The Essential Adventure Library: 50 Non-fiction Adventure Books

by Chris on June 29, 2009 · 112 comments

in Books, Travel & Leisure

high-adventure.jpg

Following up on our recent look into the world of fictional adventure literature, we now turn to the true life tales of exploration, adventure, and survival against all odds that have inspired countless readers for generations. Unlike their fictional counterparts, these riveting tales of conquests and ill fated journeys are completely true, and stand as a testament to man’s unquenchable desire to seek out the unknown, often against all odds and in the face of unbelievable hardship.
This is not considered a complete list of all the great tales of true life adventure, so please take advantage of the comments section to share what other true life tales of adventure you recommend to your fellow men.

And now, to continue on in the world of high adventure…

Through the Brazilian Wilderness by Theodore Roosevelt

through-the-brazilian-wilderness.jpg
In this astonishing tale of adventure and survival Roosevelt details his participation in the 1913-1914 Roosevelt-Rondon Scientific Expedition, undertaken a year after his failed bid for reelection. The team set out to find the headwaters of the River of Doubt then paddle the river to the Amazon. What was originally intended to be “zoogeographic reconnaissance” soon turned into a tale of survival, with turbulent whitewater and peril around every bend of the river, so much so that it nearly took the life of the “Bull Moose” himself.

South: The Endurance Expedition by Ernest Shackleton

south.jpg

Legendary Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton details his own efforts to cross the Antarctic by sled. Adventure tale turns survival story when Shackleton’s ship, Endurance, becomes trapped in the ice, where it would remain for ten months before the hull finally surrendered to the strength of the ice, forcing the men to set out on foot for a distant whaling station.

Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster by Jon Krakauer

into-thin-air.jpg

Photograph courtesy of Olaf Rieck

A chilling account of the 1996 Mount Everest disaster as told by John Krakauer, author of Into the Wild, who witnessed the tragedy unfold firsthand. The onset of a powerful storm just as multiple teams attempt to summit Everest leads to devastating results, and those on the mountain are pushed to the brink of their endurance to make it out alive.

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

into-the-wild.jpg

The tragic yet inspirational tale of Christopher McCandless, a young college graduate who abandoned a promising future in exchange for a life on the road. Hitchhiking across North America, McCandless eventually reaches his final destination, Alaska, where he aims to survive on his own in the wilderness. Krakauer follows McCandless’s philosophical journey full circle, from rebellious twenty-something who just wants to escape society to man who is fighting for his life and realizes that a life without the company of others is not complete.

“Two years he walks the earth. No phone, no pool, no pets, no cigarettes. Ultimate freedom. An extremist. An aesthetic voyager whose home is the road. Escaped from Atlanta. Thou shalt not return, ’cause “the West is the best.” And now after two rambling years comes the final and greatest adventure. The climactic battle to kill the false being within and victoriously conclude the spiritual pilgrimage. Ten days and nights of freight trains and hitchhiking bring him to the Great White North. No longer to be poisoned by civilization he flees, and walks alone upon the land to become lost in the wild.”

Wind, Sand, and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupery

wind-sand-and-stars.jpg

Antoine de Saint-Exupery, a French pilot better known for his work The Little Prince, was equal parts adventurer and literary giant. His poetic musings on the life well lived, combined with his recounting of various calamities he and others faced while flying the mail over the Sahara and the Andes mountains, makes this one adventure book no man should be without.

“Nobody grasped you by the shoulder while there was still time. Now the clay of which you were shaped has dried and hardened, and naught in you will ever awaken the sleeping musician, the poet, the astronomer that possibly inhabited you in the beginning.”

The Journals of Lewis and Clark by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark

the-journals-of-lewis-and-clark.jpg

The report of the first expedition to travel west to the Pacific and return safely, as recorded by the famous expedition leaders. Follow along in this classic account as new species, new peoples, and new worlds are discovered.

Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose

undaunted-courage.jpg

Stephen Ambrose, better known as author of the bestseller turned miniseries Band of Brothers, offers an insightful look into the life and adventures of Meriwether Lewis, co-leader of the Corps of Discovery, also known as the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

Farther Than Any Man: The Rise and Fall of Captain James Cook by Martin Dugard

farther-than-any-man.jpg

Captain Cook is most famous for his multiple voyages throughout the South Pacific in the late 18th century, where he made first European contact with many island civilizations, including the discovery of Hawaii. In this thrilling retelling of his life and adventures, Dugard examines Cook’s unequalled rise from peasant to sea captain, followed by his tyrannical turn and eventual demise.

Death in the Long Grass by Peter Hathaway Capstick

death-in-the-long-grass.jpg

In this, his first book, Capstick shows us why he became a legend in the world of big game hunting. Capstick makes a field of ten foot high grass (and the angry fauna that no doubt reside there) the most terrifying thing on planet earth, but also the most exciting.

“If 12,000 pounds of screaming, screeching, infuriated elephant bearing down on you has somehow rattled your nerves to the point that you miss the six-by-four inch spot on his forehead…then you may as well forget it. The most talented mortuary cosmetician in the world couldn’t rewire you so your own mother would know if you were face up or down.”

