Nothing speaks to the heart of man like a good tale of adventure. Whether in the form of a bedtime story read to young boys or a nail biting page turner that keeps you up at night, the adventure story is one genre of literature that stays with you for a lifetime. The very mention of such novels brings to mind images of buried treasure, hidden deep in the jungle of a deserted island, protected by dastardly pirates and the local cannibal population. Or perhaps the mind jumps instead to the image of a forgotten world, complete with lost civilization and monstrous creatures of a bygone era.
Whatever your personal adventure fantasy, there are some stories we all can relate to. Listed here, in no particular order, are fifty adventure novels that no man should go a lifetime without reading. This is not considered a complete list of all the great adventure novels, so please take advantage of the comments section to share what other adventure novels you recommend to your fellow men. Also, be sure to stay tuned for the upcoming second part of this series, The Essential Man’s Library: 50 Nonfiction Adventure Books Edition.
And now, to jump into the world of high adventure….
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A tale of survival, Hatchet traces the story of young Brian, who is left stranded in the Canadian wilderness when his plane crashes. Forced to survive with little food or gear, Brian’s will to live is put to the test.
Easily the best known adventure novel, this is Stevenson’s masterpiece. The son of an innkeeper, young Jim Hawkins finds himself thrust into the world of piracy as he joins Long John Silver in the search for buried treasure.
Stranded on a desert island as a result of a catastrophic shipwreck, a family is forced to survive with nothing but the natural resources available. Eventually, they are able to create an impressive compound within which they are able to live at ease in their jungle surroundings.
Follow the adventures of Harvey Cheyne, son of a railroad tycoon, as he is thrown overboard on a steamship journey, only to be rescued by fishermen who eventually mold him into a true seafarer.
A college professor and his young apprentice follow instructions on a broken pottery shard that lead them to a fabled lost city in the jungles of Africa, where they encounter She Who Must Be Obeyed, the seemingly immortal ruler of the land.
Set sixteen years after the events of She, this novels follows the same characters as they travel to the far reaches of the earth seeking out a reincarnation of She Who Must Be Obeyed.
Adventurer Allan Quatermain is drafted into a search and rescue party that leads into the great unknown of unexplored Africa, where entire civilizations are discovered and rumors of the location of the mines of King Solomon lead the team on one of the greatest adventures in all of literature.
Out of the dark we came, into the dark we go. Like a storm-driven bird at night we fly out of the Nowhere; for a moment our wings are seen in the light of the fire, and, lo! we are gone again into the Nowhere.
A two for one deal, this book chronicles the dangerous lives of the early mail pilots as told by Saint-Exupery, author of Wind, Sand and Stars and himself an accomplished pilot.
This timeless classic by Arthur Conan Doyle inspired the imagination of countless young boys and spawned what is now known as the Lost World genre. Inside its pages the protagonist, Professor Challenger, plays tour guide on an undiscovered plateau in South America, filled with dinosaurs and other mystical creatures that time seemingly forgot.
Rudyard Kipling’s famous short story about two wandering British adventurers who somehow manage to become kings of Kafiristan, only to suffer a drastic fall from power.
In this, one of Verne’s lesser known works, Captain Hatteras enlists a team with the goal of reaching the North Pole. Along the way wills are tested as they face sub-zero temperatures and possible starvation, and eventually the men begin to whisper of mutiny. Typical of Verne’s works, the book is packed with classic adventure start to finish.
Full of high seas adventure, this is the first in Italian author Emilio Salgari’s celebrated Sandokan series, which follows the pirate Sandokan, known as the Tiger of Malaysia, on his swashbuckling escapades.
Sequel to The Tigers of Mompracem, this one is every bit as action packed as the first. Follow the notorious pirate Sandokan as he faces his greatest challenge yet.
In this, the last of the Sandokan series to be translated to English, watch as Sandokan faces off against none other than the Thuggee cult, an actual sect later made famous in the film Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
Follow an expedition into the Congo that is part rescue operation, part treasure hunt as the team searches for lost comrades and seek out a diamond mine that may hold the diamond needed to complete their ambitious research. The fate of the previous team is discovered when the group is attacked by man eating gorillas that inhabit the region. The book is much better than the movie which was later based on it.
Join a team of scientists at the ultimate island amusement park, John Hammond’s “biological preserve” known as Jurassic Park, where dinosaurs, genetically engineered by Hammond’s scientists, roam the earth once again. Disaster strikes when corporate sabotage leads to a power outage, significantly reducing the effectiveness of the electrical fences keeping the dinosaurs separated from the park visitors.
Join Ian Malcolm, believed dead after the event of Jurassic Park, as he is forced once again into the company of monsters, this time on a rescue mission of his own. Instead of Isla Nublar, Malcolm must travel to Isla Sorna, aka Site B, where dinosaurs run wild throughout the island.
