Looking for nonfiction books about exploration-type stuff
May 26, 2009 1:18 PM   Subscribe

YABRT (Yet Another Book Recommendation Thread): Please recommend some nonfiction camping-trip reading along the lines of True North, Endurance, and In the Heart of the Sea.

The above are all engagingly written nonfiction books about exploration and/or loooooooong sea journeys that I myself would never even consider making. There were hardships: Frostbite, shipwreck, cannibalism. You know, the usual.

Can you recommend other books in a similar vein? Bonus points for seafaring tales, but that's not a strict requirement. Also, I'm not really into historical autobiographies; I prefer 20th-century accounts that provide added context and use multiple fascinating primary sources.

How's that for specific?
posted by mudpuppie to Writing & Language (24 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

Caroline Alexander's The Bounty has everything you're looking for, and was a great, great read.
posted by shallowcenter at 1:27 PM on May 26, 2009

I enjoyed Adrift!, a story about a guy who's boat sank in the Atlantic, leaving him, well, adrift for 76 days. The writing's not so great, but it's engaging.

In Harm's Way was a frightening account of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis at the end of WWII. I liked it, but then I like literally anything having to do with sharks.

To the Edge of the World is good, if a little dry. I'm only a few chapters into this one, but it's about Magellan's circumnavigation. Good stuff.

Although I haven't read them (yet) I've heard that Capt. Cook's diaries are captivating.
posted by Pecinpah at 1:31 PM on May 26, 2009

The Kon-Tiki Expedition
The High Adventure of Eric Ryback: Canada to Mexico on Foot - he was the first one I believe to through hike the Pacific Crest Trail. The book is amazing but only available now used.
To The Pole
posted by caddis at 1:35 PM on May 26, 2009

A Speck on the Sea: Epic Voyages in the Most Improbable Vessels

The title pretty much says it all.
posted by gyusan at 1:40 PM on May 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Roland Huntford's Scott and Amundsen.
His biography of Shackleton is also great, but a bit redundant if you have read Endurance.

And right up there with Endurance in terms of tales of crazy polar survival is Nansen's own account of his Farthest North. Seriously. He froze his ship in the ice on purpose hoping to drift close to the pole. He and Johansen ended up spending a year living in a hovel they built out of rocks and polar bear skins, eating only bear meat and walrus blubber.

I've also recently enjoyed The Other Side of the World about Magellan's voyage and Stephen Ambrose's account of the Lewis and Clark expidition, Undaunted Courage.
posted by Lazlo Hollyfeld at 1:41 PM on May 26, 2009

We Die Alone: a WW2 epic of escape and endurance.
It begins in the spring of 1943, with Norway occupied by the Nazis and the Allies desperate to open the northern sea lanes to Russia. Baalsrud and three compatriots plan to smuggle themselves into their homeland by boat, spend the summer recruiting and training resistance fighters, and launch a surprise attack on a German air base. But he's betrayed shortly after landfall, and a quick fight leaves Baalsrud alone and trapped on a freezing island above the Arctic Circle. He's poorly clothed (one foot is entirely bare), has a head start of only a few hundred yards on his Nazi pursuers, and leaves a trail of blood as he crosses the snow. How he avoids capture and ultimately escapes--revealing that much spoils nothing in this white-knuckle narrative--is astonishing stuff.
posted by now i'm piste at 1:42 PM on May 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

The Godforsaken Sea: Derek Lundy’s Godforsaken Sea is an engaging adventure-suspense story made all the more remarkable by the fact that it is non-fiction. The book recounts the 1996 Vendee Globe, an around-the-world single-handed yacht race. Easily the most prestigious and difficult race of its kind, the rules for the Vendee Globe are deceptively simple: the boats’ lone skippers must sail un-powered yachts in a circumnavigation of the globe that passes through one of the most dangerous areas of all the world’s bodies of water, the Southern Ocean. The sailors are not allowed to receive physical assistance from anyone on the shore or put into port themselves once the race starts, with the exception that they are allowed to return to the starting point. Also consider Lundy's The Way of the Ship.

