email a friend iconprinter friendly iconOnline Exculsive: Greatest Adventure Books
Page [ 5 ] of 6
60. Incidents of Travel in Yucatan
By John Lloyd Stephens (1843)
Imagine hacking your way through thick jungle while racked with malaria. The country around you is in chaos and on the brink of civil war. And you discover, despite all this, the lost city of Tikal. And 43 other Maya ruins. Stephens is the father of American archaeology, and this is his beautiful account of the expedition that made him so.
National Geographic Books, 2004.

61. Shipwreck of the Whaleship Essex
By Owen Chase (1821)
Melville used this famous tale as a source for Moby Dick (and it was recently recounted again in Nathaniel Philbrick's In the Heart of the Sea), but here's the real thing: the first mate's account of how the Essex was sunk by a whale and how the survivors made it to South America in a small open boat.
Lyons Press, 1999.

62. Life in the Far West
By George Frederick Ruxton (1849)
Ruxton was an English adventurer who visited the American West, then returned to England and wrote this book. Technically, it's a novel (he changed a few names), but in fact it's a more accurate look at the lives of the mountain men than most nonfiction accounts. It's full of marvelous stories, and its heroes are just what we'd expect: strong, resourceful men of few words.
University of Oklahoma Press, 1999.

63. My Life as an Explorer
By Roald Amundsen (1927)
Though his prose may not be as colorful as Nansen's, this great Norwegian explorer's achievements are unsurpassed: He was the first to sail the Northwest Passage, and he beat Scott to the South Pole. In his autobiography he reveals what inspired such a life: As a lad he had read about the travails of Arctic explorer Sir John Franklin. "A strange ambition burned within me to endure those same sufferings," he writes.
Out of print.

64. News from Tartary
By Peter Fleming (1936)
Armed with a rifle, six bottles of brandy, and Macaulay's History of England (but lacking a passport), Fleming set out from Peking for India in the 1930s via forbidden Xinjiang, and he reports, with typically British irony, the troubles he ran into. (The rifle came in handy.) If only all adventurers could write this well.
Northwestern University Press, 1999.

65. Annapurna: A Woman's Place
By Arlene Blum (1980)
Ask a woman climber what inspired her and she's likely to name this book, the story of a 1978 ascent of Annapurna by a team of women, two of whom died. "What's a nice girl from the Midwest doing up here all alone?" the author asks herself at one point. Surviving. Blum's depiction of the team's Sherpas irks some climbers, but there's no denying the book's impact.
Sierra Club, 1998.

66. Mutiny on the Bounty
By William Bligh (1790)
The movies have taught us to see Captain Bligh as a villain and the mutineers as justified, but Bligh's own account, naturally, tells a different story. Once the rebellious sailors force Bligh and 18 loyal crew members onto the Bounty's 23-foot (7 meter) longboat, it becomes a remarkable survival story: an open-boat voyage of nearly 4,000 miles (6,440 km), on a scrap of bread and a half cup of water per man per day.
Out of print.

67. Adrift
By Steven Callahan (1986)
American Callahan was sailing alone across the Atlantic when his 21-foot (6.5 meter) sailboat suddenly sank and he had only moments to get out. He spent 76 days drifting, starving, fighting off sharks, and patching his raft before making landfall. He shows us just how much will and intelligence it takes to survive in such hopeless circumstances.
Random House, 1996.

68. Castaways
By Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca (1555)
Three hundred would-be conquistadores land near present-day Tampa in 1528 to make Florida their own. Eight years later, four naked survivors, our author among them, emerge from the wilderness of Mexico. Though little known outside historical circles, this is one of the most extraordinary survival stories ever told.
University of California Press, 1993.

69. Touching the Void
By Joe Simpson (1989)
Descending a hard route in the Andes, Simpson broke his leg and his partner was forced to do the unthinkable: He cut the rope between them. That Simpson survived the fall, that he crawled down the mountain on his own, makes for some of the most hair-raising reading you'll ever enjoy.
HarperCollins, 1998.

70. Tracks
By Robyn Davidson (1980)
Broke, a bit mad, but totally determined, Davidson traveled (mostly) alone across 1,700 miles (2,735 km) of Australian outback on wild camels that she herself had trained. This is a wonderful account of a loopy adventure that had nothing going for it but perseverance.
Vintage, 1995.