Homer’s epic poem, which serves as a continuation of the events of The Iliad, is one of the first great adventure stories. Following the fall of Troy, Odysseus begins his journey home to Ithaca but is thwarted in his efforts when an angry Poseidon throws him off course, beginning a timeless adventure that is as good now as it was when written nearly 3000 years ago.
Venture out of the shire with a young Bilbo Baggins as he discovers a world that few hobbits will ever see, pursued at length by the mysterious Gollum, from whom Bilbo had taken the enigmatic Ring of Power. Bilbo’s courage and cunning are put to the test as he attempts to relieve a very powerful dragon of his treasure horde.
I come from under the hill, and under the hills and over the hills my paths led. And through the air. I am he that walks unseen. I am the clue-finder, the web-cutter, the stinging fly. I was chosen for the lucky number. I am he that buries his friends alive and drowns them and draws them alive again from the water. I came from the end of bag, but no bag went over me. I am the friend of bears and the guest of eagles. I am Ring-winner and Luckwearer; and I am Barrel-rider.
Little introduction is needed for this, J. R. R. Tolkien’s tour de force. Tolkien’s masterful attention to detail comes to light with the peoples, places, and languages of Middle Earth, which are painted with such fine strokes that they could easily be taken to have really existed. Journey with Frodo and the Fellowship of the Ring as they endeavor to stamp out the darkness brought to Middle Earth with the return of Sauron and his minions.
One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
Published posthumously, this collection of tales by Tolkien works as a literary precursor to the events of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, chronicling the formation of Middle Earth and the history of its early peoples, and concluding as the events in the more famous trilogy begin to unfold.
Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic coming of age tale of the young Scotsman David, who, upon the death of his parents, seeks out his uncle to claim his inheritance. His uncle, wishing to claim the inheritance as his own, sells David into slavery in the American colonies. Adventure is found as David fights his way back to Scotland to confront his uncle and claim his birthright.
This literary classic follows the exploits of the strange and mysterious Captain Nemo and his ship the Nautilus.
The sea is everything. It covers seven tenths of the terrestrial globe. Its breath is pure and healthy. It is an immense desert, where man is never lonely, for he feels life stirring on all sides. The sea is only the embodiment of a supernatural and wonderful existence. It is nothing but love and emotion.
This lesser know book by Jules Verne is actually a sequel to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, although the storylines have little in common. A group of American Civil War prisoners of war escape via a hijacked hot air balloon, which eventually crashes on a mystical island where they have to fight for their survival.
Sure, eighty days may seem like plenty of time to go around the world these days, but when Phileas Fogg wagered 20,000 British pounds he could do it back in 1872, he was certainly being optimistic. Trains, steam ships, and even the occasional elephant ride are employed in the circumnavigation as he attempts to make good on his claim.
This legendary account of the adventures of d’Artagnan and the Three Musketeers follows these proud swashbucklers as they defend the honor of queen and country.
All for one, one for all, that is our motto.
The timeless character of the boy who refused to grow up needs little introduction. Fly along with Pan as he and the Lost Boys face off against the notorious Captain Hook and his band of pirates. This masterpiece of literature by J. M. Barrie has been the bedtime story of choice for growing boys for nearly one hundred years.
In this, his fictional memoir, Ernest Hemingway details lion hunting with his wife in East Africa at the time of the 1953 Mau Mau uprising. Fact meets fiction as he balances a robust hunting schedule, duties as a game warden and local protector of the people, and a secret tribal marriage to a local tribeswoman.
Follow Richard Hannay as he runs from the law in the Scottish countryside, seeking both to prove his innocence and to decipher the clues that could change the fate of Britain in World War I. Part Sherlock Holmes, part Da Vinci Code.
This story, the best known by author Jack London, tracks the story of Buck, a domestic dog who is thrust into the sledding world in the Yukon at the height of the 19th century gold rush.
Here was neither peace, nor rest, nor a moment’s safety. All was confusion and action, and every moment life and limb were in peril. There was imperative need to be constantly alert, for these dogs and men were not town dogs and men. They were savages, all of them, who knew no law but the law of club and fang.
The fascinating tale of a wealthy man, Humphrey Van Wheydon, who is cast into the sea when his ship collides with another in a heavy fog. The man is eventually rescued by a seal hunting expedition, the captain of which is a brutal man called the Sea Wolf who decides to keep Van Wheydon on board as a servant. An adventure story on the surface, this story provides critical insight into man’s inhumanity to man upon closer examination.
Mark Twain offers his own perspective of the Old West as he journeys through it. Stagecoaches, gold, prospecting, and an antagonist that seems to come right out of a Spaghetti Western make for exciting reading cover to cover. Placed under fiction since though Twain claimed these stories are true, it is generally accepted that some are somewhat embellished.
The search for a fabled beach, said to be perfect in every way, leads a small group of young backpackers on the adventure of a lifetime. However, upon finding the beach, they discover that something so perfect is hard to keep secret.
