Name any genre, it’s sure to get short shrift among those who would protect us from the ostensibly seamier threads of our readerly lives. In this case, I call to your attention, with pride and confidence, True Adventure. There’s a common perception that these are all hairy-chested, male-oriented, semi-vulgar tomes. Not so—at least not entirely—and many are happily consumed by all genders. See below and be illuminated. You’ll thank me:
No Mercy: A Journey into the Heart of the Congo by Redmond O’Hanlon
I tried to sum up this astonishingly fine book in vain, only to realize I could not do it justice, so just go read it for yourself as fast as you can. It’s on my life list of best books ever.
Winterdance: The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod by Gary Paulson
Paulson has written one the funniest, truest, most charming and ethical of true adventure stories. I tried to avoid that word “charming” because it can be anathema for some (and you know who you are). But miss reading this book and die, you’ll be that sorry.
Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster by Jon Krakauer
I not only have no interest in mountain climbing or those who engage in same but nurture anti-interest. At one time I couldn’t imagine reading a book about mountain climbers, much less caring about them, but that’s exactly what Krakauer did to me with this book. I may forgive him one day. You won’t be able to put it down, even if you don’t give a shit about mountain climbing. (Shit, by the way, is an issue.)
Young Men and Fire by Norman Maclean
Maclean is admired widely for his A River Runs Through It and Other Stories. But this title struck a personal note with me because my father served a year-long stint as a fire spotter in north-central Washington State in the 1930s, when jobs were difficult to come by. Maclean’s is a terrifying and tragic story, with fire calling all the shots.
Savages by Joe Kane
I confess straight up that I’m cynical about the seemingly endless news stories and books about the horrors perpetrated on the Amazon River basin, even while I worry over them. There are few books that convincingly bring to life the actual experience of what that degradation is, not only for that mighty river but for the people who live (and would prefer to continue to live) in its sphere of influence. This book is no chore—there’s humor and wit aplenty—yet still it’s Adventure with a capital A.
Shadow Divers: The True Adventure of Two Americans Who Risked Everything to Solve One of the Last Mysteries of World War II by Robert Kurson
I’ve no clue why I chose to read this book, it was so ostensibly not my cup of tea in at least a dozen ways (starting with my abhorrence for anything relating to submarines). But this is one delicious read and would make a great gift for the men in your life, too.
The Devil’s Teeth: A True Story of Obsession and Survival Among America’s Great White Sharks by Susan Casey.
Woo hoo, sharks… but quite a lot more, and a spectacular contemporary portrait of the Farallones, islands just 30 miles west of San Francisco.
The Cruelest Miles: The Heroic Story of Dogs and Men in a Race Against an Epidemic by Gay Salisbury and Laney Salisbury
Right, so who doesn’t like dogs? Especially sled dogs in Alaska in the frontier days of 1922, rushing precious medicine to a remote town in the grip of a mortal diphtheria epidemic. Also for anyone who ever loved or climbed on the Balto sculpture in New York’s Central Park.
A Cook’s Tour: Global Adventures in Extreme Cuisines by Anthony Bourdain
I didn’t read this book, I can’t. I’m wimpy about extreme food, though I do relish foie gras. Nevertheless, culinary adventures count—hence its presence on this list.
The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen
Published in 1978, this book is revered as the major “nature” title of its time, and more. For some readers, it is—forgive the expression, especially for a tome set in Buddhist Nepal—a come-to-Jesus book that has literally changed lives. I’m not one of those, but it is beautifully written and full of lofty sentiments. For the spiritual amongst us.