Near Death Non Fiction
March 26, 2009 7:52 PM   Subscribe

Please recommend me a book about disaster/survival along the lines of Shackleton's 'South', Jon Krakauer's 'Into Thin Air' or 'Between a Rock and a Hard Place'.

The last one of these is about a guy who ends up cutting off his own arm to free himself from under a rock in the Utah desert, which is kind of a vibe I'm shooting for: a non-fiction book about a person/people who got themselves into a terrible near-death or dangerous situation, but managed to survive.

Do you have any recommendations of non-fiction books along these lines? I feel like reading something like this, especially if it is well-written.
posted by dydecker to Writing & Language (23 answers total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
"Touching the Void" by Joe Simpson. I have not read the book, but I did see the movie. It is an absolutely amazing story.
posted by octojon at 7:58 PM on March 26, 2009 [3 favorites]

Godforsaken Sea by Derek Lundy

The Ice Master by Jennifer Niven

In The Heart of the Sea: Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick.

Shackelton's Forgotten Expedition by Beau Riffenburgh

Annapurna by Maurice Herzog

Those were next to each other on my shelf.
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:58 PM on March 26, 2009

How about Skeletons On the Zahara? You can read an excerpt here.
posted by HopperFan at 7:59 PM on March 26, 2009

The Worst Journey in the World
posted by X4ster at 8:06 PM on March 26, 2009

The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard (Amazon link).
posted by not that girl at 8:11 PM on March 26, 2009

The Snake Charmer by Jamie James. Here's the first chapter gratis.
posted by micketymoc at 8:16 PM on March 26, 2009

Desperate Journeys, Abandoned Souls... it's been around for about 10 years but is among my favorite. It is a nice thick book full of the stories of people over the past 300-400 years who have been marooned, shipwrecked, or lost. It uses many long excerpts from journals and has exquisite detail.
posted by crapmatic at 8:28 PM on March 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Came in here to recommend this:
In The Heart of the Sea: Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick.

but Devils Rancher beat me to it. Nomination seconded.
posted by CRM114 at 8:29 PM on March 26, 2009

We Die Alone by David Howarth. A Norwegian resistance commando attempts to infiltrate Nazi-occupied Norway in early spring, runs into some incredibly bad luck, and ends up lying alone in a snow trench for a month or so, during which time he is forced to amputate nine of his own toes (among other adventures).

Two anthologies which contain a number of these sorts of stories are:

Points Unknown, which is a general anthology of adventure writing (you'll want to look in the section called "Ordeals");


The Ends of the Earth: An Anthology of the Finest Writing on the Arctic and the Antarctic. There's something about those polar regions which makes for terrible, terrible experiences.
posted by Commander Rachek at 8:30 PM on March 26, 2009

Devi's Rancher, you and I should compare bookshelves. Seconding "AnnaPurna" and the many variations of Shackelton's expedition, I would add
Mawson's Will, also an Antarctic survival non-fiction.
Sailing Alone Around the World (1898)

Other Mountaineering on my shelf:
Everest the Hard Way
Hall of the Mountain King

And, for a historical angle of old time Mountain Men:
Jedediah Smit and the Opening of the West

Journal of a Trapper, by Osborne Russell, 1834

Joe Meek, the Merry Mountain Man

Finally, you can't go wrong reading the Journals of Lewis and Clark. It may not include the kind of 'near death' experience like Sir Douglas Mawson, but don't overlook the achievement of traversing 3000 miles of unknown wilderness over 2 1/2 years (in 1804!) without a single fatality.
posted by TDIpod at 8:48 PM on March 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

You might enjoy Not Without Peril.
posted by blaneyphoto at 9:07 PM on March 26, 2009

If you enjoyed "Into Thin Air", you may benefit from reading "The Climb" by the late Anatoli Boukreev Amazon link. Its another view of the 1996 disaster on Everest by one of the guides of the Mountain Madness expedition. Boukreev comes in for some criticism in Krakauer's tome, this is his response. I remember feeling quite negative towards Krakauer after finishing this other work. Boukreev was a guy who single-handedly set out on repeated, and partly sucessfull, rescue missions of other climbers when no-one else had the energy/courage to do so. In short a hero. Sadly he lost his life on a later expedition in '97.
posted by stumpyolegmcnoleg at 9:25 PM on March 26, 2009

Excellent suggestions here, pretty much all the ones I was thinking of. Also:

Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors, by Piers Paul Read
Adrift: Seventy-six Days Lost at Sea by Steven Callahan
Jungle: A Harrowing True Story of Survival by Yossi Ghinsberg

On a slightly lighter, but no less ballsy note, Try J. Maarten Troost, Tim Cahill, Redmond O'Hanlon, and Richard Grant's "God Middle Finger" one of the best travel books of the past 5 years.
posted by dawson at 9:38 PM on March 26, 2009

It's not near-death but it is about being in the woods and I thoroughly enjoyed it, Bill Bryson's "A Walk in the Woods."

Also, since no one has mentioned it yet, "The Perfect Storm"
posted by From Bklyn at 2:54 AM on March 27, 2009

Definitely Touching the Void. It's a great book.
posted by OmieWise at 6:20 AM on March 27, 2009

The Long Walk was a great read, thought the truth of the story has been challenged.
posted by bajema at 8:59 AM on March 27, 2009

Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors, by Piers Paul Read

Definitely a classic in the genre, but I liked the first-person acoount in Miracle in the Andes even better. Deep Survival is a collection of this sort of story with some analysis thrown in. There was an earlier question along these same lines but I don't have time to find it now and it is not showing up in the related questions box. You might want to look for it, though.
posted by TedW at 9:35 AM on March 27, 2009

I love these kind of books. About 50 pages in, The Lost City of Z is turning out to be pretty good.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 10:58 AM on March 27, 2009

Oh yeah, as far as Shackleton goes, I really liked the book "Endurance" the best.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 10:59 AM on March 27, 2009

This might be the thread I was thinking of, although I could swear I replied in that one too. It contains both fiction and non-fiction.
posted by TedW at 11:04 AM on March 27, 2009

Thanks a lot for all your suggestions here! I want to favourite them all
posted by dydecker at 11:17 AM on March 27, 2009

Here is the actual thread I was thinking of, for even more vicarious excitement.
posted by TedW at 1:20 PM on March 28, 2009

While there is more to the book than a survival story, many of the escapes in Papillon qualify.
posted by the latin mouse at 4:26 AM on March 29, 2009

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