20. Seven Years in Tibet
By Heinrich Harrer (1953)Escaping from a British prisoner-of-war camp in India, the great Austrian climber headed for the mountains, Tibet, and freedom. Amazingly, he got all the way to Lhasa, where he befriended the young Dalai Lama. Revelations of Harrer's Nazi past have clouded his reputation, yet the book's deeply sympathetic portrait of the Tibetans endures.
By James Cook (1768-1779)Captain Cook made three voyages to the Pacific, discovered the east coast of Australia, stove a hole in his boat within the Great Barrier Reef, tried to find the Northwest Passage, had countless encounters with natives—and died during one of them—and was one of the greatest explorers the world has ever known. His Journals are a sober but fascinating account of how it felt to redefine the boundaries of the known world.
Explorations of Captain James Cook in the Pacific, as Told by Selections of His Own Journals, 1768-1779 (Dover Publications, 1971). Penguin publishes an abridged version, The Journals of Captain Cook (2000).
22. Home of the Blizzard
By Douglas Mawson (1915)It is Antarctica, 1912, and the Australian Mawson and two other men set out across King George Land. They find themselves in treacherous terrain, and one vanishes into a crevasse, along with dogs, a sledge, and most of the food. Then the second man dies of starvation and dysentery. Blizzards rage for days, a week. Mawson endures. Mawson lives. A fine read that has never gotten quite the attention it deserves.
St. Martin's Press, 2000.
23. The Voyage of the Beagle
By Charles Darwin (1839)The grand old man of modern biology was a gentleman of leisure, a crack shot, and no scientist when, at 22, he boarded the Beagle for its long survey voyage to South America and the Pacific. His record of the trip is rich in anthropology and science. (His shipmates called him "the Fly-catcher.") The adventure comes in watching over Darwin's shoulder as he works out the first glimmerings of his theory of evolution.
National Geographic Books, 2004.
24. The Seven Pillars of Wisdom
By T.E. Lawrence (1926)A desert woman speaks to the British adventurer of his "horrible blue eyes which looked, she said, like the sky shining through the eye-sockets of an empty skull." Indeed. He must have been something—crazily intense in his white robes, as romantic a figure as any who has ever lived: Lawrence of Arabia. Who could resist such a book as this?
25. Travels in the Interior Districts of Africa
By Mungo Park (1799)In 1795, Park enters the African interior with a servant, a horse, some clothing, a few trade goods, a pair of pistols, and two days' worth of provisions. Eighteen months later, he emerges with nothing but the clothes on his back and his notes, which he'd kept in his hat. In between lies perhaps the best of the great early African explorations.
Duke University Press, 2000.
26. The Right Stuff
By Tom Wolfe (1979)With all the flash and fireworks of Wolfe's writing, it's easy to overlook that, at bottom, he's a great reporter. And this long and intimate look into the lives, minds, and deeds of the men who rode the first American rockets into space remains Wolfe's best book and the first true classic from the dawn of space exploration. The race with the Russians, the dauntless Chuck Yeager—Wolfe piles story upon story, and the pile glows.
27. Sailing Alone Around the World
By Joshua Slocum (1900)At loose ends and in your 50s, what better way to pass the time than to sail alone around the world? The journey took three years and covered 46,000 miles (74,000 kilometer); Slocum was chased by pirates, survived major storms, suffered hallucinations. But he made it. He was the first to do it alone. Then he wrote this marvelous, salty book. In 1909, he put to sea again. This time, he disappeared.
National Geographic Books, 2004.
28. The Mountain of My Fear and Deborah: A Wilderness Narrative
By David Roberts (1968, 1970)"The deepest despair I have ever felt, as well as the most piercing happiness, has come in the mountains," writes Roberts (now an Adventure contributing editor). Here we have both, in two books, now available in one volume, that Roberts wrote when he was still in his 20s. The mountains are in Alaska; the passion is all in Roberts's young heart.
29. First Footsteps in East Africa
By Richard Burton (1856)He spoke fluent Arabic and traveled in disguise to places barred to infidels. Harer, in East Africa, was one such place, and he wrote this extraordinary book about his adventures there. Burton was the very archetype of the British explorer—eccentric, restless, brave. A product of his time, he was consciously superior to the natives, but remarkably adept at making his way through alien cultures nonetheless. You read him for him as much as for what he accomplished.
