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The 13 best adventure books of all time

Review April 11, 2020 2020 Review
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By Joanna Dabrowska

Adventure literature may not be the most popular genre these days. Detective novels, fantasy books, mystery stories - these are top types of books we choose when we look for entertainments and stay-at-home activity.

However, about twenty years ago reading adventure literature (especially travel books) used to be the most popular pastime. Absorbing storylines taking place in exotic destinations captivated a reader's imagination and made the time fly super fast.

Nowadays, when travelling into the furthers corners of the world isn't the biggest challenge and fabulous photos from exotic places are available after a couple of clicks, adventure literature doesn't have such a huge impact on the society. But still, an exciting well-written book still can impress and fascinate and stir the reader's imagination.

I grew up reading all kinds of adventure books for kids and some of them inspired me to visit other countries and venture into the mountains when I got older. And I still read adventure books (not as often as I would like to tough) and think they are one of the best staycation ideas!

Looking for inspiration for an adventurous lifestyle?

Here are the 13 best adventure books recommended by fellow well-read bloggers, and myself (there are some Polish adventure books as well). The list comprises not only engrossing books for travellers but also for every bookworm who appreciates a good read.

Table of contents


1. "Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail" by Cheryl Strayed

Recommended by Michael - Books Like This One

One of the best books to inspire you to take your next adventure is "Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail" by Cheryl Strayed.

 It tells the true story of how Strayed decided to hike the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) with essentially no training or experience in doing long distance walks. The book details what it’s like to hike the PCT and the physical and mental challenges associated with the walk. It also intersperses the story of Strayed’s past and the events and personal trauma that led to her undertaking such a walk.

It’s a great book if you’re looking for inspiration for an adventure as it shows that you don’t need a tonne of experience to undertake a challenge, that small hiccups along the way are simply part of the journey and it doesn’t matter what your personal history may be.

Strayed was also excellently portrayed by Reese Witherspoon when her book was made into a feature film in 2014.

Click here to buy it on Amazon.


2. "The Sun is a Compass: A 4,000 Mile Journey into the Alaskan Wilds" by Caroline Van Hemert

Recommended by Hannah - That Adventurer

"The Sun is a Compass" is a book that tells the tale of a massive adventure (and a fewer smaller but incredibly impressive ones along the way). It's one of the most inspiring books for women who love outdoors.

This autobiographical adventure book follows the author, Caroline, and her partner as they make their way through 4,000 miles of wilderness to the tip of Alaska. This adventure was dreamt up by the pair when Caroline, an ornithologist felt she was losing her passion for the scientific research she once loves. She wished to be outside, experiencing the wildness again and following the trails and sounds of animals. 

The couple ski, hike, row and paddle their way through the wilderness fighting off bears, overcoming near starvation and more. If you've ever dreamt of doing something and thought it out of your ability, this book will show that anything is possible if you truly want to do it. It's the perfect armchair adventure that demonstrates how it's possible to fit a love of adventure into your life.

Click here to buy it on Amazon.


3. "Touching the Void" by Joe Simpson

Recommended by Sally - Book and Family Chat

"Touching the Void" is one of the best mountaineering books of all time. It tells the real-life story of Joe Simpson’s near-fatal climb with Simon Yates of Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes in 1985. The book is a great read for adrenaline junkies and appeals to those who like extreme challenges and adventure.

It focuses on describing the fall that Joe had where he crushed his tibia into his knee joint. After a failed rescue attempt Yates had thought Simpson dead, so took the heartbreaking decision to cut himself free of the rope between them in order to save himself. Once Joe realized that Simon believed him dead he managed to escape seemingly insurmountable challenges to save himself. Not only did he go three days without food, with hardly any water to sustain him, but Joe also managed to crawl and hop the 8 kilometres back to the safety of the base camp. This was considered miraculous by other climbers and has gone down in history as one of the greatest climbing achievements.

The book explores endurance, positivity and going beyond the seemingly possible. It is a motivational text for thrill-seekers.

Click here to buy it on Amazon.


4. "Dark Star Safari: Overland From Cairo to Cape Town" by Paul Theroux

Recommended by Jacquie - Flashpacking Family

Safari means ‘journey’ in Swahili and this book by Paul Theroux is all about his journey overland from Cairo to Cape Town using mainly public transport.

This inspirational travel book is a must-read for anyone who is thinking about travelling in Africa. It provides lots of practical information and insights into all aspects of African life, geography and culture and is written so beautifully. You'll feel drawn into Theroux's experiences through his descriptions of the countryside, towns and characters he meets across this wonderful continent. 

 Reading Dark Star Safari played a huge part in my decision to travel overland through Africa myself. I fell in love with the continent and have returned many times, more recently with my children. I’ve managed to explore many of the places Theroux wrote about (with a few still on the bucket list). I'm not exaggerating when I say that Dark Star Safari helped establish a deep and lifelong passion for the continent.

Click here to buy it on Amazon.


5. "The Long Ride Home" by Nathan Millward

Recommended by Pauline - Beeloved City

When it comes to inspiring adventure books, "the Long Ride Home" by Nathan Millward hits the nail on the head. 

In this book, you’ll discover the story of Nathan, a British man who goes on the adventure of a lifetime on a motorbike called Dorothy. 

The story begins in Australia, the country where he lived for a year. Although he wanted to stay longer, his visa wasn’t renewed and he had to leave the country very quickly. Although not much of an adventurer initially, he unexpectedly decides to go on a 35,000-kilometre ride all the way from Sydney (Australia) to London (UK). 