The Man Eaters of Tsavo by Colonel Henry Patterson

the-maneaters-of-tsavo.jpg

This is the 1907 account by Lieutenant Colonel John Henry Patterson, who was dispatched to Kenya by the British East Africa Company to build a railway bridge over the Tsavo River. During construction, workers were regularly killed by a pair of man-eating lions later known as the Man Eaters of Tsavo, or as the locals called them, the Ghost and the Darkness. Patterson set out to rid the workers of this threat, and the story is thrilling.

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5

{ 111 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Charlie June 29, 2009 at 7:28 am

Fantastic. Just jotted down several titles and will be heading by the used book store this afternoon.

2 Casey June 29, 2009 at 7:56 am
3 Keith D June 29, 2009 at 7:59 am

I saw a couple I really want to read and a couple I have read. My dad had Annapurna and Kon Tiki. I remember devouring them as a kid. Twain’s travelogues are priceless. Something more recent that I read a while ago is Running the Amazon by Joe Kane. An expedition that kayaked the Amazon from its origin in the Peruvian Andes to the Atlantic.

4 Christatos Aristad June 29, 2009 at 11:16 am

I would be remiss without recommending the seminal story of human barbarity and contest, Killing Pablo. The story of the hunt for Pablo Escobar, and the consequences of the actions of the men involved is a story of pure adventure. It is The Most Dangerous Game written in blood across twenty years of the life of one nation and the eternal conscious of two, a real life tale of the corrupting power of money, sex and power itself, all leading to the sobering journey of one man and the team he recruits to hunt down and execute the one man they view as the poison that must be sucked from the wound of Columbia. A fantastic story.

And depending on where you stand on the issue, Hedges Danger, My Ally deserves an honorable mention on one of these two lists.

5 Wellington Grey June 29, 2009 at 1:06 pm

May I also recommend “River of Doubt” about Teddy Roosevelt’s trek through the Brazilian rain forest. It was my first introduction to just how amazing that man was.

6 EP June 29, 2009 at 1:40 pm

I’d like to recommend Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of Seal Team 10, by Marcus Luttrell.

7 Dave Lewis June 29, 2009 at 1:43 pm

“Travels with Charley” by John Steinbeck – not a dangerous adventure but a great insight into the exploring a known country back in 1960. Sadly, the son he spoke of was killed in Viet Nam.

8 Shannon June 29, 2009 at 2:00 pm

As a librarian, I find this a wonderful list of titles with one glaring exception — Into the Wild. Christopher Macandless’ story is not a tragedy as much as it is the tale of one self absorbed young man’s slow road to suicide. When he decided to walk alone without map, compass, or even rudimentary survival gear into the Alaskan wilderness, he was bent on killing himself as surely as if he’d taken a gun to his forehead and pulled the trigger.

9 Chris Hutcheson June 29, 2009 at 2:23 pm

@Shannon,

I’ll respectfully disagree. I doubt anyone will try to argue against the fact that McCandless was foolhardy in his lack of preparation and proper equipment. I do not believe that Jon Krakauer wrote the book as a guide for the would be wilderness wanderer, but instead as an examination of the philosophy behind such a daring journey. Through an analysis of McCandless’ journals found in Alaska, Krakauer shows the changes Christopher experienced while in the wild, and the lessons learned. One of his final journal entries reflects his ultimate change in philosophy when he decides that “happiness is only real when shared” with others. After realizing this, McCandless tried to return to civilization, but found himself trapped in Alaska, a victim of the elements. McCandless paid the ultimate price to finally discover the truth he sought, and I think that his personal growth on his journey can serve as a valuable lesson to any man. Do I think Christopher McCandless is a role model? No. Do I think that there is value in his story? Absolutely.

10 Seth McCormick June 29, 2009 at 2:31 pm

I highly recommend A Sense of the World by Jason Roberts.
It is an excellent account of the travels of a blind man, who managed to become the world’s greatest pre-combustion engine traveller.

11 Timothy Schmitz June 29, 2009 at 6:41 pm

Great list. May I recommend Dana’s “Two Years Before the Mast.” It can be a little difficult to read at times, but accurately portrays life on a 19th century ocean-going vessel.

12 Perry Clease June 29, 2009 at 7:20 pm

Seven Pillars of Wisdom

T.E. Lawrence’s, “Lawrence of Arabia,” autobiography of his adventures during WWI.

Point of order. Did Magellan technically circumnavigate the globe when he died about halfway into the voyage?

13 Mark Gowdy June 29, 2009 at 7:34 pm

Might I also recommend Captain Richard E. Byrd’s “Alone”, chronicling his 5-month stay at the South Pole in 1934.

14 Brohammas June 29, 2009 at 7:43 pm

Fantastic list. I would venture to say it is my favorite thing yet on this site.
Might I suggest you ommit the second posting of “Man Eaters” with the story of Josiah Harlan?

15 Jared Martin June 29, 2009 at 8:06 pm

Excellent books. There was a publisher of true adventure story in high quality hardback editions called “The Adventure Library” that had a high amount of overlap with this list. Y’all might find the non-overlap interesting as well. I don’t know where to find a canonical list of their catalog, but here is a good start: http://www.librarything.com/tag/the+adventure+library

16 Jacob June 30, 2009 at 4:59 am

I’ve got a nice big list of reading here, now. However, how could you not have Papillon by Henri Charriere on here? Probably many of us here have wanted a book or two added, but Papillon is one of the defining classics of nonfiction adventure. There a number of stories here, although truly amazing displays of will and wit, that only take place over a few days at best. Henri Charriere, aka Papillon, spends fourteen long years to escape the labor(read “death”) camps of French Guiana.

