Pilgrim's Wilderness by Tom Kizzia
A True Story of Faith and Madness on the Alaska Frontier

76%

16 Critic Reviews

This is a must-read for anyone interested in Alaska, small towns, extremist religion, cults, back-to-the-land movements, the vast project of protecting American wilderness through the National Parks Service, media spin, and just plain good writing. Almost everyone will find something to appreciate in this fascinating work.
-Publishers Weekly

Synopsis

Into the Wild meets Helter Skelter in this riveting true story of a modern-day homesteading family in the deepest reaches of the Alaskan wilderness—and of the chilling secrets of its maniacal, spellbinding patriarch.
 
When Papa Pilgrim, his wife, and their fifteen children appeared in the Alaska frontier outpost of McCarthy, their new neighbors saw them as a shining example of the homespun Christian ideal. But behind the family's proud piety and beautiful old-timey music lay Pilgrim's dark past: his strange  connection to the Kennedy assassination and a trail of chaos and anguish that followed him from Dallas and New Mexico. Pilgrim soon sparked a tense confrontation with the National Park Service fiercely dividing the community over where a citizen’s rights end and the government’s power begins. As the battle grew more intense, the turmoil in his brood made it increasingly difficult to tell whether his children were messianic followers or hostages in desperate need of rescue. 

In this powerful piece of Americana, written with uncommon grace and high drama, veteran Alaska journalist, Tom Kizzia uses his unparalleled access to capture an era-defining clash between environmentalists and pioneers ignited by a mesmerizing sociopath who held a town and a family captive.

 

About Tom Kizzia

See more books from this Author
TOM KIZZIA has traveled widely in rural Alaska for the Anchorage Daily News, and his work has appeared in the Washington Post and been featured on CNN. His first book, The Wake of the Unseen Object, was named one of the best all-time nonfiction books about Alaska by the state historical society. He lives in Homer, Alaska.


Author Residence: Homer, Alaska
 
Published July 16, 2013 by Crown. 338 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History, Nature & Wildlife, Crime, Science & Math. Non-fiction
Bestseller Status:
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Peak Rank on Feb 01 2015
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Weeks as Bestseller
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Critic reviews for Pilgrim's Wilderness
All: 16 | Positive: 16 | Negative: 0

Publishers Weekly

Good
Reviewed by Caitlin Caulfield on Jun 15 2013

This is a must-read for anyone interested in Alaska, small towns, extremist religion, cults, back-to-the-land movements, the vast project of protecting American wilderness through the National Parks Service, media spin, and just plain good writing. Almost everyone will find something to appreciate in this fascinating work.

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WSJ online

Good
Reviewed by NANCY ROMMELMANN on Jul 26 2013

Mr. Kizzia has done an outstanding job unpacking Pilgrim's story; the book is superbly researched, the writing clear and unflinching...Mr. Kizzia deploys just enough devastating detail to develop in the reader a desperate thirst for justice but not so much as to revel in the family's torment.

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Star Tribune

Excellent
Reviewed by PAMELA MILLER on Aug 03 2013

...Kizzia’s gifts as a journalist and writer are such that it is a powerhouse of a book, destined to become a wilderness-tale classic like Jon Krakauer’s “Into the Wild.”

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LA Times

Good
Reviewed by Joe Mozingo on Jul 25 2013

With Pilgrim, we pray for little more than an excruciating demise...But the tense desire for justice keeps the pages turning quickly through a broader, rich narrative of America groping to manage competing freedoms in that vast cold land where the last road ends.

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Dallas News

Above average
Reviewed by JEFFREY WEISS on Jul 20 2013

That family called in the police. Hale was arrested and convicted. He died only a few months into his prison term. Which may make it sound like the book is basically a predictable crime story. It’s anything but. Detail upon detail of how the monster finally got his due...make it an irresistible page-turner.

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BookPage

Good
Reviewed by Heather Seggel on Jun 13 2013

Initially embraced as exemplars of the libertarian ideal, the family turned out to be a dangerous sham, ruled by an evil patriarch. Pilgrim’s Wilderness unravels this drama with journalistic precision...Pilgrim’s Wilderness is fascinating and hard to put down—an excellent choice for those who like their beach reading on the darker side.

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The Seattle Times

Above average
Reviewed by Irene Wanner on Aug 03 2013

The real story is heartbreaking. Papa Pilgrim teaches his children to steal, to defy authority — except his own....As children will, Papa Pilgrim’s kids grow, become restless, and begin to crave freedom and outside friendships. The family’s brutal unraveling is a shocking tale readers won’t soon forget.

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Oregon Live

Above average
Reviewed by Jeff Baker on Aug 03 2013

Kizzia's "Pilgrim's Wilderness: A True Story of Faith and Madness on the Alaska Frontier" is a masterful book. One of its strengths is that by sticking to the story and not trying to do too much, it does just about everything.

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Times Dispatch

Above average
Reviewed by Joe Mozingo on Jul 22 2014

The narrative in “Pilgrim’s Wilderness” skips back and forth between Alaska and New Mexico in a way that is a little jarring in spots...But that is small trade-off since “Pilgrim’s Wilderness” is painstakingly reported and gripping, giving us a true look at an escapist nightmare in America’s mythic and fading frontier.

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Bookin With Sunny.

Good
Reviewed by Ann Ronald on Aug 18 2013

Pilgrim’s Wilderness is an excellent example of straight­forward non­fiction that is as gripping as any novel might be. For the most part, Kizzia reports objec­tively, but occa­sionally he inserts himself as an actor/​participant...The result is a pow­erful rev­e­lation about religion, pol­itics, and family dys­function, seen first-​​hand.

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Biographile

Above average
Reviewed by Patrick Sauer on Jul 11 2013

The astounding, mystifying, disturbing, enlightening family journey is told in Pilgrim’s Wilderness by longtime Alaskan newspaperman Tom Kizzia. It’s a saga that defies belief...

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Sophisticated Dorkiness

Above average
Reviewed by Kim on Sep 12 2013

Although the ultimate reveal of Pilgrim as a physically, mentally and sexually abusive psychopath is what makes this book scandalous, there’s also a ton of interesting back and forth about property rights and life at the edge of the frontier.

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Bermuda Onion's Weblog

Above average
Reviewed by Kathy on Sep 05 2013

The book is well written and I enjoyed it very much, even as it made me angry, but did feel like it got bogged down with details a time or two. It was scary to think about the way Papa Pilgrim was able to control his family and, as I read the book and learned about his background, I couldn’t help but wonder if he was mentally ill.

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Book Hooked Blog

Good
Reviewed by Julie G on Jan 20 2015

In addition to having a fascinating and disturbing true story to tell, Kizzia has obviously done his work researching the family and their history and presenting all possible sides and angles...it's a gripping true story and I think it will appeal to fans of true crime, investigative reporting, or just straight up crazy business.

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Chew and Digest Books

Good
Reviewed by Gwen on Jul 16 2013

This is narrative nonfiction at its finest and one man at his darkest...So engrossed in the book that I was gobsmacked to see it was 3 AM when I finished. I hadn’t been tired, hadn’t noticed the world around me go silent, I just lost time while reading. That hasn’t happened since I was oh…in high school, I think.

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Failure Magazine

Above average
Reviewed by Jason Zasky on Jan 31 2015

In “Pilgrim’s Wilderness,” by veteran Alaska journalist Tom Kizzia, the reader discovers that all was not well in the Pilgrim household.... A heartbreaking and tragic true story, one likely destined for the Big Screen.

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Reader Rating for Pilgrim's Wilderness
81%

An aggregated and normalized score based on 749 user ratings from iDreamBooks & iTunes


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