Chemistry mystery solved: The death of Chris McCandless

Chris McCandless was the hiker and simple living advocate who died from starvation in Denali National Park in 1992. His story was later made into a book and movie called Into the Wild. But there's always been something a little weird about McCandless' death. How did a guy dedicated to back-to-the-land knowledge and safe foraging end up starving to death? At The New Yorker, writer Jon Krakauer explains how the mystery of McCandless' death was finally solved. The evidence points to a secret of food chemistry with ties to Nazi death camps.

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  1. pyalot says:

    The author argues that the people who see McCandless clueless and his death as self inflicted autodarwin may overthink their position now, that he could prove that poison killed him.

    Let's not forget that he first ran out of food, failed to procure a high protein diet, tried to flee, was stopped by a river he could've crossed or just walked to the nearest highway all before he ate those seeds...

  2. I feel a little conflicted about this. Now people can go "Ah HA! He didn't starve to death, he was poisoned thanks to an inaccurate plant identification guide!", but it seems like he was already slowly starving death before he started eating those seeds and they just sped up his demise.

  3. This article solved for me an unrelated mystery. Oliver Sacks described a patient of his with a crippling untreatable neurological disease caused by being forced to eat "chick beans" in a Nazi concentration camp. I have never been able to identify what "chick beans" were, or to confirm that it wasn't a mistype for "chick peas", which I do eat.

    Now I know "chick beans" are a mystype for "grass pea", also known as chickling vetch.

  4. Maybe they could just be a little less obnoxious and a tad bit more empathetic..

  5. The world is indeed dangerous. Many people will die today in car accidents, which are a leading cause of death for young people. Will we call them "idiots" for dying in this way, or go on decrying their senseless risk-taking, in driving cars?

    Several years ago I built a canoe, put it in a river, and traveled as far as I could go -- which ended up taking 5 months. I knew there was some probability that I would die; I certainly knew the world was not a place that would coddle me, and moreover I knew that I did not want to be coddled. There is no safe adventure.

    If I were to do it again, I'm sure there are things I would have done differently. But I don't ever look back and wish I had taken fewer risks.

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