's death was a result of his own choices. Krauker quotes Edward Whimper in his book Scrambles among the alps. "But remember that courage and strength are nought without prudence, and that a momentary negligence may destroy the happiness of a lifetime."

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        14.02.2011 17:29
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        The tale of Chris McCandless who walked into the Alaskan wild

        This review is focused on the book of "Into the Wild", and not the film version.  For those who don't know, Into the Wild is the true story of Chris McCandless, a mid twenties American graduate from a privileged background who turned his back on his family, wealth, education and conformity to pursue a life on foot, in the wilderness with only what he could carry in a rucksack.
         
        The book is Chris' tale as told by the author, Jon Krakauer, which is a collection of facts about Chris' journey pieced together from his journals, several pieces of graffiti left by Chris at locations he stopped at, interviews with family members and acquaintances of his and postcards sent by Chris to former friends and colleagues.
         
        Chris' story is both inspiring and tragic - half of me admired Chris' ethos and the direction he was taking his life in and half of me was annoyed by his selfishness in the way he turned his back on his family - especially his dad.  I wont say any more about that though as I feel its wrong to judge family affairs - you never know quite what goes on behind closed doors.  The book goes into more detail about Chris' relationship with his father - I won't give that detail away as it forms a keystone of perhaps why Chris did go off into Alaska on his own in secret from his family.  Chris' activities have split those who are aware of his story into two distinct camps - those who thought he was an ill prepared fantasist who shouldn't have gone to Alaska and those who admired his life choices and actions.  
         
        The tale ends in Alaska, but before then he spends some time travelling through the south and west of America, living off little money and undertaking shoestring budget activities - like paddling into the Gulf of Mexico with a second hand aluminium canoe, with no passport and just a camera to record his journey.
         
        Chris is an enigma - after reading the book I was left with a stack of unanswered questions about why he did some of the things he did.  For example, I would have liked more of an explanation about the 20-odd thousand dollar cheque he sent to Oxfam - his life savings - prior to embarking on his travels.  Also, was Chris responsible for trashing the hunting cabins a few miles away from his camp in Alaska - it would certainly fit with his outlook on materialism and self reliance to have done such a thing.  The book does attempt to unravel some of the mystery surrounding Chris and his actions, but I was still left wanting to know more.
         
        I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and found Chris' story to be fascinating and intriguing.  Some might even find it inspiring.  Would recommend it for the bookshelves of those with an interest in biographic survival tales and the great outdoors.

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          26.04.2010 12:08
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          Breath taking account of the short life of an astounding young man

          The best work of Non-fiction I have read in recent times!

          Follow in as close detail as possible the last months of the life of Chris McCandless aka Alexander Supertramp. Follow a troubled young man on his journey "tramping" throughout America, including many adventures, mishaps but continually uplifting events. From leaving his home and abandoning his ties to conventional society through to his untimely end alone in the Alaskan wilderness I was completely taken aback by the commitment and strength in solitude displayed by this young man.

          If you are unaware of the story, Alex left his privileged home and studies to live the life of a wanderer, burning what little money he had in his possession and donating a great deal to charity he wandered throughout America working when required and foraging his meals. All the time working towards what was lovingly referred to by Chris as his "Great Alaskan Adventure".

          While focusing on Chris' life and adventures, the story is also a study into the psyche of individuals who have shared similar ideals to Chris, fellow wanderers, those who have prevailed and those who have also perished in similar circumstances.

          Overall a truly amazing insight into the life of an extraordinary individual, told with care and compassion toward Chris' family. Exceptional.

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          10.02.2010 11:54
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          A great book and a very enjoyable read.

          I was given this book as a birthday present and until that point was completely unaware of the story behind it, however, I so enjoyed it that I have now looked into it further and intend to see the film, it is a really fascinating story.

          This book, written by Jon Krakauer, is actually an account of the true story of Chris McCandless, a young man from Washington DC who gets increasingly involved in taking road trips across the states, fending for himself, living as a bit of a nomad and relying on his own wits and abilities to survive.

          It charts his upbringing, his relationship with his family, his school life and what made him tick (or seemed to), it also follows his adventures leading up to the 'big one' which ultimately killed him - Alaska. The story made headlines across the world back in the early 90s when months after setting out on what was to be his last big adventure, his body was discovered in an abandoned bus on the Stampede Trail in Alaska.

          Opinion was split on whether or not Chris was noble and brave for so determindly following his dreams and rejecting the normal career path his parents wanted for him or whether he was idiotic and more than a little naive to go out into the wilds of Alaska so unprepared and unknowledgable.

          Chris developed an alter ego, 'Alex Supertramp' which was the name he used on his travels and when he met anyone on them. Many people did indeed engage with 'Alex' along the way and the strange thing is the effect he seemed to have on them, no matter how long they spent with him, be it a few hours or a few weeks, they all remembered him quite distinctly and cared that he was ok.