71. The Adventures of Captain Bonneville
By Washington Irving (1837)
Irving bought an unpolished memoir by a trapper named Benjamin Bonneville for $1,000 and then rewrote it. It was a good investment; this lively account, stocked with incident and grand in its sweep, is the happy result.
National Geographic Books, 2003.

72. Cooper's Creek
By Alan Moorehead (1963)
The story of the Burke and Wills expedition of 1860 into the unknown outback is almost an Australian epic. Moorehead, an Australian himself and a superb writer, tells the story of this tragic pair, their trek across the continent and back again, and their final days at Cooper Creek, where they starved to death.
Hardcover edition from Amereon, 1987.

73. The Fearful Void
By Geoffrey Moorhouse (1974)
Moorhouse wanted to be the first man to cross the Sahara, west to east, over 3,000 miles (4,830 kilometers) of sand. He also wanted to face his fears of loneliness, of annihilation, of being lost. He managed to make it 2,000 miles (3,220 kilometers), and his account of his experiences, outer and inner, is understated but compelling.
Out of print, but secondhand copies are available.

74. No Picnic on Mount Kenya
By Felice Benuzzi (1953)
You're bored and dispirited, an Italian mountain climber stuck in a British POW camp in East Africa in 1943. What to do? Simple: Escape. Climb Mount Kenya with homemade equipment and little food. And then sneak back in. Benuzzi and two other men did just that, and though it was no picnic, it saved their souls.
Lyons Press, 1999.

75. Through the Brazilian Wilderness
By Theodore Roosevelt (1914)
All bluff and bluster? Not Teddy. People died on this trip down the Rio da Dúvida, or the River of Doubt, which had never been mapped. Poisonous snakes were common, close calls frequent, starvation a possibility, fever inevitable. A thrilling book.
Cooper Square, 2000.

76. The Road to Oxiana
By Robert Byron (1937)
Byron, a British adventurer, traveled in the early 1930s to the river anciently called the Oxus, between Russia and Afghanistan, looking for ruins. This book is his odd, sometimes funny, and always delightful account of the often dangerous trip.
Oxford University Press, 1982.

77. Minus 148°
By Art Davidson (1969)
Coming down from the first winter ascent of Mount McKinley, three climbers get caught in winds of 130 miles (202 kilometers) an hour (202 km/hour)—and hence a windchill of minus 148°F (minus 100°C) and that melodramatic title. They dig an ice cave to survive, their hands freeze up, the wind just won't quit. Whew! A minor classic in the will-they-make-it? category.
Mountaineers, 1999.

78. Travels
By Ibn Battúta (circa 1354)
The great 14th-century Moroccan wan-derer Battúta spent half his long life on the move. He went deep into Africa, circled India, and reached Russia, Sumatra, Shanghai. He was sometimes wealthy, sometimes penniless, often in danger. His book reminds us how ignorant we are of lives lived outside the Western tradition, and of a time when all travel was adventurous. Ibn Battúta, Travels in Asia and Africa (AES, 1986). This hardcover edition is published in India and available through a domestic distributor, South Asia
Books (573-474-0116;

79. Jaguars Ripped My Flesh
By Tim Cahill (1987)
America's premier outdoor gonzo journalist, Cahill seems to have a license to get into trouble and does so consistently and well. Jaguars don't actually rip his flesh, but he does dive with sharks and nap with gorillas in this, his best collection of adventure journalism.
Vintage, 1996.
Page [ 5 ] of 6
Join the discussion

National Geographic Adventure is pleased to provide this opportunity for you to share your comments about this article. Thanks for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Recent Comments
  • You left out: As far as my feet will carry me. That is a great story of survival.
  • Two points: Number 53, by Slavomir Rawicz, has been disproved as a fake tale that never happened. …
  • Two points: Number 53, by Slavomir Rawicz, has been disproved as a fake tale that never happened. …
  • No Benedict Allen? Just curious as to why.
  • How can you leave out Krakauer's Into the Wild? your list has lost some credibility...
Read All »