Pilgrim's Wilderness

  • by Tom Kizzia
  • Narrated by Fred Sanders
  • 10 hrs and 15 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

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 appeared in the Alaska frontier outpost of McCarthy with his wife and fifteen children in tow, his new neighbors had little idea of the trouble to come. The Pilgrim Family presented themselves as a shining example of the homespun Christian ideal, with their proud piety and beautiful old-timey music, but their true story ran dark and deep. Within weeks, Papa had bulldozed a road through the mountains to the new family home at an abandoned copper mine, sparking a tense confrontation with the National Park Service and forcing his ghost town neighbors to take sides in an ever-more volatile battle over where a citizen’s rights end and the government’s power begins.
In Pilgrim’s Wilderness, veteran Alaska journalist Tom Kizzia unfolds the remarkable, at times harrowing, story of a charismatic spinner of American myths who was not what he seemed, the townspeople caught in his thrall, and the family he brought to the brink of ruin. As Kizzia discovered, Papa Pilgrim was in fact the son of a rich Texas family with ties to Hoover’s FBI and strange, oblique connections to the Kennedy assassination and the movie stars of Easy Rider. And as his fight with the government in Alaska 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, 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.

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What the Critics Say

"A journalist's gripping account of a modern fundamentalist Christian pioneer family and the dark secrets that held it together.... Provocative and disturbing.” (Kirkus Reviews)
"Strong work of reportage.... [Papa Pilgrim's] intriguing past crumbles in comparison to his excruciating cruelty and to the inspiring grace and strength of his children." (Booklist)
"The riveting story of a megalomaniacal sociopath who left a trail of woe from Texas to the Great White North, Pilgrim’s Wilderness lends credence to the maxim that the unadulterated truth, when conveyed with sufficient skill, is not only more illuminating than fiction, but also more entertaining. Tom Kizzia has written an uncommonly insightful book about post-frontier Alaska, an ambitious literary work disguised as a page-turner, very much in the tradition of Edward Hoagland’s Notes From the Century Before and John McPhee’s Coming into the Country." (Jon Krakauer, author of Into the Wild and Under the Banner of Heaven)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

bewildering wilderness family

Would you listen to Pilgrim's Wilderness again? Why?

Yes, It is quite a long story, historical and entertaining at the same time.


What was one of the most memorable moments of Pilgrim's Wilderness?

The amount of control one man can have over " his" family


What does Fred Sanders bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

Again, the length of a book. If it is too long, having a narrator keeps my mind from wandering,


Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

Bewilderment and anger against Pilgrim


Any additional comments?

Good listen. I learnt a lot about the Alaskan wilderness and its "foreign" inhabitants.

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- Dale "Retired lady in my 60s. Have the time to read now so I seem to be "devouring " books. Love my Kindle."

Not the story I thought

I overall score this book a 2, not because of the writing, as it was we written but because I thought it was a book about an Alaska wilderness homesteading story. The book is actually about a horrific family abuse story. A nod to the author for his dedication to this families tale. It needed to be told.
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- Tammy Krueger

Book Details

  • Release Date: 07-16-2013
  • Publisher: Random House Audio