Dover Publications, 1987.
30. The Perfect Storm
By Sebastian Junger (1997)Waves ten stories high, hurricane-force winds, longline swordfish fishermen and their wives and girlfriends, bad omens, National Guard air-rescue teams, heroism, fear, and the bars of Gloucester, Massachusetts: Junger has a gift for gathering the elements, if you will, of his story, dramatizing them and impressing the hell out of you with the power of weather.
31. The Oregon Trail
By Francis Parkman (1849)In 1846, the future historian of the American West went west himself, following the trail of the emigrant trains into the Rockies. "A month ago," he writes along the way, "I should have thought it rather a startling affair to have an acquaintance ride out in the morning and lose his scalp before night, but here it seems the most natural thing in the world." Generations of readers have loved this book; you will, too.
National Geogrpahic Books, 2002.
32. Through the Dark Continent
By Henry M. Stanley (1878)We know him for finding Livingstone, who wasn't lost, in 1871, but the truly adventurous trip was Stanley's next, in 1874, when the British explorer became one of the first Europeans to run the length of the Congo. His account of that journey reads like some wonderful old boys' adventure tale—except that it's true.
Dover Publications, in two volumes, 1988.
33. A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains
By Isabella L. Bird (1879)Bird was no lady in the conventional Victorian sense but a world traveler. She ventured through the Rockies when they were still wild, met up with grizzly bears, and climbed Longs Peak when it was thought impossible for a woman to do so. She had to thaw her ink on the cabin stove to write, and she wrote delightfully.
Hardcover edition from University of Oklahoma Press, 1999.
34. In the Land of White Death
By Valerian Albanov (1917In 1912, two dozen men on a Russian ship found themselves frozen into the Arctic ice. Eleven tried to walk out. In the end, two made it back to civilization; Albanov was one of them. It's a great survival story, well told, and (at least until its recent reissue, which was excerpted in Adventure, November/December 2000) virtually unknown in the English-speaking world.
Hardcover edition from Modern Library, 2000.
By F.A. Worsley (1931)Worsley was the captain of the Endurance, escaped with Shackleton when their ship was crushed, and bore what they all bore. He navigated that heroic open-boat journey to South Georgia island, through weather that was so bad he could take sights on the sun only four times in 800 miles (1300 km). Still, they hit the island square on. Nice. His account is brisker than the thorough Shackleton's, but keeps the excitement intact.
36. Scrambles Amongst the Alps
By Edward Whymper (1871)Whymper is famous for his first ascent of the Matterhorn and for the accident coming down, in which four of his companions died when their rope broke. He was irritable and sour but also a true iron man of the mountains. And his book ranks high among the classics of mountaineering in part for having helped promote the very notion that peaks are meant to be climbed.
National Geographic Books, 2002.
37. Out of Africa
By Isak Dinesen (1937)Karen Blixen (who wrote under the pseudonym Isak Dinesen) knew the African countryside as intimately as her own face in the mirror. "The civilized people," she wrote, "have lost the aptitude of stillness, and must take lessons in silence from the wild before they are accepted by it." From her own wild heart she wrote this achingly beautiful book.
Hardcover edition from Modern Library, 1992.
38. Scott's Last Expedition: The Journals
By Robert Falcon Scott (1913)Whatever else English explorers can do, they can almost always write. And when things are at their worst, they manage, somehow, to be most eloquent. That's the only word for Scott's Journals, with its entries running right to the end of his desperate race home from the South Pole. Scott's courage—and his mistakes—are known to everyone. Here it all is as he lived it, and as he died.
Carroll & Graf, 1996.
39. Everest: The West Ridge
By Thomas Hornbein (1965)In 1963, Americans Hornbein and Willi Unsoeld went for the West Ridge of Everest and soon realized their route was too difficult to descend. So it was up and over, summit or die. They reached the top at 6:15 p.m. "The sun's rays sheered horizontally across the summit," Hornbein writes. "We hugged each other as tears welled up, ran down across our oxygen masks, and turned to ice." A breakthrough ascent, recounted simply and well.