Non-fiction about the Great Outdoors
May 2, 2013 2:48 PM   Subscribe

I've recently discovered that I love reading non-fiction about the Great Outdoors and the things that happen there. I'm talking about books like 'Touching the Void' by Joe Simpson, and Jon Krakauer's books 'Into Thin Air' and 'Into the Wild'. It doesn't necessarily have to be about disasters and tragedies: I really loved this recent FPP about the Alaskan Iditarod. I want to read (but haven't yet) 'Into the Silence: the Great War, Mallory and the Conquest of Everest'. Please recommend me other books in this vein?
posted by meronym to Media & Arts (35 answers total) 75 users marked this as a favorite
I thought Blind Descent was a good read.
posted by strangecargo at 2:53 PM on May 2, 2013

'Touching the Void' won the Boardman Tasker Prize for Mountain Literature
You may like others of these, as I did
posted by canoehead at 3:06 PM on May 2, 2013

The Places in Between is a chronicle of a walk across the Middle East.

The Snow Leopard is about a quest for that elusive animal.

The Happy Isles of Oceania is about traversing Oceania by kayak.
posted by seemoreglass at 3:06 PM on May 2, 2013

I enjoyed AWOL on the Appalachian Trail.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 3:06 PM on May 2, 2013

The Worst Journey in the World! Free on gutenberg.
posted by rtha at 3:07 PM on May 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

Sailing alone around the world. Also free.
posted by craven_morhead at 3:14 PM on May 2, 2013

Assume you've read all the books about Shackleton? The stories are really good.

The keyword that is really helpful for finding books like this is "survival" including this book/website Deep Survival which analyzes a lot of those outdoor disaster things and talks about who lives and who dies. Very nerdy and interesting. There are a few categories of these books that I personally like

: You'd also probably like the journals of Dick Proenneke who moved to the middle of noplace Alaska and built a cabin and lived there. A lot of observational stuff and he even took some video which has been turned into a worthwhile movie to watch. I'd like to know more about Dorothy Moulter or Noah John Rondeau.

Sailing alone around the world: people like Josh Slocum (normal) and Donald Crowhurst (bizarre)

Shipwrecks: The Worst Journey in the World haunts me to this day and, as I said above, Shackleton

Nature lovers: I just finished Quammen's Song of the Dodo a HUGE and amazing book about island biogeography that is mostly him going around the world to learn why it is the way it is. Also Last Chance to See is notable along these lines though I haven't read it.
posted by jessamyn at 3:19 PM on May 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

The Lost City of Z is a neat look at the exploration of the Amazon. (Spoiler: the Amazon is terrifying)
posted by restless_nomad at 3:24 PM on May 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods is oft recommended (and really good).
posted by ephemerista at 3:38 PM on May 2, 2013 [7 favorites]

Seconding A Walk In The Woods and Last Chance To See (which is a poignant book by the late, great, Douglas Adams of Hitchhikets Guide fame. Last Chance To See is non fiction though dont worry).
posted by WalkerWestridge at 3:43 PM on May 2, 2013

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard.
posted by third rail at 4:03 PM on May 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey is an incredible book about one of the more iconic places in the American West, from a time before commercial tourism there.

I recently finished Wild by Cheryl Strayed, a memoir of her hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. Not strictly wilderness adventure, but I loved it.
posted by Lutoslawski at 4:04 PM on May 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

Barry Lopez!
posted by couchdive at 4:09 PM on May 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

Allow me to recommend Colin Fletcher to you, if you haven't already read his stuff. My personal favorite -- and a book I will recommend without hesitation -- is his first, Thousand-Mile Summer. I don't know if it currently in print, but your local library may have it, and it is available used. Just a perfect book. His other books are fine, too, but I'd especially recommend that one.

