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Thread: Best Outdoor Adventure Books

  1. #1
    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    Best Outdoor Adventure Books

    In the "do you like your body" thread, I posted a review of my favorite moutaineering books. Wondering what I may have missed, I did a couple of quick googles, and discovered a National Geographic list of great outdoor adventure literature: http://www.nationalgeographic.com/ad...ooks_1-19.html

    I've read all the mountaineering books on the list, and more than half of the non-mountaineering books. This lists omits my favorite mountaineering book: "In the Shadow of Denali". This isn't surprising -- the book isn't all that popular. It also omits David Roberts' book on Annapurna ("Moutain of my Fears" by Roberts makes the list, and Hezog's "Annapurna" is the #1 mountaineeering book. The Terray and Rebuffat books I mentioned are both on the list),. Here's how I listed my favorites in the other thread:

    In the Shadow of Denali -- Jonathon Waterman This may be my favorite moutaineering book (and although I've slacked off in the last decade or so, I'd read almost all of them before that). It's not as well known as some others on the list, but if you like mountaineering literature, don't miss it.

    Into Thin Air -- Krakauer -- I've red three or four other books about the same disasterous Everest expedition, but this is the best.

    Annapurna: the True story by Dave Roberts. Harvard educated Roberts has written dozens of great climbing stories, but this is my favorite. Maurice Herzog's "Annapurna" was the best-selling moutaineering book in history prior to "Into Thin Air". It chronicled the first ascent of any 8000 meter peak, in classic militaristic, patriotic, hyperolic style (and it's still well worth reading). The 4 key climbers were Herzog, Lionel Terray (the greatest French expedition climber, who also penned one of the best climbing autobiographies, "Conquistadors of the Useless"), Gaston Rebuffat (who also went on to write lyrical climbing books, such as "Starlight and Storm"), and Louis Lachenal, who, along with Terray was the greatest of French alpinists. Revisionists have tried to suggest that the team faked the ascent -- Roberts chronicles the revisionist version of the climb, and the conflicts between the personalities. At one point, he finds the original, handwritten manuscript of "Conquistadors of the Useless" -- a book that critics thought must have been ghost written, becausse Terray had never progressed past 8th grade in school. Hardly a word had been changed. It's the most thrilling moment in the book.

    The White Spider by Heinrich Harrer. Harrer was one of four climbers to complete the first ascent of the Eigerwand, the last of the great alpine faces to be climbed. He later wrote "Seven years in Tibet", his chronicle about escaping from a British prisoner of war camp during WW2 (he was on an expedition to the Himalayas at the time), hiking over the Himalayas into Tibet, and tudoring the young Dalai Lama for seven years. One can only wonder why the Brits thought they had any chance of holding him prisoner.

    Touching the Void by Joe Simpson ---- Epic adventure at its most thrilling. In the sequel, Simpson recounts winning the Booker Prize for non-fiction for this book, beating out (I forget which) world famous writers. It was the high school dropout Simpson's first book (but not his last).
    I completely concur with National Geographic's #1 choice: "The Worst Journey in the World" by Cherry-Gerrard. It's about the R.F. Scott South Pole expedition, although the titular "Worst Journey" is a winter march to the roosting grounds of the Emperor Penguin. Here's a teaser (demonstrating Cherry-Gerard's style) from the end of the book:

    “Exploration is the physical expression of the Intellectual Passion.

    And I tell you, if you have the desire for knowledge and the power to give it physical expression, go out and explore. If you are a brave man you will do nothing: if you are fearful you may do much, for none but cowards have need to prove their bravery. Some will tell you that you are mad, and nearly all will say, “What is the use?” For we are a nation of shopkeepers, and no shopkeeper will look at research which does not promise him a financial return within a year. And so you will sledge nearly alone, but those with whom you sledge will not be shopkeepers: that is worth a good deal. If you march your Winter Journeys you will have your reward, so long as all you want is a penguin’s egg.”

    I've read the first 17 on the list -- and they're all excellent. IN addition to "Worst Journey" I particularly recommend "Arabian Sands", by Wilfred Theisiger. My favorite complete history of Arctic exploration is "Arctic Grail: Quest for the NW Passage and the Norht Pole", by Perre Berton, which is not on the National Geo. list (N.G. appears to prefer first person accounts). Berton's book on the Klondike gold rush is excellent, too.

    Does anyone else have any mountaineering or exploration favorites that aren't listed by National Geographic?

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    That is an interesting list. The last book there by Patey was written by the man who was my GP at one time.