The book is full of wonderful storytelling, adrenaline-pumping action, and provides a good look at the prison systems of only a handful of decades ago. The things people are capable of doing to each other never has really ceased to shock me.

Thanks again for the list.

17 Greg June 30, 2009 at 5:27 am

I have read 12 of the 50 (read some decades ago!) listed. I recommend “Two years before the Mast” [Dana], “Sailing Alone Around the World” [Slocum], and “The Old Man and the Boy” [Ruark] as additions. If I may quibble, the list seems skewed toward mountaineering in general. Odd that the American mountain men aren’t represented, as men like Hugh Glass, Jim Beckwourth, Jed Smith, John Coulter and Kit Carson were “men with the bark on” and literally were working and traveling in unmapped territory.

18 Joe Cope June 30, 2009 at 6:49 am

thanks for the shout out, hutch! these books sound amazing. i need to get crackin. pretty sure i want to read them all.

19 carlos June 30, 2009 at 9:00 am

i’d also recommend the anabasis by xenophon, and in darkest africa by henry morton stanley. also, a bit heavier reading but still in the adventure vein, the 7 pillars of wisdom by t.e. lawrence is a great read too!

20 Heather June 30, 2009 at 6:58 pm

If I may make a suggestion? Since we are coming up on the anniversary of not only the start of the NASA program, but also the famous moonwalk try this title:
“We seven, by the astronauts themselves”- Written by the original human astronauts of the Mercury program.

21 Mac June 30, 2009 at 10:56 pm

@ Chris Hutcheson

As an Alaskan in Fairbanks I know the story of McCandless all too well.
He was a narcisisstic (sp?) idiot who didn’t even know how to start a fire or find his way back to the main road. He also had a current but inadequate map and compass and no knowledge of how to properly use either.
His attempt to out-Thoreau the author of Walden was the height of stupidity and his story deserves no place in this list.

22 Chris Hutcheson July 1, 2009 at 10:13 am

@Mac,

I’m not sure you read my last reply throroughly. I made it very clear that McCandless was foolhardy and ill prepared. Nonetheless, there is value in the lessons he learned, regardless of whether he was a narcissistic idiot or not. We can learn just as much from ill fated attempts and failures as we can from successes, if not more.

@Everyone,

Thanks for all the great suggestions, keep them coming!

23 Ed July 2, 2009 at 12:40 am

I must also add to the list my favorite true adventure… Kon Tiki. The first couple chapters are a test of endurance but once the trees are felled the pace picks up nicely, and it’s hard to put the book down. Thanks to my brother for putting me onto this one. Kon Tiki, by Thor Heyerdahl

24 Chris Hutcheson July 2, 2009 at 3:43 am

@Ed,

Kon Tiki is on page 3, and I agree, it is an excellent adventure.

25 the Wingnut July 2, 2009 at 8:34 am

I have another addition.

If de Saint-Exupery made the list, then Ernest Gann’s Fate is the Hunter should be on there as well.

Even if you’re not the slightest bit interested in aviation, Gann’s record of his time in the air should convince you that every time wheels leave the ground, it’s an adventure. He endured the worst Mother Nature could throw at him, often times with less-than-reliable equipment. You also will not be able to deny the immense helping of luck that pilots often rely on. It’s a great read!

wingnut

26 Joe July 2, 2009 at 10:23 am

I am a big fan of The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe. Might be light on adventure, but a great look at the intersection of science, politics, the media, and personal courage and commitment. The earlier sections are a wonderful insight into the danger and glory of flight.
Have not read it, but what about The Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T.E. Lawrence?
Also, someone already mentioned it but The Long Walk (can’t remember the fellow’s name) which is amazing, almost hard to believe tale of a) surviving torture and a “trial” in Stalin’s Soviet Union b) surviving the horrific journey to a Siberian gulag c) escaping the gulag and d) WALKING FROM SIBERIA TO INDIA! and crossing the Gobi dessert and the Himylayas!

27 B.Crawford July 2, 2009 at 6:35 pm

I am sure there are other readers out that have uncovered the novelist Clive Cussler.
Clive could be a real life spokesperson in this century on manliness, integrity and all things that might inspire us all to man-up. Dirk Pitt, Kurt Austin, Al Giordano; are all creations of Clive’s, adventure hungry men who at the end of the day have prevailed in some way over insurmountable forces. All these men are very real; chasing villians and evil and always a beautiful women in some sexy skirt and stockings. For over 40 years Clive has entertained us with a “Man”s Book” sly guys, cunning cohorts, intriguing gentlemen and hardened heart stoppers. All of the manliness this world was created on, in need of and carries on the torch through his novels. Like many fathers here who may have received this man gift instead of another nook noose for the attire, Once you realize the true grit and feel the action inside each novel; you may just man-up in your own life and find your strength has yet to be flexed to its full potential. Craft, cunning, charm, grit, grime, guns, girls; never ending action that has definitely spilled over into my every daily life. I no longer am ashamed to read, I even bought a leash for my glasses. I have learned through the eyes of Clive what characteristics I am man-ing-up to. Cheers Mr. Cussler for sharing great adventure action books that even my son is learning to love them.
For anyone else out there who love the adventure, action and thriller all in one real deal. Grab a Cussler and see if it changes oyu has a it has me.
There are a few out on the internet. http://www.clive-cussler-books.com
or just google.

