My love of adventure stories began at an early age. When I became an adult, that love motivated me to coauthor my father’s exploits in Tent for Seven: A Camping Adventure Gone South Out West. If you’re into close encounters with bears and near-death experiences, it’s a must-read.
I’ve managed to build a nice collection of nonfiction books over the years. Some are distinguished by The New York Times and USA Today, while others are less known but still as captivating, inspiring, shocking, and unbelievable as the bestsellers. Let me introduce a few that might be new to you.
For every bestseller listed below, I’ve recommended a hidden gem on the same or similar topic. Don’t miss out on these truly incredible stories. I hope they keep you glued to your seat, giving you the adventure of a lifetime. Or perhaps, you’ll be motivated to leave that comfy chair behind and head out on an adventure of your own.
Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
Have you ever dreamed of selling all your possessions, moving to Alaska, and living off the land? OK, maybe that’s just me. But you can pick up this book and live vicariously through Christopher Johnson McCandless—or Alexander Supertramp, as he dubbed himself—if you dare. A warning, though: Alex lasted only four grueling months before perishing alone in an abandoned bus in the middle of nowhere. So maybe this is more of a cautionary tale.
North of the Sun by Fred Hatfield
Fred Hatfield had a better go of it. He survived in the Alaskan wilderness for 20 years and even raised a family there. He built the log cabin his kids grew up in, and they lived off the land in every sense of the phrase. Fred did, however, encounter many grizzly bears—and a murderer—and survived to write a great story.
Miracle in the Andes by Nando Parrado
I’m deathly afraid of flying, so I’m not sure why I chose this book in the first place. But once I started, I couldn’t put it down. After crashing in the High Andres, Nando Parrado managed to make a single chocolate-covered peanut last for three days. From there, his food choices became singular and ghastly. Two months after the crash, with no hope of being rescued, Nando and two comrades set off on a 70-mile, 10-day hike through freezing winds and impenetrable snows across the mountains. This book is packed with life lessons and leaves you wondering what you would have done if you had been there. I pray I’ll never find out.
When I Fell from the Sky by Juliane Koepcke
Juliane Diller’s mother had this to say about flying: “It’s totally unnatural that such a bird made of metal takes off into the air.” I couldn’t agree more. Juliane was sitting next to her on Christmas Eve when their plane was stuck by lightning and disintegrated in the sky. Juliane fell two miles, strapped in her seat, before landing deep in the Amazon—the sole survivor. She spent the next 11 days wandering through the jungle. You may think twice before boarding another airplane.
Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand
And they’re off! It was the Great Depression and all of America needed something to cheer for. Millions of people tuned their radios to the races to root for Seabiscuit, an underweight, chronically tired horse often mistaken for being lame. Despite his flaws, trainer Tom Smith saw something in him. The last of the frontiersmen, Tom used unconventional methods. Seabiscuit’s jockey, Red Pollard, was blind in one eye, significantly taller than most jockeys, and so broke he slept on stall floors. The horse’s owner, Charles Howard, was traumatized by the death of his son. The four made an unlikely team. This is a true rags-to-riches story, where the convergence of three broken men and one misunderstood horse came together to race into history.
A Girl and Five Brave Horses by Sonora Carver
Can you imagine pulling yourself onto the back of a horse and then holding on for dear life as that horse jumps off a forty-foot tower into a pool of water below? Now imagine doing this blind. Sonora Carver was 19 when she learned to ride diving horses under the tutelage of Dr. Carver, himself a man of the Old West when it was truly wild. This adventure starts in the roaring ’30s and has it all: horses, triumph over tragedy, and a love story.
Grandma Gatewood’s Walk by Ben Montgomery
Why not hike the Appalachian Trail? After all, it’s there to be hiked—all 2,190 miles of it. That’s what Emma Gatewood figured. At age 67, she told her family she was going for a walk and then disappeared into the woods. She became the first woman to hike the trail alone. Two years later, she felt the urge to thru-hike the trail again and became the first person, male or female, to do so twice. And for good measure, she hiked it yet again, in sections this time, thereby becoming the first person to hike the trail three times, because, after all, it’s there.
Honouring High Places by Junko Tabei
In 1975 Junko Tabei became the first woman to climb Mount Everest. She was also the first woman to climb the Seven Summits. She was only five feet tall and in childhood had been considered weak and poor at physical education. Her fourth-grade teacher changed her life by introducing her to the allure of mountains. Later in life, Junko became a staunch advocate of mountain conservation. Before dying at the age of 77, she asked her son to do three things, one of which was “Let as many people as possible know the wonder of Mother Nature.” I wholeheartedly support that directive.
Endurance by Alfred Lansing
Go with the floe. Ernest Shackleton and his crew of 27 men kept their cool while living on ice for just over a year after their ship was crushed in the frozen Antarctic sea. Shackleton proved an incredible leader as they drifted on an ice floe in the ocean, eventually landing on Elephant Island—a deserted, inhospitable mountainous land off the coast of Antarctica. From there, Shackleton set sail with a small crew, rowing some 650 nautical miles through the Drake Passage, where crushing waves can reach 40 feet high, to save his men. Envisioning their harrowing experiences makes me hesitant to complain about physical discomfort ever again.
Island of the Lost by Joan Druett
One island. Two shipwrecks. Twenty miles apart. If I’m ever on a sinking ship, I want to go down with Captain Musgrave. His crew worked together to build a shelter and find food and ultimately not only survived for a year but thrived. Captain Dalgarno, on the opposite side of the island, failed miserably. Immediately his men began fighting and dying. A few resorted to cannibalism. Neither crew knew of the other’s existence, which for Musgrave’s sailors was probably a good thing.