The Essential Adventure Library: 50 Non-fiction Adventure Books

by Chris on June 29, 2009 · 112 comments

in Books, Travel & Leisure

Over the Edge of the World: Magellan’s Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe by Laurence Bergreen


A fascinating account of Ferdinand Magellan’s life, most notably his groundbreaking circumnavigation of the globe. Bergreen makes even the details of trip preparation and basic elements of life at sea into page turning events in this excellent historical narrative.

The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann


The search for The Lost City of Z, a mythical city supposedly hidden deep in the Amazon, has drawn adventurers and treasure hunters alike for centuries. Follow the author as he attempts to solve the mystery of the fate of Colonel Percy Fawcett, original seeker of Z, providing insight into Fawcett’s life and adventures along the way.

Adrift: Seventy Six Days Lost At Sea by Steven Callahan


Following the sinking of his boat during a transatlantic sailing race, Callahan found himself lost at sea with only rudimentary equipment and a life raft. Fighting weather, exposure, and shark attacks, he managed to survive seventy six days before being rescued.

The Marsh Arabs by Wilfred Thesiger


Explorer Wilfred Thesiger takes a turn at travel writing with The Marsh Arabs, in which he recounts his time spent among the indigenous Madan culture of southern Iraq during his Arabian adventures.

Kon-Tiki by Thor Heyerdahl


Set to sea with Thor Heyerdahl as he sets out to confirm his hypothesis that the Polynesian Islands were settled by Peruvian seaman who travelled in balsam wood rafts across the Pacific. In order to prove his theory, Heyerdahl built his own balsam wood raft and set sail from South America. 101 days later, he arrived at is destination.

The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger


The tragic true account of the swordfishing boat the Andrea Gail, which was lost at sea during the 1991 Halloween Nor’easter. Sebastian Junger offers a glimpse into the life of a Gloucester fisherman and the dangers that accompany a life at sea.

In Harm’s Way: The Sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis and the Extraordinary Story of Its Survivors by Doug Stanton


Following the sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis by a Japanese submarine in July 1945, the surviving crew found themselves floating alone in the Pacific, many without so much as a lifejacket. For four days the crew stayed huddled together, fighting off shark attacks the entire time, before being rescued. Of the 880 sailors who survived the initial sinking, 317 were pulled from the water alive.

The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard


This masterpiece of adventure literature, written by a survivor of the doomed 1910-1913 British Antarctic Expedition, details the events leading up to the expedition and the tragedies that befell expedition leader Robert F. Scott and his men while travelling on foot across the great southern continent.

“Polar exploration is at once the cleanest and most isolated way of having a bad time which has been devised.”

High Exposure: An Enduring Passion for Everest and Unforgiving Places by David Breashears


As an accomplished mountaineer and documentary filmmaker known best for the IMAX film Everest, David Breashears is no stranger to adventure of the highest order. In this, his autobiography, he takes us from one brush with death to another on some of the world’s most impossible peaks and offers a unique insight into the life of a professional mountaineer.

The Travels of Marco Polo by Marco Polo


A cornerstone of travel literature, this work by the famous 13th century explorer inspired generations of explorers. Most notable among them was Christopher Columbus, whose desire to find a western route to the Far East was inspired by Polo’s account of the culture and resources there.

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{ 111 comments… read them below or add one }

101 Walt August 22, 2013 at 10:28 pm

Looking for the title of a book about a man and family who homestead and built a house by a lake in Canada in the 50s or 60s. Sick of city life drove to the end of a road and started hiking til they found a place to build.

102 Carl Sanders August 28, 2013 at 11:30 am

“Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption” by Laura Hillenbrand (published in November 2010) should definitely be on any future list.

103 Jared September 16, 2013 at 10:23 pm

I read the book about Magellan you recommended. 18+ years of age! It was a great book.

104 Leigh October 19, 2013 at 1:34 am

Northern Magic by Dian Steumer is the story of an Ottawa, Canadian family’s around the world adventure on a boat. It’s an amazing story of how a normal family decides to ditch their regular life and travel with their 3 young sons for 2 years. It’s also written by a woman. They encounter storms, pirates and many other trials.

105 Tim Wakefield November 9, 2013 at 4:40 pm

The Jungle is Neutral by F Spencer-Chapman
WW2 The fall of Malaya and an ill fated resistance plan that tests men to the edge of life mentally and physically

106 Joe December 4, 2013 at 5:39 pm

I’ll second the recommendation of “Voyage of the Northern Magic” – great book. There are many sailing memoirs around like this one. Those aside, this list is seriously deficient for the lack of Joshua Slocum’s “Sailing Alone Around the World,” and in general suffers from too much attention to mountaineering and not enough to other adventures. Newly out is “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed, a memoir of a journey on the Pacific Crest Trail.

107 Susan Mattern December 16, 2013 at 6:41 pm

I agree with Carl Sanders. Unbroken is definitely one of the best books I’ve ever read.
Also, Black Hawk Down ranks at the top as well.

108 JoeNadeau January 19, 2014 at 11:08 pm

Between Woods and the Water by Patrick Leigh Fermor – one of the few books I that transports completely, one of the few to be read again. Also, his Mani, Roumeli, and A Time of Gifts. But Between Woods and the Water is the classic.

109 Kyle February 7, 2014 at 9:11 am

Walt- Its alone in the wilderness, the guys name is Dick Proenneke. it was a WMHT public television show of his own filming’s in the Alaskan wilderness and a book edited by one of his friends after they compiled his writings. Good read, great story, great video also.

110 Joshua February 26, 2014 at 1:23 pm

Looking for a book I read some 20 years ago in high school.
Was set in a Soviet Russia gulag and a political prisoner escapes to return to his family. I remember he was tracked by guards, one of which was killed by a bear and his twisted gun barrel was used by the escapee as a chimney in his winter cave.
I believe in the end he stumbled upon a government settlement, that’s all I can remember unfortunately.
Any help would be greatly appreciated.

111 Steve Youngblood April 10, 2014 at 11:19 am

A different kind of adventure novel, Stephen Hawking’s A brief History of Time. It deals with the furthest journey imaginable, the one to the beginning of the universe. The concepts are tough, but if you are willing to persevere to what he is saying, it is a great new perspective on, well, literally everything.

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