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Best Book List:

Outside Magazine's 25

Best Adventure Books of the Last

100 Years












Best Book Lists


















Best Book List:
Outside Magazine's
25 Best Adventure Books of the Last 100 Years


Appearing in the January, 2003, issue of Outside Magazine was a list of the "25 Best Adventure Books of the Last 100 Years."  The process consisted of consultations with writers, explorers, scholars--and then a final ranking by the editors.  The brief reviews, below, are in my words, but Outside also prepared short pieces on each of the books which may be found at: Outside Adventure Canon.



1. Wind, Sand & Stars.  By Antoine de Saint-Exupery (1940)


With beautiful prose, Antoine de Saint-Exupery describes his adventureous flights over the Pyrenees, Andes and Sahara.  Probably the best book ever written about flying.


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2. (Tie) The Worst Journey in the World.  By Apsley Cherry-Garrard (1922)


Cherry-Garrard's "worst" journey takes place during the Antarctic winter before Robert Falcon Scott's famous race against Roald Amundsen to the South Pole. A member of Scott's expedition, Cherry-Garrard and two others undertake an expedition to collect the eggs of the emperor penguin.  On the way there and back, they struggle with back-breaking loads, long-dark days and numbingly cold temperatures.  It's an incredible story, narrated with great finesse.  


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2. (Tie) Journals.  By Meriwether Lews and  William Clark (1841)


The story of Lewis and Clark's remarkable journey across the American west told by the great explorers themselves.


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3. West With the Night.  By Beryl Markham (1942)


There must be some kind of connection between flying and poetic writing.  Like Antoine de Saint-Exupery (see # 1 above), Markham is a pilot, and her writing is entrancing--as entrancing as the African landscape she soars above. 


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4. The Snow Leopard.  By Peter Matthiessen (1978) 


Matthiessen accompanies biologist George Schaller on a 250-mile trek through the Himalayan mountains.  Schaller's purpose is to study blue sheep. Along the way, Matthiessen hopes to catch a glimpse of the exceedingly rare snow leopard but the journey becomes much more.  Coming shortly after the death of his wife, it becomes a contemplative and enlightening look at life.  See More Extensive Review.   


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5. Desert Solitare. By Edward Abbey (1968)


Edward Abbey is the undisputed the voice of the remote canyonland country of southern Utah and Northern Arizona.  No book describes this harsh landscape better and with more hard-nose poignancy than Desert Solitare.  


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6. Endurance.  By F. A. Worsley (1931)


In 1914 Ernest Shackleton set off on a journey to traverse the Antarctic continent via the South Pole.  Frank (F. A.) Worsley was the captain of the Shackleton's ship.  The ship, named Endurance, never made it to the coast, becoming frozen in the pack ice.  Things went from bad to worse.  The following year, Worsley watched his ship crushed and destroyed by the mammoth forces created by shifting floes of ice.  Their escape climaxed by an 800-mile journey in a small, open boat to St. Georgia Island. Their route: across one of the most dangerous and capricious stretches of cold, open ocean anyway on the globe.  Navigation was vitally important.  One tiny error and they would miss St. Georgia and end up lost in the vastness of the southern Ocean.  Frank Worsley was the navigator--and this is Worsley's engrossing narrative of that epic journey.  


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7. Sailing Alone Around the World.  By Joshua Slocum (1900)


In 1895, Joshua Slocum set sail from Boston.  Three years later, he returned, making the first solo circumnavigation of the globe.


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8. Into the Wild.  By Jon Krakauer (1996)


This is Krakauer's study of an idealistic young man who leaves everything behind and heads into the Alaska bush.  A few months later, he is found dead.  While Krakauer obviously padded the book to make it an acceptable length, it is, nevertheless, a haunting parable of the search for meaning in modern day life.  


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9. Coming into the Country.  By John McPhee (1976)


When I first traveled to Eagle, Alaska to kayak some of the tributaries of the Yukon River, I had my copy of Coming into the Country along.  In his precise and crisp prose, McPhee gives us an encompassing and perceptive glimpse of the north star state from its cities to its vast wild lands. 


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10. Arabian Sands. By Wilfred Thesiger (1959)


In the late 1940's the Empty Quarter of the Saudi Arabian desert remained a mystery to much of the outside world.  Into that mystery, Thesiger went. 