          It seems that it was only after his death that the pieces of his road trip were pulled together and the extent of his journey was revealed. Because he took numorous photographs along the way and kept a journal, it was ideal fodder to turn it into a book (and subsequently a film) and that is what he have here.

          Krakauer is something of an adventurer himself, best known for his mountaineering and subsequent written accounts as a journalist and author. It was his original journalistic account of McCandless' final adventure which appeared in Outside magazine in 1992 that triggered the worldwide interest and subsequently inspired him to turn it into a book.

          Krakauer uses extracts from McCandless' journal, interviews with the people he met along the way and accounts of similar ill fated expeditions (including his own experience of attempting to climb the Devils Thumb - also in Alaska) to document the life of McCandless and the final months in particular of his journey.

          I really liked the way Krakauer balances the view of Chris that his parents and friends at home had against the one which the people he met on his travels had of his Alex Supertramp persona. It makes you consider what exactly he was trying to escape from and why? I also could not help thinking 'what a waste'.

          Although the outcome of the book is clear from the very beginning and you know that there will not be a happy ending, the desire to try and understand why Chris felt this way and what it was he was trying to achieve keeps you completely engaged in the story.

          I wanted to try and gauge whether he got close to the experience he was after but the sad thing is that his death was in fact completely avoidable, the bus he was in was actually only a few miles from civilisation and shelter - had he only had a compass and a map with him he would have known this. I feel so sorry for his family and think that it was quite remiss and selfish of him to put them through the months of no contact before the phone call to say his body had been found.

          It was clear to me that Chris/Alex was an incredibly angry young man who was not always incredibly successful at processing his emotions, the combination of his immense determination to do things his way and his self confidence proved to be fatal when they were faced with the wildes of Alaska, in the end he just vastly underestimated how severe the landscape is and how successful he could be without the basic survival tools he chose not to take.

          I think Krakauer writes wonderfully, capturing all sides of this tragic story and making it into a book you do not want to put down. I certainly felt a deep connection with the account and with the people involved and was saddened by the fact that it was really such an avoidable end to arrive at.

          I will certainly be watching the film now to see how it comes across on the big screen but I would definitely say that for anyone with an interest in travel and humanity this is a riveting book and much recommended.

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          09.02.2009 19:43
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          An insight into the power of the Wild, and the grip it held on one man.

          Considering this book is based around the tale of a young man who died weak, starving and alone in an abandoned bus in the Alaskan wilderness, its story is a strangely uplifting one. Christopher McCandless died aged twenty-four in a remote part of the state, and although his death may have been the result of a combination of misfortunes, his predicament was wholly an intentional one. Having left school, McCandless recast himself in the image of his alter-ego, Alexander Supertramp, and set off in search of the Wild.

          McCandless/Supertramp's motivations were several, but he was essentially driven by idea of the freedom granted by the wild places, and that there is some essential aspect of life that is unlocked by living "off grid". Mostly, he avoided any particular mantra and simply continued to quietly pursue the experiences he sought. Leaving home, he travelled by whatever means he could, making use of whatever hospitality came his way. Over the course of a couple of years, he made his way gradually west from his Virginia home before dumping his car and burning the contents of his wallet. From here, he went paddled his canoe south to the Gulf of Mexico, before meandering north to his longheld goal of Alaska, which he saw as the "ultimate experience".

          Although Into the Wild relates McCandless's story, Jon Krakauer's book has a triple focus. Firstly, he relates McCandless's journey, which itself is interspersed with interviews with the protagonist's family. The second focus of the story is a look at those who have preceded McCandless - from the documented journeys of Jack London from the similarly-titled Call of the Wild to other, occasionally more anecdotal tales. Here the author attempts to analyse what it is that pulls people off the beaten track; he tries to pin down what it is we mean when we talk of the "Call of the Wild". The final aspect of the book deals with the author's own experiences - Krakauer relates his own journeys into the wild and discusses what drew him there alongside the events that unfolded as a result, searching for any parallels that may exist with McCandless.

          Of course, given the subject of the book's death, Krakauer had to put this book together in spite of something of a shortage of first-hand accounts. He has achieved this, in terms of relating McCandless's story, by piecing together the stories of those who crossed paths with the traveller at some point along his way and splicing these into a narrative constructed from the clues that McCandless left behind and local knowledge of the flora, fauna and terrain of the region. Despite these limitations in information, though, Krakauer has managed to put together an account that is informative, well-written and convincing. Although it is hard to say how much creative license the author has allowed himself, the narrative never feels contrived or overly sensationalist, and always retains an authentic, grounded air. Certainly, Krakauer did his homework in writing his book, spending several years researching it, and this has paid off in the attention to detail and quality of writing it contains.