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    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    Patey was a funny writer. Gaston Rebuffat (author of "Starlight and Storm" on the National Geo. list) wrote lyrically about the mountains, and his books included beautiful photographs, generally showing a perfectly coiffed Rebuffat, wearing a patterned woolen sweater, perched on some vertical cliff in an impossibly beautiful spot. Patey, a dour if humorous Scotsman, referred to Rebuffat as "Gastly Rubberface", and descried the elegance of Rebuffat's descriptive passages and photographs. For Patey, climbing was more about inelegant sweating and drinking with one's buddies.

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    A very practical man Patey. The kind of doctor you'd need in an emergency. He once removed a splinter from my eye using matchsticks

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    This genre (if that's what it is) has a surfeit of texts to choose from. I would like to have seen something by Leigh Fermor or Tschiffeley's book or Cathy O Dowd's or a Moitessier. But that is the beauty and limitation of lists- they spark your interest and remind you of what is missing. Fleming there was Ian Fleming 's brother. Byron was clever and knowledgeable but his book there was a disappointing read for me.

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    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    I haven't read the Fleming or Byron books. I enjoyed one of O'Dowd's. I did notice that N.G. listed "The Right Stuff", which is a third person history -- but almost all of the others are first person accounts (perhaps some of those I haven't read are not).

    Speaking of National Geographic, I recently read Wade Davis's book on Everest (Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory and the Conquest of Everest.) It's a history of the early British expeditions. Davis thinks the Mallory generation was dramatically shaped by the horrors of WW1. In addition, he goes on an on about how Mallory was lionized in part because of his physical beauty and the fact that most of the Public School British moutaineers were at least bisexual (a trait they learned at Eton, Winchester, etc.). Half of them were in love with Mallory, acc. to Davis. Davis has one of the coolest job titles around: National Geographic Explorer in Residence.
    Last edited by Ecurb; 07-12-2013 at 03:08 PM.

  7. #7
    Call of the Wild by Jack London

    Perfect Storm by Sebastion Junger

    I think one could even call Moby Dick an "outdoor adventure book."

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    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    I think National Geo. was sticking to non-fiction. They did list "Perfect Storm". They also listed "Shipwreck of the Whaleship Essex", which I haven't read, but according to the blurb was an inspiration for Moby Dick.

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    I saw the Davis book in a local shop and contemplated buying it. It did win the Sam Johnson after all but I think now I'll leave it until I see it in a library

  10. #10
    Okay, non-fiction: Survive the Savage Sea by Dougal Robertson. True story about a British family sailing around the world whose sailboat sinks in the Pacific after hitting a whale.

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    Clinging to Douvres rocks Gilliatt Gurgle's Avatar
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    I read Thor Heyerdahl's RA Expeditions.There's a brief review I offered sometime back under the book review thread.
    This is the same author that wrote Kon Tiki which is listed in the NG selection.

    "Mongo only pawn in game of life" - Mongo

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SKRma7PDW10

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    The voyage of the Kon Tiki was something I read about with delight when much younger. It is a grand start to this kind of adventure writing.

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    Camping and Woodcraft, 2 volumes in 1, by Horace Kephart.

    It's not actually a novel, but a guide to camping and living in the wild by a guy that knows what he's talking about. The thing is, it's totally absorbing because the writing style is so comfortable and their is a TON of useful, old school knowledge that American Indians and mountain men would have known/employed.

    I highly recommend it. If I could have only 1 book to take into the wild, it would be this book.

  14. #14
    Clinging to Douvres rocks Gilliatt Gurgle's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ennison View Post
    The voyage of the Kon Tiki was something I read about with delight when much younger. It is a grand start to this kind of adventure writing.
    I haven't read Kon Tiki though it was in the family library growing up, one of my siblings ended up with that one after we cleared out the family home, while I ended up with RA Expeditions. I'll put it on the too read list.

    Quote Originally Posted by Vota View Post
    Camping and Woodcraft, 2 volumes in 1, by Horace Kephart ...
    Sounds interesting and leads me to recall the Foxfire Series, though I'm not sure they suit the adventure aspect, but they would certainly prepare you for outdoor adventure!
    "Mongo only pawn in game of life" - Mongo

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SKRma7PDW10

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    Registered User Darcy88's Avatar
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    I really enjoy Krakauer's prose. I read Into the Wild and some of Eager Dreams. I read some of Colin Angus's book about his feat of being the first person to circumnavigate the globe through self-propulsion and it was a pretty fascinating read.
    “To practice any art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow. So do it.”

    - Kurt Vonnegut

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