28 Chris July 2, 2009 at 6:52 pm

@B. Crawford,

I couldn’t agree more, Clive Cussler books are great. This list is solely dedicated to nonfiction, but there is also a post that is dedicated to adventure fiction, and several Dirk Pitt novels made the cut. You can check it out at

http://artofmanliness.com/2009/06/02/the-essential-man%e2%80%99s-library-adventure-edition-part-one-fiction/

29 max July 3, 2009 at 9:58 pm

Third for “Two Years Before the Mast” by Dana. Surprised that it was not on the list.

30 Daniel July 4, 2009 at 8:54 am

One book that I have read lately and had a profound impact was Desperate Passage: The Donner Party’s Perilous Journey West (Paperback)
by Ethan Rarick.

31 Matt July 8, 2009 at 11:06 am

A terrific list, thank you!

Bill Bryson’s “A Walk in the Woods” is another great book I’d recommend. It’s comical and bumbling as opposed to daring and glorious. It’s also interlaced with informative minutiae that I found fascinating.

I also agree with Joe on Wolfe’s The Right Stuff. Also, Frank Worsley’s “Shackleton’s Boat Journey” is a first-hand account by the Endurance’s Captain on the most incredible seafaring journey ever accomplished.

32 Matt July 8, 2009 at 12:21 pm

Oh, I forgot another one: “One Man’s Wilderness” by Richard Proenneke. In the 1960s, Proenneke set out to do what Chris McCandless attempted – but he succeeded. This is an account of how he moved into the wilds of Alaska, built a cabin with hand tools, hunted and fished, built a cache for his stores and lived off the land for a year. Proenneke ended up living out most of the rest of his life in that cabin, which still exists. If your manliness is getting out of control, read this book for a dose of humility.

33 jeremy July 11, 2009 at 10:05 am

I recently read Into Africa by Martin Dugard and found it to be a very good book. Definitely check it out! The audio version is a good listen.

34 Steve Anthony July 13, 2009 at 5:08 pm

Oustanding list! Undaunted Courage, Into Africa and River of Doubt are three of my favorite books. Two others are Blue Nile and White Nile, both by Alan Morehead, which document the search for the source of the Nile.

35 craig July 18, 2009 at 7:24 pm

I want to recommend a gread adventure story. Its the best adventure story I’ve read since the account of the Endurance: Shadow Divers by Robt. Kurson. Its about real-life deep sea divers that find a sunken u-boat off the coast of the US. Rivetting!

36 Andrew Hill July 21, 2009 at 10:57 pm

To echo Mr. Anthony’s recommendation, “The White Nile”, the first of Alan Morehead’s two books on the exploration of the sources of the Nile, is fantastic, and a great starting point for anyone interested in reading some of the primary sources on the period. It also prominently features one of the manliest men of all time: Richard Francis Burton.

Seven Pillars of Wisdom is a great book, but doesn’t belong on this list. It is more a work of anthropology than a straight (pun intended) narrative of the Arabs’ campaign against the Turks.

Finally, I may have missed it in the comments above, but Roland Huntford’s “The Last Place on Earth” is a riveting history of Scott and Amundsen’s competing expeditions to the South Pole. The book exposes Scott as a narcissist and a deadly blunderer, and Scott’s story of misguided manliness stands in fascinating contrast to Amundsen’s far different tale.

37 Johnny July 24, 2009 at 11:17 pm

Hard to agree with a list of adventure stories that does not include Robert Ruark’s “Horn of the Hunter”. Ruark’s humility and self deprecating humor is a lesson we all can learn from. Also his outlook and opinion of trophy hunting is the definitive explanation of why to hunt.

38 Ben July 29, 2009 at 10:57 am

I’m thrilled to see that Dean King’s “Skeletons on the Zahara” made the list! For years, I wished I had enough money to buy/produce a screenplay for this chilling story of survival. What is Hollywood waiting for? Oh, that’s right…people are only entertained by boobs and explosions these days!

39 Ben August 5, 2009 at 9:40 am

While re-reading this list (I had just finished Man Eaters of Tsavo thanks to this list; great read!), I remembered another great adventure story; Dougal Robertson’s “Survive the Savage Sea” was an absolute thrill. What, with a pod of Orca’s sinking their ship and then surviving nearly 40 days on the open ocean, you can’t go wrong!

40 RyanE August 10, 2009 at 1:27 am

Just wanted to point out that many of these titles are available through Project Gutenberg, or through archive.org.

Those of us using e-readers find the electronic versions much more convenient, as well as cheaper.

RyanE

41 RyanE August 10, 2009 at 1:28 am

Also, 4th to recommend “Two Years Before the Mast”.

http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/4277

RyanE

42 dannyb August 13, 2009 at 7:48 pm

anything by Clive Cussler DOES NOT belong on this list. He is a egocentric maniac, who puts forth his so called “accurate history” but distorts it for his own needs. For gods sake, he often makes cameos in his own books, when his adventurers are in a time of need! If you read one Dirk Pitt adventrue, you’ve read them all. Hack writing at best.