Melville’s masterpiece concerning Captain Ahab’s insatiable quest to exact revenge on the great white whale that crippled him, as told by Ishmael, a sailor on board Ahab’s ship.
All that most maddens and torments; all that stirs up the lees of things; all truth with malice in it; all that cracks the sinews and cakes the brain; all the subtle demonisms of life and thought; all evil, to crazy Ahab, were visibly personified, and made practically assailable in Moby-Dick. He piled upon the whale’s white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart’s shell upon it.
The famous account of the castaway Robinson Crusoe as he makes a life for himself on a remote island off the coast of South America, structured as if it was written by Crusoe himself.
And thus I have given the first Part of a Life of Fortune and Adventure, a Life of Providence’s Checquer-Work, and of a Variety which the World will seldom be able to show the like of: Beginning foolishly, but closing much more happily than any Part of it ever gave me Leave so much as to hope for.
An Irish physician is wrongly convicted of treason, but escapes execution and flees. Making his way to the Caribbean, he eventually becomes one of the most notorious pirates of the high seas. While fiction, the exploits of Captain Blood are loosely based on the life of the pirate Henry Morgan.
An English tourist to fictional Ruritania is swept up into extraordinary circumstances when he is chosen to impersonate the recently kidnapped king in an attempt to evade the political upheaval that would likely occur if the king’s abduction was made public.
A story of adventure and survival on the surface, this classic also provides an in-depth evaluation of human nature and society. A plane crash on a deserted island results in no adult survivors, forcing the youngsters who did survive to fend for themselves until rescue can arrive. Troubles ensue as the boys attempt to form a society of their own, and the power of the leaders begins to corrupt their principles.
The story of the Kurtz, an ivory trader in the Belgian Congo who has “gone native,” as told by Marlow, the man sent to retrieve him. A complex critique of human nature wrapped in an adventure story.
Hunters for gold or pursuers of fame, they all had gone out on that stream, bearing the sword, and often the torch, messengers of the might within the land, bearers of a spark from the sacred fire. What greatness had not floated on the ebb of that river into the mystery of an unknown earth! . . . The dreams of men, the seed of commonwealths, the germs of empires.
A dashing adventurer in the vein of Indiana Jones or James Bond, Dirk Pitt finds himself as the only thing standing between smugglers and a centuries old Incan treasure horde hidden high in the Peruvian Andes.
Another outing of Cussler’s daring adventurer, this story follows Dirk Pitt as he searches for the wreck of a civil war era iron-side ship and the treasure it contains in the most unlikely of places.
Team up once again with Dirk Pitt as he seeks out the legendary treasures of the Library of Alexandria in this modern classic.
Another lesser known Jules Verne novel, The Lighthouse at the End of the World is the story of three men who man a lighthouse on an island off the southern tip of South America. The men are forced to battle to survive when the lighthouse comes under attack by pirates, who plan to use the light to crash unsuspecting ships on the nearby reef.
Malory’s centuries old interpretation of the legend of King Arthur is a masterpiece of the literary world. Broken down into several separate tales of Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, it tackles love, betrayal, war, and a never ending quest for the Holy Grail.
Descend through the mouth of a volcano and into the depths of the unknown on an expedition to reach the center of the earth in this adventure classic.
I soon felt that strange and mysterious sensation which is awakened in the mind when looking down from lofty hilltops, and now I was able to do so without any feeling of nervousness, having fortunately hardened myself to that kind of sublime contemplation. I wholly forgot who I was, and where I was. I became intoxicated with a sense of lofty sublimity, without thought of the abysses into which my daring was soon about to plunge me.
The timeless title character, first introduced here, inspired over twenty sequels and several feature films. Raised by gorillas, Tarzan seeks out the truth of his origins and finds himself at odds with the gorilla king that murdered his father.
While primarily considered a dramatic tale of revenge and vindication, The Count of Monte Cristo also provides a healthy dose of adventure to its readers. Swordfights, prison escapes, and hidden treasure contribute to the transformation of ordinary man Edmond Dantes into the mysterious persona of the Count of Monte Cristo.
A collection of yarns suitable for the young adventurer, these timeless tales make the perfect bedside stories for a young boy. Most notable are the accounts of the life of Mowgli, the young boy raised by wolves, and of Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, the valiant mongoose.
A bottle discovered on a beach is found to contain a message from Captain Grant of the Brittania, long believed to be lost at sea. The information in the message leads to the launch of a rescue mission, but with only partial coordinates and clues in a foreign tongue, the rescuers have little information to work with.
Fortune hunters travel to Africa in search of the fabled People of the Mist, who are rumored to have an unequalled cache of jewels hidden away. Masquerading as gods, the fortune hunters find more than they bargained for when they are caught in a power struggle between the king and the priests under control of the people’s crocodile god.
Now it’s your turn! What great fictional adventure stories did we miss? Share your recommendations.
To see a list of just the titles and author names for easy printing, click here.
Last updated: June 9, 2014