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11. Touching the Void.  By Joe Simpson (1989)


While on a descent of a cutting-edge climb of a South American peak, Simpson falls and breaks his leg.  His partner lowers the incapacitated climber down steep snow slopes, but at one point, he loses control and Simpson falls and dangles over the edge of the cliff.  His partner who is being pulled off his belay stance is left no other choice than to cut the rope. Thinking that Simpson is dead, the partner returns to base.  Simpson, however, is still very much alive.  He manages to climb out of a crevasse, and then begins crawling.  You won't be able to put this one down.  It's a remarkable story.   


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12. The Mountains of My Life By Walter Bonatti (1998)


A collection of writings of the famous Italian mountaineer Walter Bonatti.  Includes narratives of his experiences in the Alps, South America and the Himalayas. 


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13. In Patagonia.  Bruce Chatwin (1977)


This is Chatwin's account of his 1977 travels to Patagonia.  Wonderfully written he combines his experiences with history and local lore to create a masterful picture of that exotic, far-away corner of the world. 


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14. Arctic DreamsBarry Lopez (1986)


Barry Lopez (also the author of Of Wolves and Men) based this book on his years of experience in the Arctic.  The book is vast in scope covering geography, weather, natural history, and anthropology.  


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15. A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush.  By Eric Newby (1958)


Jeff Tucker's Review:  "A great story by a great travel writer about a preposterously planned trip into Afghanistan (before the modern era of chaos overtook the country) to do a first ascent on a previously unseen peak in the Hindu Kush Mountains. The two solitary adventurers, with as much climbing experience as they had knowledge of the terrain, set out into the wilds of the Afghani frontier, and a formidable array of trouble and adventures. Written with sublimely understated humor and dry wit, it is hilariously funny and fun."   


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16. Tracks.  By Robyn Davidson (1980)


The intrepid, Robyn Davidson, treks across the out-back of Australia.  Her companions?  None other than her dog and four camels.  This is a wonderfully written work that will keep the bedside lamp burning late into the night.  


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17. The Long Way.  By Bernard Moitessier (1971)


Bernard Moitessier's story of the Golden Globe Race in which competitors sail around the world.  


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18. Running the Amazon.  By Joe Kane (1989)


The story of the first full descent of the 4,200 mile length of the Amazon River from source to sea.  Big rapids, drug runners, guerrillas: it's all there, the stuff of adventure.  


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19. Young Men and Fire.  By Norman Maclean (1992)


In August of 1949, fifteen Smokejumpers were dropped on a fire in Mann Gulch in northwestern Montana.  All but three died in the conflagration.  This is what happened, rendered in the eloquent prose of the author of A River Runs Through It


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20. The Great Plains.  By Ian Frazier (1989)


Hmmm.  I'm not sure why this one ended up on a "25 Best Adventure Books" list.  Indeed, it's smart (in a New Yorker way), wry and a perceptive look at the history, people and geography of the vast plains of central North America, but . . . adventure?  


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21. Kon-Tiki.  By Thor Heyerdahl (1950)


It must be in the genes.  Norwegians often figure prominently in adventure literature and Thor Heyerdahl is no exception.  Heyerdahl theorized that inhabitants of South American settled the Polynesian Islands--and to prove his theory he built a raft out of balsa wood and launched from Peru.  Three months, and 4,300 miles later, he reached his goal.  Kon-Tiki is a great adventure and a fascinating read.  


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22. My Journey to Lhasa.  By Alexandra David-Neel (1927)


 "The prolific writer-explorer of Tibetan topics, in the early part of this century, dreamed of actually reaching the forbidden city of Lhasa, and finally, with her indefatigable companion monk, Yongden, she made a remarkable pilgrimage to Lhasa, disguised as a pilgrim . . " More Extensive Review by Jeff Tucker.  


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23. (Tie) Alive.  By Pier Paul Read (1974)


The story of a plane crash in the Andes and the desperate depravities forced upon the survivors in order to stay alive.  


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23.(Tie) The Perfect Storm.  By Sebastian Junger (1997)


In 1991, in a rare merging of three separate weather systems, a storm of unimaginable intensity hits the the northeastern seaboard. Junger's story centers on a fishing boat with six on board caught in the fury of the storm.   


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24. A Walk in the Woods.  By Bill Bryson (1998)


Bryson's narrative of his 2,100-mile hike on the Appalachian trail from Georgia to Maine.  Humorous, descriptive, and illuminating, it's fine piece of outdoor writing.  


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25. Old Glory.  By Jonathan Raban (1981)


Observations and thoughts while navigating the Mississippi River in a small motorboat.  


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End of Listing







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