Fore a real adventure, read “Lost City of Z,” which made the list, but also two that didnt, but should have…

7 years in Tibet

Jupiters Travels

43 dannyb August 13, 2009 at 7:52 pm

Also,
The Dragon Hunter

Roy Chapman Andrews, the celebrated explorer who discovered the first velociraptor skeleton in the Gobi Desert, was also a shameless self-promoter. Gallenkamp (Maya: The Riddle and Rediscovery of a Lost Civilization), in association with the American Museum of Natural History, which sponsored Andrews’s 1922-1930 Mongolia expeditions, delivers a fair but unambitious portrait of this inspired traveler. Henry Fairfield Osborn, Andrews’s longtime friend and mentor, once wrote to him, “You alone of all the men I know have a full measure of optimism; everyone else tells me things that cannot be done.” In his lifetime, Andrews’s optimism led him to the remotest regions on the globe and into the fray of world events, from WWI and civil war in Central and eastern Asia to the religious controversy over evolution. Before Andrews abandoned the Gobi in 1932 because of mounting anti-imperialism by the Chinese, the desert yielded to him a wealth of fossils: the first-ever protoceratops, oviraptor as well as the velociraptor and the modern world’s first glimpse of dinosaur eggs. Gallencamp relies heavily on Andrews’s own sensational writings and some secondary sources, but little that would allow us to view Andrews other than through his own eyes. It is telling, though, how much of Andrews’s story is taken up by his cultivation of celebrity at home and how little of it by science. For Andrews, science was a means to an end; it gave purpose to his wanderlust. As for what drove him, Gallenkamp does not probe too deeply behind his subject’s own mythmaking, but that is not his goal. This is a page-turning adventure story, and as such, it’s a good one.

44 non-fiction book September 3, 2009 at 9:29 pm

This 50 Non-fiction Adventure Books are really coll I like them all….

45 Jeff September 3, 2009 at 11:26 pm

Papillon is probably the best true adventure novel I’ve ever read. So much better than the movie.

46 Jeff September 5, 2009 at 1:10 am

Into thin air is not non fiction Jon Krakauer twisted the account to make the real heroes of the expedition look bad. I believe that he is a coward and tries to make others look bad to cover up his inability to act in a life and death situation where the one that he bad mouthes SAVED all of his clients. Anatoli Boukreev is not the vilian that Krakauer makes him out to be better story is The Climb. Boukreev lead up the step that he was not supposed to be lead. He then stayed on the summit of everest for for over an 1 hour 30 min 1 hour and 15 min longer than any one else, even other guides. He did all this with out O2 but he still carried O2 that he gave to one of the clients saving his life he went down to high camp started the Water boiling and Tea for his clients then mounted the rescue of all his clients the only one he could not save was the head guide from his team and the leader of the expidition. Krakauer is an ass hat that uses smear tacts agents real heroes to make him self feel better. Do not support this book read The Climb and check out the Anatoli Boukreev for the real non fiction not the one created by this ass hat.

47 Christian September 11, 2009 at 11:54 am

One glaring oversight:

“The Conquest of New Spain” by Bernal Diaz

Here’s the description from Amazon. “Vivid, powerful and absorbing, this is a first-person account of one of the most startling military episodes in history: the overthrow of Montezuma’s doomed Aztec Empire by the ruthless Hernan Cortes and his band of adventurers. Bernal Diaz del Castillo, himself a soldier under Cortes, presents a fascinatingly detailed description of the Spanish landing in Mexico in 1520 and their amazement at the city, the exploitation of the natives for gold and other treasures, the expulsion and flight of the Spaniards, their regrouping and eventual capture of the Aztec capital.”

48 Una September 23, 2009 at 8:39 pm

How can you not include William Langewiesche in this list? Sahara Unveiled, American Ground, The Outlaw Sea, Inside the Sky.
He’s one of the most genuinely manly writers of our time. And one of the best literary journalists. Jon Krakauer–and his like–can’t compare.

49 Borris September 30, 2009 at 5:09 pm

As long as we’re talking about nonfiction adventures, you’d be doing yourself a disservice not to read American Shaolin.

A coming of age/finding of manliness written by the hilarious Matthew Polly. As a college student he found himself lacking in manliness and decided to go all out to fix that problem. He left Princeton and hopped on plane to China to learn Kung fu from the legendary Shaolin monks without even knowing whether or not Shaolin was.

It is one of my favorite books of all time. If you find Martial arts, or China interesting, and you have a good sense of humor this book can’t be beaten.

50 Charlie October 11, 2009 at 11:23 am

I have to mention Marine Sniper by Charles Henderson..Its not just another book about war. Carlos Hathcock III was a great man

51 Phillip Serradell November 10, 2009 at 8:27 pm

Wonderful list! However:
“Peaks and Lamas” by Marco Pallis, and any of the travel books by Patrick Leigh Fermor should be considered. Perhaps also “The Clouded Leopard” by Wade Davis.

52 eduardo Bertran November 12, 2009 at 3:26 pm

Wow. I’m shocked that John Ledyard’s story is not included in this list. Ledyard was our country’s first adventurer…from dropping out of Dartmouth College by chopping down a pine tree and making a canoe out of it to escape downriver to serving alongside Captain Cook in his voyages to the Pacific—Ledyard was extremely well traveled and is considered by many to be the “first american adventurer”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Ledyard

53 Ron November 12, 2009 at 3:44 pm

One book that I’ve just read that spoke to me as a man and my love of cars. Check out Go Like Hell by A.J. Baime. It’s about Ford trying to build a car to take down Ferrari at Le Mans. Great story with insight into the people and the cars they built, raced, and some died in.

