The Essential Adventure Library: 50 Non-fiction Adventure Books

by Chris on June 29, 2009 · 112 comments

in Books, Travel & Leisure

The Vinland Sagas: The Norse Discovery of America by Anonymous

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Nothing says adventure like a good Viking sea story. This is an account of the Viking’s chance encounter, and later attempted exploitation, of what is believed to be North America five hundred years before Columbus set sail.

My Life as an Explorer by Sven Hedin

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Image courtesy of Center for History of Sciences, The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. Lilla Frescativägen 4A, P.O. Box 50005, SE-104 05 Stockholm, Sweden.

In this vibrant mix of adventure and academia, Swedish geographer Sven Hedin recounts his exploration of much of the uncharted regions of central Asia at the end of the 19th century. Many editions include the author’s own hand drawn maps of the region.

Of Whales and Men by R. B Robertson

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An intimate look into the lives of the men on board the whale ships of the 1950’s; this book offers a glimpse into the hard life at sea in a bygone era.

The Kid Who Climbed Everest by Bear Grylls

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Man vs Wild host Bear Grylls recalls his transition from being bedridden (the result of faulty parachute deployment) to being the youngest Briton to summit Everest. An inspiring tale of determination and adventure, Grylls is as entertaining on the page as he is on the screen.

The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain

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Follow Mark Twain as he traipses through Old World Europe on his first pilgrimage to the Holy Land, marking the curiosities of the foreign lands with the characteristic wit and irony that made him famous. A classic in travel literature.

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts”

Trespassers on the Roof of the World by Peter Hopkirk

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For hundreds of years men have set out to explore the secrets of Tibet, hidden high in the mountains of Asia and long known as “the roof of the world.” In this collection of accounts, Hopkirk examines the various expeditions that set out to explore Tibet’s mysteries and their successes and failures.

On Horseback Through Asia Minor by Frederick Burnaby

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A compelling report of a death defying thousand mile winter journey on horseback from Constantinople to Turkey as told by Frederick Burnaby, known best as the first man to cross the English Channel alone by hot air balloon.

The Man Eaters of Kumaon by Jim Corbett

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A legend in the world of big game hunting, Corbett’s shooting skills were equaled only by his ability to tell a good story. In this, his most famous work, Corbett details the hunting of several man eating tigers in the Kumaon region of India including the Champawat Tiger, which alone killed 436 people before Corbett came along.

Brazilian Adventure by Peter Fleming

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The autobiographical account of Peter Fleming, brother of Ian Fleming of 007 fame, as he and a team embark on an expedition down the Amazon in an effort to discover the fate of Colonel Fawcett, who disappeared into the jungle years earlier while searching out the Lost City of Z.

Into Africa: The Epic Adventures of Stanley and Livingstone by Martin Dugard

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Dugard paints a portrait of famed African explorer Henry Stanley and the famous Dr. David Livingstone different from so many historical narratives before him, and does so in his usual thrilling style. A true page turner that you is guaranteed to keep you up at night as it follows Stanley and Livingstone through the wilds of East Africa at a time when danger lurked around every corner.

To see a list with just the titles and author names for easy printing, click here.

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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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