Also, highly recommend Alfred Lansing's Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage, a story so ridiculously over the top and epic that you have to consciously remind yourself that it's 100% true.
posted by mosk at 4:49 PM on May 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

I like Colin Fletcher as well, although I'm more partial to The Man Who Walked Through Time (hiking the length of the Grand Canyon).
posted by elmay at 5:03 PM on May 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

I just came in to recommend Song of the Dodo. I enjoyed Darwin's Armada, which is all about the voyages of exploration and science that led to the theory of natural selection. It touches on many of the same themes and people as Song of the Dodo, though. I'm in the middle of Spillover, also by David Quammen, and am really enjoying it - it's a natural history of zoonotic diseases and spends a lot of time talking about how people study these diseases in exciting locations.

Tropical Nature is a very readable, in depth look at the rainforests of Amazonia. There are some pretty great Anthropology Fieldwork narratives - you may like In The Kingdom of Gorillas, A Primate's Memoir, The Wisdom of Bones, or Faces in the Forest. Annals of the Former World is truly amazing, but it's a gigantic and in-depth book about North American geology and the people who study it - you'll never look at the west the same way.

And if you didn't read Gary Paulsen as a kid, I'd recommend checking out his work.
posted by ChuraChura at 5:04 PM on May 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Young Men and Fire is part memoir, part descriptive nature writing, part forensic fire analysis, part mystery, part history lesson. It is one of my favorite, unclassifiable books.

Here is a moving song that was inspired by the book.
posted by latkes at 5:13 PM on May 2, 2013

Seconding Desert Solitaire. I read it when I was young and, I've since come to realize, it's one of the books that helped shape me.

Also, I was just looking at one of those listicles about amazing feats of survival and remembered this very good book, Adrift. Huge bestseller back in the 80s about one man's epic struggle for survival adrift on the sea. Which reminds me of another, earlier bestseller that seemed to be everywhere in the 70s, Survive the Savage Sea, about one family's epic struggle for survival adrift on the sea.
posted by Flashman at 5:16 PM on May 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

A lot of John McPhee's work is about people and their relationship to the natural environment. I love almost everything I've read by him. I think The Control of Nature and Assembling California are my favorites. (I think I like Uncommon Carriers best, but it's not so much about nature - although in a way it is!)

I was going to link to a bunch of his books, but there are three pages on them on amazon!
posted by vespabelle at 5:19 PM on May 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Barrow's Boys: A Stirring Story of Daring, Fortitude, and Outright Lunacy. One of the best non-fiction books I've ever read.
posted by The Card Cheat at 5:24 PM on May 2, 2013

Gary Paulsen (of Hatchet fame) competed in the Iditerod and wrote a book about it, Winterdance.
posted by clerestory at 5:24 PM on May 2, 2013

Greg Child has a couple good mountaineering books, particularly Thin Air: Encounters in the Himalaya and Mixed Emotions: Mountaineering Writings

Krakauer's first book, Eiger Dreams, is a collection of his early writing. It has some good stuff in it.

Bradford Washburn's biography was interesting mostly because he was such an amazing man. I think it was written by David Roberts, who was somewhat of a writing mentor to Krakauer.

If you have an old library near you, go check out the Mountaineering section. There's a lot of old books from the early Everest expeditions that are great. Giant teams of manly men drinking and smoking their way up a mostly unknown mountain. In particular Chris Bonnington's early ones and Americans on Everest, about the early American expedition. Really any old mountaineering books are awesome.

Jonathan Waterman's In The Shadow of Denali has some good stories about Alaska and climbing Denali. He also has a book about kayaking the Northwest Passage. I think it's called Arctic Crossing.

There are two books about The Appalachian Tral, The Barefoot Sisters Southbound and another one by the same sisters following their journey back North. I found them a bit annoying in places but they're very detailed accounts of hiking the AT. There are many other books about the AT, of course.

The Bryson book about the AT mentioned above is very funny but he and his partner are in way over their heads.