54 Kevin Walsh November 14, 2009 at 2:50 am

I have to agree with Greg that Sailing Alone Around the World, by Capt. Joshua Slocum should have made the list. I’ll add though, that it should be read with his son’s book Capt. Joshua Slocum: The Life and Voyages of America’s Best Known Sailor By Victor Slocum.

55 Sarah November 25, 2009 at 2:45 pm

I am surprised that Slavomir Rawicz’s book The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom is missing from this list. Rawicz was wrongfully imprisoned, broke free from a Soviet Gulag and walked 4,000 miles through the SIberian Tundra and through the Gobi desert to his freedom. I have read 8 of the books mentioned on this list and while they all should be included on this list, none of them compare to this book.

56 Douglas Anderson December 4, 2009 at 7:23 am

I do realise than any list is subjective, but would still like to add one more to this list.
The book is titled “The Sheltering Desert” by Henno Martin. This is a true story of two Germans geologists who foresaw the war in Europe and decided to escape to namibia. When the war was declared they escaped into the desert to avoid internment. This is the story of their survival and a record of their philosophical discussions over a two-and-a-half year period..

57 Davie Roy December 4, 2009 at 2:29 pm

This is a great collection of books but my favorite did not make the list. If you want to read story about a modern hero pick up “Lone Survivor” By Marcus Latrell. This is his story about his life as a SEAL and his experiences in Afghanistan. This is the first book I could not put down, excellent book, and an excellent man.

58 vladislav December 8, 2009 at 12:27 pm

Another good one to include would be: The Natural History of the Long Expedition to the Rocky Mountains. The Long expedition came after Lewis and Clark and was the first expedition to bring along trained scientists to catalog plant and animal species. The steam up the Missiouri on a boat shaped like a dragon that can blow smoke out of its mouth to scare the natives. A big on the scientific side, but a very interesting expedition book.

59 Alan Swanson December 12, 2009 at 6:53 am

My all time favorite, still occasionally reread, is the Bounty Trilogy by Nordhoff and Hall. I would love to visit Pitcairn’s island to see first hand how those ill-fated mutineers ended up.

60 Danny December 14, 2009 at 11:17 am

You have some great books in your list! But I recommend some books from Reinhold Messner, maybe the greatest mountain climber of all time.
Anyway great list!

61 Shane Heins December 16, 2009 at 11:45 pm

And a couple to add to this list:

Deep Survival – Laurence Gonzales (something every man, young and old, should read. It may very well save their life and those they love.)

Tracker – Tom Brown, Jr. (Now this one is up for debate whether it’s fiction or non-fiction. Either way, one cannot deny some extraordinary lessons that come from it and help us connect to a manliness that is becoming more and more difficult to hold on to these days.)

Again, great list (and thought provoking:)

62 Shane December 23, 2009 at 4:09 pm

Great list with some great stories. However, I am shocked that no book by Edward Abbey made the list. “Desert Solitaire” would be most people’s choices. But “Down the River” would make a fantastic addition next to John Wesley Powell’s account of the same trip down the same river.

63 Ray January 11, 2010 at 12:16 am

@Casey: That was a really great book!!
“The Long Walk” tells the true story of escapees from Siberian work camp in the Arctic Circle (I believe) who walked over mountains and through deserts all the way south, through China, to India, and freedom. This book is an amazing testament to the desire to be free and is an incredible story of survival and the people and cultures the adventurers met.
It is well worth the time spent reading it.

Another classic is “Two Years before The Mast” By Richard Dana. The descriptions of the California coast before it was “civilized” is worth it alone, I think.
A young scholar from Harvard College spends 2 years as an ordinary seaman in the 1830′s. It is known as an accurate portrayal of life in that period.

64 853 OKG January 25, 2010 at 11:05 pm

As noted by others, Alan Moorehead’s The White Nile is superb. Cooper’s Creek, his account of the tragic mid 19th century Burke & Wills expedition across Australia, is just as good (and perhaps more dramatic). The Blue Nile is also excellent.

A First Rate Tragedy is a very good treatment of the Scott expedition to the South Pole. Although I would not put it in the Top 50, Sir Ranulph Fiennes’ recent re-examination of Scott’s journey, which includes a very fine analysis of what the derision of Scott reflects about the values of those who deride him, is well worth reading.

65 Russell curtin January 26, 2010 at 7:35 am

Another Australia book worth reading is Shartaram by Gregory David Roberts.

http://www.curledup.com/shantara.htm

66 Luc January 28, 2010 at 11:14 pm

Young Men and Fire by Norman Maclean (A River Runs Through It) is an account of smoke-jumpers fighting a forest fire in Mann Gulch, MT in 1949. I would include it not only for the heroic story of the firefighters but as an outstanding example of clear precise writing.

For added interest, you can follow this up with Fire on the Mountain: The True Story of the South Canyon Fire by John N. Maclean, Norman Maclean’s son, which is about another forest fire some 45 years later.

67 TS Moss January 29, 2010 at 9:00 pm

Check out Helge Pedersen’s “Ten Years on Two Wheels.” Ten years, 22 countries around the world on his early 80′s BMW GS. Tremendous photographs and simple, down to earth, humble narration make this a great book for any aspiring adventurer. He was the first, or one of the first, to “ride” a motorcycle through the Darien Gap–he more or less dragged the bike through 80 miles of jungle to say he was the first to do it.