Two Years Before the Mast is a classic, and highly readable, about a young Bostonian man's voyage around the horn and participation in the California hide trade. (might violate your historical autobigoraphy condition but truly it is an excellent and fun book written engagingly and in a natural style).

Two Farley Mowat books come to mind: Grey Seas Under and The Serpent's Coil, both highly entertaining accounts of deep-sea Atlantic tugboat operations and salvaging.
posted by Rumple at 2:14 PM on May 26, 2009

The Terror by Dan Simmons was fiction, but a wonderful, well-researched novel. I recommend it because you and I seem to have similar tastes.
posted by newfers at 2:28 PM on May 26, 2009

Savage Arena by Joe Tasker. I read a whole bunch of mountain-climbing books some years ago, and this was my favorite. Understated, humorous but elegantly-told true-life accounts of a number of Himalayan expeditions by a remarkable (now deceased) mountaineer.

Ordeal by Hunger by George Stewart. An old but good account of the Donner Party story.
posted by littlecatfeet at 3:21 PM on May 26, 2009

The Worst Journey in the World is a famous account of Scott's journey to the south pole by one of the expedition members.
posted by pombe at 3:26 PM on May 26, 2009

Trawler by Redmond O'Hanlon - funny commercial fishing adventure in the North Atlantic with a boatload of Scotsmen.
posted by readery at 3:50 PM on May 26, 2009

Two of my favorite adventure books are Shooting the Boh and Running the Amazon. Not seafaring, but about white water rafting.
posted by daikon at 4:10 PM on May 26, 2009

I really enjoyed The Hungry Ocean: A Swordboat Captain's Journey, which is written by the woman who is the captain of the sister ship to the one featured in Sebastian Junger's The Perfect Storm.

The Hungry Ocean doesn't really have a lot of peril, and no cannibals, but it is very entertaining.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 5:40 PM on May 26, 2009

might not be what you're looking for bit I really liked Tom Brown's book The Tracker
posted by Redhush at 6:29 PM on May 26, 2009

A Voyage Fit For Madmen is about the attempted solo, non-stop circumnavigation of the globe in the Sunday Times Golden Globe Race. (Don't read that wiki article if you're unfamiliar with the outcome and think you might read the book. Although even knowing the outcome of the race and fate(s) of the competitors didn't detract from my enjoyment!) The book is a light read, though some knowledge of sailing terms is recommended (but not necessary). I've passed it around to some friends, and I've found that it's either just breezy enough for those with a passing interest in the subject, or it provides the perfect overview of the tale and the players to set off a deep exploration of works written by and about the participants.

(I just checked my Amazon wishlist, and I see two books that I immediately wanted to read after finishing A Voyage... - Sailing Alone Around The World by Joshua Slocum, the first man to sail single-handedly around the world in 1895; and The Long Way by Bernard Moitessier, who participated in the Golden Globe race. Both books are autobiographical history though, so maybe not exactly what you're looking for. OTOH, they're both legendary classics of the seafaring genre, so chances are they'd be good reads regardless.)

Oh, I also recently read Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America. It's a decidedly dry read, a little too much on the scholarly and not enough on the awesome insanity of harpooning massive whales from tiny rowboats. BUT, there *are* plenty of thrilling stories if you're not afraid to skim the chapters detailing the various amounts of whale oil produced in competing colonies, &c.
posted by Banky_Edwards at 6:52 PM on May 26, 2009

Tim Severin has written a number of books detailing his adventures building and sailing ships based on various historic vessels. The Brendan Voyage is the amazing account of building and sailing across the North Atlantic in a leather coracle. The China Voyage is about the attempt to sail across the Pacific in a bamboo raft. He's built a replica of the "Argo", recreated journeys on horseback in the Middle East and Mongolia and is a terrific writer as well. Your question prompted me to check out his website and make the happy discovery that he had a bunch more books that I haven't yet read - so thanks for asking!
posted by leslies at 7:10 PM on May 26, 2009

It's not a sea tale at all but is a fantastic story of endurance and perseverance,
Escape from Colditz

posted by Confess, Fletch at 7:50 PM on May 26, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks, y'all. My library list just got very, very long.

Happy reading!
posted by mudpuppie at 8:46 AM on May 27, 2009

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