          Krakauer is already something of a controversial author after his publication of Into Thin Air, his account of the 1996 Everest disaster, which was criticised for presenting a very strongly one-sided version of events. Some may see this effort as being a little exploitative, and may feel he has jumped on McCandless's death and ideals and used them to further his own cause - they would thus likely see the way he has filled in some of the blanks in his subject's tale and presented them with such conviction as being a rather negative aspect of the book. However, I feel the attention that has been paid to detail and care with which Krakauer has related the information somewhat vindicates the author, and where he has taken minor liberties with the details, it is in the name of constructed a smooth, flowing narrative - something which he has pulled off, as the book does read well, progressing and switching between different focuses and subjects logically and smoothly.

          Certainly, I feel if you remember that this isn't necessarily the entire picture of McCandless's final moments; rather a best attempt at fitting together the existing pictures, Into the Wild makes an entertaining and intriguing read. I mentioned earlier that the book has a surprisingly uplifting air to it, given its conclusion - this is largely down to Krakauer's sensitive, skillful depiction of McCandless and his dreams and ideals. As such, when McCandless does succumb to the dangerous side of the wild, although we naturally do feel sympathy for him, this is at least balanced out by the extent to which we feel he probably died in a manner he would have approved of, surrounded by the wilderness he sought. Krakauer has painted a powerful picture of McCandless here, but he has also rendered his other lead character - the Wild itself - with equal majesty, and imbues it with a slightly seductive, unpredictable light, which makes for a read with pulls you in and almost has you yearning for the open spaces and hidden places yourself.

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            12.10.2008 00:54

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            This book wil leave you thinking,

            'Into the Wild' written by Jon Krakauer, is the story of Chris McCandless who turned up dead in the Alaskan wilderness aged just 24. Krakauer, who first covered the story of the McCandless in Outside magazine, became intrigued by the huge amount of interest the story generated, particularly by the number of peope who wrote in saying they knew the young man. Krakauer spent a year researching the story of McCandless and 'Into the Wild' is the result.
            The book covers a number of events that occured during McCandless's travels across North America and the reasons behind his descision to take to the road. Krakauer provides a fascinating insight into the mindset of Chris McCandless, who athough raised into a wealthy family, opted to forgoe that life of comfort and security for a life on the road. The story of Chris McCandless is a true trajedy, this book will make you laugh and cry - I would recomend it to anyone.

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            06.08.2008 17:24
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            An Exhilirating Read.

            Into the wild

            For some reason I had not heard any of the hype involved with this film and therefore did not even know it existed. I saw it one day on the shelf of Woolworths and decided to give it a go. The fact that I had heard any of the hype for this film allowed me to enjoy it much more, as my expectations were not elevated and I could make a calculated conclusion without any other opinions or views getting in the way.

            I believe that all the characters in the film were cast expertly, even though some do not match up very well with the person they are based on in reality. I however am willing to let this go, firstly because I am not obsessed with tiny criticisms, and also that I believe that sometimes things are allowed to be exaggerated or changed to allow a better portrayal of the truth, if that makes any sense. Emile Hirsch, in my opinion, plays an excellent Chris McCandless, although obviously I never met the man. I think that with all the research that was put into this film Emile Hirsch most probably knew the character he was playing inside out, hence the reason he was able to perform so well.

            It is definitely one of those films that makes you think, and they don't come around very often. It isn't one of those films I must add, that you will sit around drinking and laughing with friends. It is however a film that I believe should be watched alone in silence, so that every word uttered can be heard and processed.

            I also own the book and after reading it I was amazed how well Sean Penn has managed to keep the film and the book so parallel. Many films are based upon books, yet there are so many things different, it makes it very difficult to believe. This may be done purposefully, so that it doesn't put readers off viewing and viewers off reading. However, this particular relationship between book and film is very close and intricate, yet you get a different experience from both, which is very uncommon, and in this case should not be taken for granted.

            Into the wild is a very long film, yet I expect it has been squashed and compacted into those two and half hours of running time. The actual expedition of Chris McCandless lasted for many years, so putting it into such a short amount of time I believe is doing it injustice. However, it is clear to me that without the film the true story and expedition of this extraordinary man would not be publicised, which would be doing him even more injustice.

            I very much like the way that the film is segregated into parts, almost like several films rolled into one. In the book the story is also segregated, but in a different way to the film. I believe that both the film and the book have been segregated clearly so that the moving story is much easier to digest.

            The story revolves around Chris McCandless, a very intelligent recently graduated man, who passed all his college courses with flying colours. It seems that this isn't enough for Christopher, and without a word of warning to any friends or family he disappears. At the time obviously nobody knew of his plans, but it is now apparent that he planned to travel across America and ultimately end up 'living off the land' in Alaska. This seemingly impossible task was undertaken without any expert knowledge in these fields. However, as the clever and talented man that he was, Chris McCandless somehow overcame all the problems that arose in front of him, ignored the fact he was losing extreme amounts of weight and wasn't sure at times where his next meal was coming from, and eventually achieved his goal. But with great consequences, you'll have to watch the film to fill the gaps.