68 Charlie January 30, 2010 at 10:58 am

Great list! May I add one? How about “Sailing Alone Around the World,” by Joshua Slocum. An account of the first solo voyage around the world.

69 Chris Kavanaugh February 9, 2010 at 12:58 am

THE LONG WALK and PAPILLON are indeed great reads. Sadly,both are probably fictional accounts. A short websearch will find several resources giving strong evidence against both.
Eugene Bullard, anyone know the name? Long before the Tuskeegee airmen this black american joined the french army in WW1 and earned a fearsome reputation in the trenches before briefly becoming a flier. With one confirmed and one probable victory a french general ended his flying over a personal confrontation. Bullard later operated a club and was involved in espionage against the nazis. There are a few books in print about him.

70 Chris Kavanaugh February 10, 2010 at 12:15 pm

Tom Brown first appeared at some early blackpowder rendevous and primative skills meetings. He later claimed to pretend being a novice to rate the instructors. Not one of his claims can be verified, except the F.B.I. and several otehr agencies he claims to have worked with never heard of him. Niether have the Apache people themselves.
EVERYBODY is conveniently dead; Stalking Wolf ( a name apaches do not use and when pressed Tom decided it was a nom de plume) and Rick. Wehn I attednded an early class I greeted the apha male in the traditional Apache salutation. he stared back like a cow in the abatoir. Now he mumbles ‘apache’ that is somewhere between pentacostal talking in tongues and subliminal teaching tapes for Serbian. The book repeats numerous fallacies only a novice would accept; solar stills producing ‘gallons’ of water and a flawed deadfall trap illustration fossilized in the literature for decades only a few.
So today Tom sits in his HUMMER chain smoking and watching his time on a Rolleiflex, getting into lawsuits for non payment of wages to those actually teaching traditional apache skils ( debri huts- a USAF survival concept) tracking animals with ‘psychic skils’ promoting an unusable ‘knife’ and dismissing all critics with “You’ve insulted grandfather’ or ‘prove me wrong.’ Nice work for a guy who’s first book had to be co authored.

71 Joe February 11, 2010 at 8:07 pm

If you can find this out-of-print book, THE GOLD OF EXODUS, by Howard Blum, is a can’t put down, eye-opening, make-you wonder account of ancient history!!!

72 Jonathon Kettle February 20, 2010 at 10:15 pm

The Lure of The Labrador Wild by Dillon Wallace. The lessen learned in this book? Be prepared, or you’re as good as dead

73 Jonathan Heatt February 28, 2010 at 12:56 pm

No mention of Richard Halliburton’s books?? The omission of his Royal Road to Romance book renders this “top 50″ list null & void!

74 sullivan christopher March 16, 2010 at 8:37 am

Alvah Simon’s” North to the Night” is excellent.He voluntarily spends a winter iced into a bay in the Arctic Circle in complete darkness in a 40 foot sailboat with only a cat for company. Face to face encounters with polar bears, great cameraderie with indigenous folks, amazing journey to and from his destination, and a very candid look at human nature from a very unique perspective.Good companion piece for Emerson or Thoreau. Also, check out Somerset Maughm’s “Moon and Sixpence”, about Paul Gaugan dropping everything and moving to tahiti, where he lived out his remaining days in a grass hut.Maughm’s ” Razor’s Edge” is also great.

75 kathy czarnecki March 25, 2010 at 3:03 pm

Out of Captivity, Gonsalves, Stansell, Howes. Three American Contractors plane crashed in the Columbian Jungle. Five years in captivity. Very exciting read.
The Grizley Maze was interesting also.
Just finished the Edge of Never. (Also a Documentary Movie).

76 kathy czarnecki March 25, 2010 at 3:06 pm

Sorry, one more: The Last Season by Eric Blehm. “Randy Morgenson was legendary for finding people missing in the High Sierra. Then one day he went missing himself”. Winner of National Outdoor Book Award. This is one of the most beautifully written adventure books.

77 Mickey Katz March 28, 2010 at 12:05 pm

Jeffrey Tayler is a U.S.-born author and journalist. He is the Russia correspondent for the Atlantic Monthly and a contributor to several other magazines as well as to NPR’s All Things Considered. He has written several non-fiction books about different regions of the world which include Facing the Congo, Siberian Dawn, Glory in a Camel’s Eye, and Angry Wind, the latter being a portrait of a journey through the Muslim portion of black Africa. His most recent book, River of No Reprieve, is about a challenging raft trip down Russia’s Lena River. Tayler is an accomplished linguist; in addition to his native English, he is fluent in Russian, Arabic, French, and modern Greek, and has a functioning knowledge of Spanish and Turkish.

He served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Morocco from 1988 to 1990.

Since the summer of 1993, he has lived in Moscow.

from wikipedia

78 Ed April 13, 2010 at 11:31 am

I have to add The Year-Long Day by A. E. Maxwell and Ivar Ruud. The story of a man spending the winter alone in the Arctic Circle. He hunts for subsistence and has to fend off polar bears, frost bite, hypothermia and loneliness. Definitely a manly read.

