Expedition and travel books were my first opening into the world which gradually became my passion, my obsession and – eventually – my career.
I’d like to help you prise open the door yourself and glimpse inside. Be careful! Open with care! It’s a Pandora’s Box, particularly if you combine your reading with an open atlas and an attitude of “I wonder if I could try something like this myself..?”
But whether you read these books to help motivate you to get out into the world on adventures of your own, or whether you just want the vicarious joy of enjoying a good book, you will have your reward, so long – of course – as all you want is a penguin’s egg… (a quote from one of the books below.)
So this is not a comprehensive list of all the good travel and adventure books that have been written – there is no Newby, Theroux, Bryson, Slocum or Tilman here. There’s not even any Rum Doodle. Rather it is an ‘Adventure 101’: an essential starting point for anyone interested in learning about the world of adventure, expeditions and non-fiction travel writing.
In the politest voice I can muster, I order you to read all of these books. And, if you enjoy reading travel books, could I politely ask you to take a look at my own books too?
I have also written a post of excellent adventure films that you should watch.
(an introduction to trips that are difficult, ground-breaking, insane, lethal, or a bit of all that)
- The Worst Journey in the World – Cherry Apsley Garrard
- South: the Endurance Expedition – Ernest Shackleton
- Mawson’s Will – Lennard Bikkel
- Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know – Ranulph Fiennes
- Annapurna – Maurice Herzog
- Kiss or Kill – Mark Twight
- Touching the Void – Joe Simpson
- No Picnic on Mount Kenya – Felice Benuzzi
- The Ascent of Rum Doodle – W.E. Bowman
Jungle / Walking
- Walking the Amazon – Ed Stafford
- Mad White Giant – Benedict Allen
- Arabian Sands – Wilfred Thesiger
- A Winter in Arabia – Freya Stark
- Tracks – Robyn Davidson
- A Voyage For Madmen – Peter Nichols
- A Fighting Chance – John Ridgway and Chay Blyth
- Crossing the Ditch – James Castrission (neither the toughest ocean row ever, nor the greatest literature, but I absolutely loved this book, especially all the lead-up chapters that explain how ‘normal’ people end up doing stuff that is very not normal!)
- The Kon-Tiki Expedition – Thor Heyerdahl
- Paddling North – Audrey Sutherland
- Running the Amazon – Joe Kane
- Voyageur – Robert Twigger
- Carrying The Fire – Michael Collins
- Moondust – Andrew Smith
Adventure and Travel Literature
(includes either cool trips or wonderfully-told tales)
- As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning – Laurie Lee
- Wild – Cheryl Strayed
- Travels With Charley – John Steinbeck
- The Way of the World – Nicolas Bouvier
- Wind, Sand and Stars – Antoine de Saint-Exupery
- The Places in Between – Rory Stewart
- Jupiter’s Travels – Ted Simon
- The Expedition – Jason Lewis
- Barbarian Days – William Finnegan
- Feet in the Clouds – Richard Askwith
- I haven’t mentioned any cycling books. This is a tricky topic for me to comment on, having written about cycling adventure myself. I think the genre is generally poorly represented in book form. There are some good books; there are some awful ones. As I know many of the authors involved I’m going to abstain from suggesting anything in this genre. I won’t even recommend my own books… I will only suggest that you do read a few cycle touring books because cycling still trumps any other travel experiences I have ever had. And cycle touring is a brilliant starting point into the world of expeditions – a way of leveraging yourself towards bigger projects than you may otherwise initially not have any access to.
I have sporadically written other blog posts with lists of adventure books to read. So there is plenty more material for you to get stuck into:
What have I missed?
What outrages have I committed by omitting your favourite book?
Please do let me know in the comments below!
Thank you to the many people who have kindly “bought me a coffee” for just £2.50 as encouragement to keep this blog going.
“Yes, I too would like to donate a couple of pounds to this site..!”