A good companion to Into Thin Air is Anatoli Boukreev's account of the same deadly year on Everest. He wrote it in part as a rebuttal to Krakauer's book and there are some readers who take sides but reading both books is a good way to get a sense of the "fog of war" that existed at the time and to see how stories can change from different points of view.

Not outdoors so much, but the book Big Dead Place, about a worker at the research base in Antarctica was really good. Sadly, there was a recent FPP about the author's suicide.

Just about anything about Shackleton.

127 Hours: Between a Rock and a Hard Place is excellent, about the guy who got trapped in a canyon. There was a movie based on the book.

Alive, about the rugby players who crashed in the Andes back in the 1970s is an amazing story. Eat dinner before you read it.

Not all of these books contain stellar writing, but they are all interesting.
posted by bondcliff at 6:39 PM on May 2, 2013

Not books, however Outside Magazine is really great at this and has been FPPd a bunch.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 6:44 PM on May 2, 2013

Here's a two more I just remembered:
The Big Burn

Isaac's Storm
posted by OrangeDisk at 7:01 PM on May 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh, I forgot Minus 148 Degrees: the completely insane tale of the first winter climb of Denali. Includes death by crevasse, digit-killing frostbite, interpersonal meltdowns, and a no-win choice between eating botulims ridden canned goods and starving to death. A pretty riveting read.
posted by latkes at 7:57 PM on May 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

Another McPhee. The Survival of the Bark Canoe.
posted by Bruce H. at 8:46 PM on May 2, 2013

Shamelessly recommending a friend's new book which I've yet to read -Jim Perrin's Shipton and Tillman
But I have read and enjoyed some of his other books so it's not a totally random recommendation (The Climbing Essays is my favourite - essays yes, but about far more than climbing)
posted by sianifach at 12:45 AM on May 3, 2013

Tim Cahill. Founding editor of Outside. Often hilarious.
posted by Ahab at 3:02 AM on May 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

The Wild Trees: A Story of Passion and Daring is about the tallest trees in the world, the Californian redwoods, the unique and rich ecosystems found high up in their canopy, and the stories of the botanists and amateur naturalists who became obsessed with climbing them, measuring them and sleeping in them. If you liked tree climbing as a kid and are interested in biodiversity, you will like this book.
posted by AnnaRat at 3:51 AM on May 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Lonnie Dupre's Life on Ice. It's contemporary, kind of obscure, and Dupre is the real thing. The book chronicles several of his accomplishments. Recently, he's attempted to become the first person to solo climb Denali -- in January. His three attempts (so far) at that aren't even in the book. I've met him briefly and he's extremely down to earth, both in person and as a writer. Great stuff.
posted by LowellLarson at 10:29 AM on May 3, 2013

Oh, The Wild Trees is so great! Seconding that for sure.
posted by rtha at 10:50 AM on May 3, 2013

Edward Hoagland is a fantastic nature essayist - some essays involve adventure and global travel, with everything being reflective and well written. He lives part time in NYC and part time in Vermont - so his stories reflect both city and country perspectives about the natural world.
posted by jilloftrades at 11:47 AM on May 3, 2013

Sailing alone around the world.

After that, go for a modern take. Godforsaken Sea: The True Story of a Race Through the World's Most Dangerous Waters, by Derek Lundy, gives a nerve wracking account of the 1996-97 Vendée Globe race. The Vendée Globe is a round-the-world single-handed yacht race, sailed non-stop and without assistance.

Excerpt to get you hooked.

This is like the Into Thin Air of the oceans. ("Into Deep Water"?)
posted by Kabanos at 12:16 PM on May 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

Ultimate High, by Goran Krop. True story of a guy who rode a bicycle from Helsinki to Tibet with all his gear on the bike, climbed Mt everest alone with no oxygen bottles or sherpas, saved a few lives, and rode back to Finland.
posted by PSB at 12:19 PM on May 3, 2013

« Older snapbacks & tattoos   |   Mission: Dinner Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.