79 Bernt April 14, 2010 at 2:32 pm

I would like to add “We Die Alone” by David Howarth. Its about Jan Baalsrud who was a Norwegian Commando in World War 2. His team was ambushed shortly after arriving in Norway and the book is about his escape from the Nazis. Its an amazing book and what he did was really an incredible example of what people are capable of.

80 George April 22, 2010 at 4:16 pm

Very good list. The only addition I can think of right now is “No Shortcuts to the Top” by Ed Viesturs, the first American to climb all 14 8000 meter mountains in the world.

If somebody’s already mentioned this one, sorry. I haven’t had time to read all the comments yet.

81 Zung April 26, 2010 at 4:00 pm

Can someone tell me the author’s name of one of the book I read and I forgot the title and the author. The story like this:
A merchant son rescue a criminal girl who was shipped from England. They ran away together and later they followed and hunted the elephants for ivory and there’s a native guide name Sha.

82 Justin April 29, 2010 at 1:22 pm

I would have to add a Peter Jenkins or two.

83 Elliot May 2, 2010 at 3:44 pm

How is No Shortcuts to the Top not on this list??? Ed Viestures is America’s most accomplished mountaineer and a far greater climber than any of the other Everest authors on the list. His stories of adventure and survival while conquering the 14 highest peaks in the world are unmatched.

84 tera May 17, 2010 at 1:41 pm

Елки-палки, для новичков заметка

85 Olennka May 18, 2010 at 5:07 am

Черт, недурная новость

86 William T. McIntyre May 31, 2010 at 1:17 pm

I would also highly recommend “Sailing Alone Around the World” by Capt. Joshua Slocum. First published in 1900, Capt. Slocum tells his story as the first man to accomplish a solo circumnavigation of the world.

87 The Killstar July 11, 2010 at 9:37 pm

I have to second Jupiter’s Travels. My goal in life, because of this book, is to start my trip around the world by the time I am 39.

88 villhelm October 29, 2012 at 6:30 pm

Voyage of the Beagle (Darwin) should absolutely be included!

89 Richard December 20, 2012 at 9:24 am

Nice to see Sir Douglas Mawson getting a mention. Unlike Amundsen, Shackleton, or Scott, his expedition was not about racing to the South Pole, but was intended to fill in thousands of miles of blank space on the map. Nothing spectacular, but absolutely necessary.

And may I suggest “Sole Survivor: A Story of Record Endurance at Sea” by Ruthanne Lum McCunn? It appears to be the only book-length account of the story of Poon Lim, who, during WWII, survived 133 days alone on a wooden raft in the Atlantic after the ship he was on was sunk by a U-boat. His improvised survival techniques found their way into Royal Navy manuals.

90 Erik December 30, 2012 at 12:03 pm

I followed my dreams, as did all these people and any adventurer who makes it onto the printed page; should be proud.
“Eagles in the flesh” is a NF adventure story that I lived, loved and put on the printed page.

91 Ryan January 23, 2013 at 8:50 pm

I agree with a prior poster that “The Long Walk” by Slavomir Rawicz is a great book about endurance when faced with daunting odds. I got it for free on my kindle one day and it turned out to be one of my favorites.

92 Erik January 24, 2013 at 6:49 pm

Here is Wild Adventure Book and what’s amazing, the characters are still alive.

93 Mike Switzer March 28, 2013 at 5:13 pm

Book of the Eskimos by Peter Freuchen or indeed anything by Mr. Freuchen, one of the great adverturers of the very early days into the arctic. its not only adventure but sociology and anthropology and all wonderfully written.

94 Sperbuddha May 17, 2013 at 7:03 pm

One Man’s Wilderness: An Alaskan Odyssey by Richar Proeneke would fit on that list

95 TWH May 21, 2013 at 12:50 pm

Farthest North by Fridtjoh Nansen

96 Sara May 22, 2013 at 6:48 pm

Just finished a great read:

The Last Season
by Eric Blehm.

97 DKW June 17, 2013 at 10:16 pm

Very happy to see “Of Whales and Men” on the list. A book that I found while browsing years ago. A remarkably good read.

I would recommend “Danger is My Business” by Captain John D. Craig, written in 1938. Deep-sea diving and underwater filming. Hunting a man-eating tiger (and living to tell about it.) Wow!

98 Alan June 24, 2013 at 2:07 pm

I’ll definitely have to dig into this list.

Another non-fiction book along these lines is “Horn of the Hunter,” by Robert Ruark, which details the author’s experiences during an African safari. Ruark is probably best known for his novel, “Something of Value.”

99 Jetro July 6, 2013 at 1:43 pm

“Beasts, Men and Gods” by Ferdynand Antoni Ossendowski

Fantastic book – non -fiction – about civil war at the Siberia and Mongolia region, 1917-1920 years.

http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/2067

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ferdynand_Antoni_Ossendowski

100 Pat August 5, 2013 at 12:30 am

One of my favorites is the story of Ernest Shackleton’s voyage(Endurance). What a page turner and have reread several times. Another one to add to the list(HIGHLY RECOMMENDED) is “Shadow of His Wings” a true story of a German seminarian who was drafted to become a SS soldier and manages to not shoot a single bullet because of uncanny circumstances, he is able to outwit his commanders, and is in the most unbelievable situations, including an encounter with the pope while still an enlisted German soldier. What an adventure story of grueling battles, near death situations, and heroism. Another page turner. Top 5 list.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post:

Site Meter