            Certain parts of the book are not featured in the film, which is disappointing as I would have liked to see these parts animated, but it is clear that the director must have had to cut them due to duration problems. How anyone could get bored of such an amazing story is however beyond me.

            Another reason that I was drawn to this film was the fact that I had always wanted to do something similar to what Chris had done. It's strange because most people generally get the idea after the film, the inspiration obviously coming from the film. But I already had this thought in mind and had had for quite a while without even knowing about the tale of Chris McCandless (Alexander Supertramp). After watching the film, witnessing the dangerous incidents that he Chris occurred, I am not put off in the slightest, in fact the complete opposite; I am even more excited about the prospect of a horizon-less journey that one day I may fulfil.

            I believe that as a general rule, the best films are the ones that are based on true stories. After a bit of thinking however, the reason for this is clear. Directors would not choose boring and meaningless stories that have occurred to base a film on, hence the reason most 'based on true stories' are so good; yet other directors may think what they are coming up with is golden, but the viewers may be less inclined to view their horrible fiction creation.

            Overall this is a very inspirational film and should not be frowned upon for it's long silences. The long silences I believe are positioned purposefully, to reflect upon previous events and take in the hectic and moving storyline. If people choose to ignore these facts and frown upon such golden minutes then they should be labelled narrow minded, and that my friends is not the frame of mind needed to enjoy the deep film that is: 'Into the Wild.'

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              12.02.2008 21:59
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              Well worth reading

              Into The Wild is a true story account of a young man's journey into the Alaskan wilderness to attempt to 'live off the land'. Sadly, this is not a story with a happy ending; Christopher McCandless' body was discovered by hunters only four months after entering the wilderness, seemingly dying of starvation.

              Jon Krakauer initially wrote an article for 'Outside' magazine shortly after McCandless' death, reporting on the tragedy. But Krakauer became more intrigued by the whole mystery surrounding the apparent avoidability of the young man's death. Into The Wild details the whole background of events leading up to Chris McCandless' decision to venture into the Alaskan wilderness, his middle class up bringing in the suburbs of Washington DC, his travels across America, and ultimately his unquenching desire to live off the surrounding wild environment in Alaska.

              Along with exerts of McCandless' journal, we get accounts from his family and various people he meets after leaving his home in Washington when he travels around different parts of the USA, all detailing their own personal encounters with Chris. The information provided from his journal is limited, so it's from the people whose lives he touched (even the briefest of encounters with Chris many people felt he had a profound effect on them) that give us more of an insight into Chris' thoughts, and what drove him to give all his savings to charity, and walk into the wild, poorly equipped, and without the local knowledge to help him survive for any length of time in such a harsh location.

              Krakauer's sympathy and affection for McCandless is evident, and it's hard for this not to rub off on the reader also, but he also details how a lot of people from the surrounding area in Alaska weren't so supportive and felt that McCandless was fool whose death was only brought on my his own arrogance and lack of respect for the wild land.

              This is a fairly short book of little over 200 pages, really as there is only a limited amount of information available about Chris as a lot of his time was spent alone. So I felt the book possibly did stretch the detail out a little in parts, and depended on unnecessary lengthy quotes, from books found with Chris McCandless' possessions, at the start of each chapter to help 'bulk up' the quantity.

              It was obviously never going to be a comfortable read given the nature of it, but I definitely found the book a moving account of a young man's wasted life. Krakauer's account left me with many differing feelings for Chris McCandless, including admiration, frustration and great sorrow.

              Into The Wild has now been made into a feature film (released in 2007) produced and directed by Sean Penn, and with Emile Hirsch playing the role of Christopher McCandless.

              Supporting info from Amazon.co.uk:

              Paperback: 224 pages
              Publisher: Pan Books (7 Sep 2007)
              Language English
              ISBN-10: 033045367X
              ISBN-13: 978-0330453677
              Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 12.8 x 1.8 cm

              Also, the book is available from Amazon currently (12/02/2008) for £4.79.

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            • Product Details

              By examining the true story of Chris McCandless, a young man, who in 1992 walked deep into the Alaskan wilderness and whose SOS note and emaciated corpse were found four months later, internationally bestselling author Jon Krakauer explores the obsession which leads some people to explore the outer limits of self, leave civilization behind and seek enlightenment through solitude and contact with nature. An astonishingly gifted writer: his account of 'Alex Supertramp' is powerfully dramatic, eliciting sympathy for both the idealistic, anti-consumerist boy - and his parents - Guardian. A compelling tale of tragic idealism - The Times.