• Pilgrim's Wilderness

  • A True Story of Faith and Madness on the Alaska Frontier
  • By: Tom Kizzia
  • Narrated by: Fred Sanders
  • Length: 10 hrs and 14 mins
  • 4.4 out of 5 stars (387 ratings)

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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.

©2013 Tom Kizzia (P)2013 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

"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)

What listeners say about Pilgrim's Wilderness

Average Customer Ratings
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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

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.

5 people found this helpful

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Crazy book about a crazy family

Very good listen. An intriguing story artfully told. If you like learning about the odd balls at the edge of society you'll certainly enjoy this book.

3 people found this helpful

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Can't beat real life......

If you could sum up Pilgrim's Wilderness in three words, what would they be?

Unbelievable, Recent,Sad. I can't believe this happened so recently. It started out all about land rights and curved quickly to much more.

What was the most compelling aspect of this narrative?

That it is so true, that things are rarely what they appear to be.

Which scene was your favorite?

I loved the connection to Governor Connolly, Jack Nicholson, Lee Harvey Oswald, etc. It was pure fascination.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

No. I needed breaks to absorb all I had read.

Any additional comments?

This was like watching a train wreck. Heartbreaking.

3 people found this helpful

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Like the TV series!

Compliment to Edge of Alaska history channel series. Fills in many missing facts and completes some story lines that are left open. Very good reader too!

2 people found this helpful

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Unforgettable story full of details

I am fascinated by stories of religious fanatics gone rogue and this true story set in contemporary times held me spellbound from the minute I began listening. The rich details of life in deep Alaska wilderness and land use battles are timely. Now I am hoping to find more Audiobooks narrated by masterful Fred Sanders

1 person found this helpful

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Abuse in the Wilderness

Hard to accept this story happened so recently. An abusive father with a terrified family under his thumb, yet outwardly everyone seems happy. This man was truly a sociopath and the devil himself.
"Audible20 Review Sweepstakes Entry"

1 person found this helpful

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Wow

Disturbing and unforgettable. This is a must read for those of you that like nonfiction.

1 person found this helpful

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Horrifying yet hopeful true crime

I had not previously heard of the Hale family before reading this book. The story of the large, isolated, scared family is one that is unfortunately almost cliche these days. Still, the details and peculiarities of this family and its patriarch kept me interested.

I appreciated the way the narrative jumped from present to past and back. It allowed you to feel like you were slowly uncovering the mystery instead of allowing the truth to slap you all at once. There are tricky subjects involved like religious rights and property rights, but I felt that these issues were handled in a fair manner. The author stated his own biases, but otherwise left politics as much out of the story as was reasonable.

The narrator was perfectly fine and had a good voice. Not outstanding, but solid.

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Very good.

We live in Wasilla and heard a lot about this family. My husband and I enjoyed hearing the details this book provided. Such a tragic and unbelievable account of control and manipulation.

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an amazing story

I had trouble putting this story down to get on with my day. the intensity of a faith turned evil by a man who kept his family tortured prisoners while presenting a healthy appearance to the world is hair raising when you think of how many truly evil people are out their hiding behind masks of faith and purity

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  • Kindle Customer
  • 05-09-16

Psycho Incorporated

This story is harrowing. Could not stop listening. Human cruelty knows no limits. Buy it.