It was reading books that originally got me excited about travel and adventure. Over the last couple of years, I have enjoyed re-reading many of the stories that set me off on my own adventures. I have been writing a book for children about my personal adventure heroes, hoping to introduce these inspiring, crazy, great adventurers to a new audience of young explorers.
I enjoyed the reading exercise so much that I decided to put together an adult reading list in the hope that I might be able to introduce you to one or two fascinating new characters.
(If you own a child, or have a child as a relative or neighbour, or if you feel kind enough to donate a copy to the local school, you can order Great Adventurers here (or here if you are not in the UK)).
I’ve sung the praises of this book before (with a selection of quotes). Here are a couple to give you a taste:
- The philosophy is still the same. Go simple, go solo, go now.
- I didn’t need to get away. I needed to get to. To simplicity. I wanted to be lean and hard and sun-browned and kind.
- Getting older, aren’t you, lady? Better do the physical things now. You can work at a desk later.
The Worst Journey in the World is probably the most majestic and impressive travel book I have ever read (even if I did get a bit bored with all the penguins and geology in the middle).
- ‘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.’
If you are interested in Cherry, the man, then this is a fine biography of one of the most intriguing men to ever haul a sled in Antarctica.
Mad White Giant was one of the very first adventure books I ever read. I’m still a bit of a giggly-groupie whenever I meet him, but I have come to know Benedict over the years and he is a delightfully decent, humble, modest, bumbling, gentlemanly adventurer. Everything you could hope for from a hero who goes on epic and dangerous expeditions.
I read West with the Night when I cycled through Beryl Markham’s Kenya. I was inspired enough to name my round the world bike ‘Beryl’. It’s an interesting insight into a faded world of colonial adventure, and a powerful, determined woman.
“If a man has any greatness in him, it comes to light, not in one flamboyant hour, but in the ledger of his daily work.”
The patron saint of long-distance cyclists, Dervla is a fabulously pragmatic, no-nonsense traveller. Her book,Â Full Tilt, was the first cycle-touring book I ever read. She has written about 25 books, travelled the world, and drunk a lot of Guinness. I’m a fan!
“On my tenth birthday a bicycle and an atlas coincided as gifts, and a few days later I decided to cycle to India…However, I was a cunning child so I kept my ambition to myself, thus avoiding the tolerant amusement it would have provoked among my elders.”
No Picnic on Mount Kenya must be the most quirky, charming, joy-filled climbing book ever written. Three prisoners of war decide to escape purely to go and climb a mountain. It’s wonderful!
Ibn Battutah set out in 1325 on the pilgrimage to Mecca. By the time he returned twenty-nine years later, he had visited most of the known world, travelling three times the distance Marco Polo covered. What I love the most of this story is imagining just how astonishing the world must have been to explore in the days when you knew virtually nothing about distant lands.
I think I must surely have said enough about As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning by now! My favourite travel book, it launched me off onto a daft but magical month of trying to busk through Spain despite being hopeless at the violin.
“I felt it was for this I had come: to wake at dawn on a hillside and look out on a world for which I had no words, to start at the beginning, speechless and without plan, in a place that still had no memories for me.”
Carrying the Fire is a fascinating account of the boldest adventures that mankind have ever undertaken. But it is written with a lightness, a humour, and a humility that I enjoyed.
“I am also planning to leave a lot of things undone. Part of life’s mystery depends on future possibilities, and mystery is an elusive quality which evaporates when sampled frequently, to be followed by boredom. For example, catching various types of fish is on my list of good things to do, but I would be reluctant to rush into it, even if I had the time. I want no part of destroying fishing as a mysterious sport.”
If you are new to his stories, Beyond the Limits is a nice summary of Ranulph’s life in adventure, accompanied by the lessons he has learned from decades of expeditions and risky living. I remember when I first read one of Ran’s books being astonished at what a vibrant, tough, determined, ambitious path he had chosen to march down in life. He was my original adventure hero, my biggest inspiration, and the benchmark I aspired to for many years.
TracksÂ reads as beautifully as a novel, the photography from Robyn’s journey is so beautiful that I originally mistook it for a fake, staged photoshoot with a model, and the film based on the adventure is one of the best book –> film interpretations that I have watched. I’m a bit in awe of Robyn Davidson – tough, bold, scary, beautiful, blooming good at writing.
“And I recognized then the process by which I had always attempted difficult things. I had simply not allowed myself to think of the consequences, but had closed my eyes, jumped in, and before I knew where I was, it was impossible to renege. I was basically a dreadful coward, I knew that about myself. The only way I could overcome this was to trick myself with that other self, who lived in dream and fantasy and who was annoyingly lackadaisical and unpractical. All passion, no sense, no order, no instinct for self-preservation.”
Dare to Do is the story of one of the most impressive expeditions of recent years. Sarah’s journey around the world by kayak, bike, and ocean rowing boat was seriously impressive, not least of all because of how much stuff went wrong along the way! I would definitely have quit the expedition halfway through, but Sarah is a seriously gutsy woman.
The Kon-Tiki is a gloriously reckless, carefree, madcap adventure yarn. A bunch of blokes who cannot swim build a balsa wood raft and launch out into the Pacific Ocean in an attempt to prove a half-baked anthropological theory about early human migration patterns. I love this book.
“In my experience, it is rarer to find a really happy person in a circle of millionaires than among vagabonds.”
About a dozen years after reading The Life of My Choice, I finally headed into the Empty Quarter desert myself. Some books linger in the mind long after you have finished reading them. Thesiger was perhaps the last of the great adventurers (it explains why I write ‘Thesiger’ rather than ‘Wilfred’). He could not abide the modern world and I am sure would scorn the likes of me today – self-titled ‘Adventurers’ who spend more time online than in the desert. Nonetheless, he is one of my heroes!
If you own a child, or have a child as a relative or neighbour, or if you feel kind enough to donate a copy to your local school, you can order Great Adventurers here (or here if you are not in the UK.)