There is nothing like an epic tale of adventure to inspire a person!
Books have a way of powering our minds and providing inspiration like few other mediums. Travelling and adventuring is so personal that only a book can capture the experiences of an adventurer, whether it be the deathly cold and despair of the Antarctic to witnessing the eruption of Vesuvius first hand. These adventure books will have you reconsidering your nine to five and cashing in your savings and heading to the travel agents (slash internet).
1. Naples ’44 by Norman Lewis
This book chronicles the year spent by the author in southern Italy as the second world war draws to a close. The book paints a picture of the struggles of the Italian people as well as Lewis’ time as a very different kind of tourist. The character portraits are well drawn and some the scenes live long in the memory, specifically the ones that centre around the eruption of Vesuvius. It’ll have you dreaming of whiling away your days in the Neapolitan sun.
2. Alone on the Ice by David Roberts
This book by David Roberts is a chilling tale of survival against crushing odds. It follows the story of Douglas Mawson, an Australian adventurer who spent a month traversing the Antarctic trying to return to his base camp after being abandoned by his Huskies and falling through a snow bridge. The subtitle of the book – ‘The Greatest Survival Story in the History of Exploration’ – was the description of Mawson’s journey given by Sir Edmund Hillary, he knew a thing or two about these things.
3. Wild by Cheryl Strayed
This classic will have you booking your flights to the US quick sharp. The book tells Cheryl Strayed’s journey of self-discovery. At age 26, Strayed had already suffered divorce, drug addiction, family estrangement and the death of her mother. It was at that point she decided to embark on the 1800km Pacific Crest Trail without any previous hiking experience. It may sound like the clichéd plot of a chick lit novel but the book is visceral and spiritual and an inspiring account of the healing power of the outdoors as well as painting a fantastic picture of the PCT, one of the most gruelling through-hikes in the world. If you want to know more about hiking the PCT check out our interview with the incredible Olive McGloin, the first woman in the world to YoYo the PCT
4. Into the Wild by Jan Krakauer
Not to be confused with the book above, Into the Wild is the biography of the enigmatic Christopher McCandless. With a bright, if conventional, future ahead of him the American instead decides to give away his $25,000 college fund, cut his family ties and head into the wild. The story illustrates the struggle with family expectations and conformity and the sanctuary offered by the outdoors. Though the events took place 25 years ago the themes still resonate. The book was adapted into a film in 2007 by Sean Penn which features a killer soundtrack from Eddie Veder.
5. Conquistadors of the Useless by Lionel Terray
The tongue-in-cheek title of this book relates to the exploits of French adventurer Lionel Terray. During his life, he completed several first ascents, including Makalu in the Himalayas, and Cerro Fitzroy in Patagonia. He was also a member of the 1950 expedition that reached the peak of Annapurna, the highest summit reached until Edmund Hillary’s successful expedition up Everest three years later. The book talks evocatively about the thrill of climbing and the importance of adventuring as the world emerged from the darkness of the Second World War.
6. Turn Right at Machu Picchu by Mark Adams
Adams’ wrote this book about his attempt to recreate the journey made by Hiram Bingham a hundred years before where he became the first Westerner to arrive at Machu Picchu. Mark Adams’ book is entertainingly written as he describes the differences between then and now. There may be more tourists, young and old, but as the Australian journalist discovers, the Inca trail hasn’t gotten any easier.
7. Come Back Alive by Robert Young Pelton
More practical than narrative, this book by Robert Young Pelton is a survival guide for the 21st century. Pelton, an insatiable adventurer, provides advice for everything from natural disasters to kidnapping by terrorists. With other chapters on plane crashes and car accidents, this is one to keep away from nervous loved ones and travelling companions.
8. Coasting by Jonathan Raban
Coasting tells the seemingly mundane story of Jonathan Raban’s circumnavigation around Britain. But, like most good travel books, it is as much about the author as the journey. Part biography, part a study of Britain at war (the Falklands conflict begins a month into the year long journey), and travelogue, Raban tells his story with and eccentricity. Coasting isn’t just for the naval among you, it’s a book of explorations for landlubbers too.
9. The Beach by Alex Garland
The book that launched a thousand gap years. This is the only novel on the list but one that encapsulates the exploration bug of youth that eschews the full moon parties and fish bowls. That’s not to say that there’s no hedonism here but The Beach quickly leaves the tourism mecca of the Kaho San Road behind in favour of an escape to idealistic living on a seemingly utopian island. Chances are you’ve seen the Leonardo DiCaprio film so you know things aren’t all they seem but the book is a great portrait of the hopefulness of Generation X.
10. In Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin
This was the book that established the credentials of legendary travel writer Bruce Chatwin. In 1974 he flew to Lima, Peru, sending his editor a letter reading ‘Have gone to Patagonia. I am writing a story for myself. One I’ve always wanted to write up’. Chatwin spent a month travelling down South America, then another six in the Patagonia region collecting stories. Since being published in 1977 there have been some questions about the veracity of everything in the book but the character of the book remains intact. Patagonia is too big to be encapsulated in a single book but Chatwin’s book is one of the best attempts.