No preparation, no sense of adventure and a small postie bike… the perfect recipe for an adventure! 

You will follow Nathan on his 9-month journey and through 18 countries. More importantly, you will discover so much about the culture of each country he visits including some very underrated places such as West Timor.

Although not particularly famous, this book is a real page-turner! Nathan tells his story with passion and humour. One of the best books for travel inspiration!

Click here to buy it on Amazon.


6. "Round Ireland with a Fridge" by Tony Hawks

Recommended by Emer and Nils - Let’s Go Ireland

Have you ever made a bet when you were slightly inebriated and were dead set on winning it? Tony Hawks did exactly that with the result that he finds himself with a small portable fridge in Ireland. His task is to circumvent Ireland with the fridge within a month.

He begins his journey in Dublin and travels anti-clockwise around Ireland via Donegal, Sligo through Mayo down the west coast to Kerry, Cork and up the east coast back again to Dublin. Luckily, a radio station picks up on Tony’s crazy attempt and locals all over Ireland start helping him to complete his fool-hearted task. 

As Tony and the fridge slowly travel around Ireland, they encounter many crazy people or events, like meeting a real prince, getting the fridge christened, going surfing with the fridge and much more.

This super-successful book (it sold more than half a million copies) is definitely worth a read if you are interested in an inspiring adventure book of a different kind that is full of funny travel encounters and unexpected humour. Definitely one of the funniest books for travellers.

Click here to buy it on Amazon.


7. "My Journey to Lhasa" by Alexandra David-Néel

Recommended by Wendy - The Nomadic Vegan

Alexandra David-Néel was born in France in 1868, but in many ways, she seemed to belong to a different time and place. A staunchly independent woman who rejected her society's ideas about the role of women, she also had a deep connection with Asian culture, philosophy and religion.

After converting to Buddhism at the age of 21, she travelled all over the Asian continent to learn from Buddhist monks and lamas and eventually became one of the most renowned scholars of Buddhism in the Western world.

And in 1924, she became the very first Western woman to enter the forbidden city of Lhasa in Tibet. Her book "My Journey to Lhasa" recounts her extraordinary voyage months-long across China and over the Himalayan mountain range, disguised as a Tibetan beggar. Accompanied by a young Tibetan lama who she would later adopt as her son, David-Néel managed to stay in Lhasa for two months without her true identity being revealed.

Her story, published a few years later after her return, became an immediate sensation in Europe and remains a fascinating read today.

Click here to buy it on Amazon.


8. "Mountain High: Europe's 50 Greatest Cycle Climbs" by Daniel Friebe and Pete Goding

Recommended by Clare - Epic Road Rides

Daniel Friebe’s Mountain High is the book I turn to when I’m looking for inspiration for an adventure.

Its primary focus is road cyclists wanting to explore Europe’s mountains, but even if you’re not into cycling, it’s a great source of ideas and information for some of the most beautiful mountains to visit.

The book falls into the coffee table category and contains glossy shots of beautiful mountain landscapes. It’s ordered by the height of the pass, but there’s also a great map which shows the location of the climbs covered, so you can easily see which other mountains covered by the book are nearby. The book is packed with well-researched stories and information around each mountain pass. They give you a real sense of the geography of the area but also the world history and cycling folklore that surround the mountain roads.   

This is one of the best books for cyclists (or an armchair cycling enthusiast) but also anyone that loves mountains and wants to drive some of the most spectacular roads in Europe.

Click here to buy it on Amazon.


9. "Not Afraid of the Fall" by Kyle James

Dreaming of leaving your job and travelling for a few months? Kyle James and his girlfriend Ashley (Ash) did exactly that! This captivating memoir is difficult to put down.  Kyle’s way of tracking their travels is more than just a diary. It makes you feel like you’re traveling alongside them. However, if you’re looking for in-depth descriptions and tips on where to go, this is not the travel memoir for you. You won’t find hidden gems or see the world in rose-coloured glasses.  You won’t even find a life-changing moment. What you will find is a more honest look at travelling and what it’s like travelling with your partner for a long time.

Rather than checking off a list everywhere they go, filling their days running from place to place, spending an exorbitant amount of money – Ash and Kyle focus on embracing the day and what it has to bring. Sometimes it’s a hangover from the night before, sometimes it’s cliff diving.

My favourite part of the book, and why I couldn’t put it down, was the human element Kyle embedded throughout the story.  From the rough patches to the great pleasure exploring brought them both, to the omnipresent worry he felt about post-travel life. These are things we like to pretend don’t actually exist on vacation, but they do. It was refreshing to read someone who is relatable.

Click here to buy it on Amazon.


10. "Canoeing the Congo" by Phil Harwood

The book itself is written in a rather simple language but the adventure it depicts is phenomenal! I bet every adventurer who loves Africa dreams about rafting down the Congo River - 4,703 km long Its flow rate is the second most powerful in the world after the Amazon! It’s also the deepest river in the world, reaching depths of 230m”.

Phil Harwood is a modest ex-marine soldier who had been planning his escapade for many years. He canoed down the notorious Congo River and after describing his adventures in "Canoeing The Congo", the book became an iconic title of the African literature.

Harwood started his journey in Zambia, very close to the river source. He sailed in a small Canadian boat. He travelled mostly alone and rented guides only for the most difficult parts. One of such dangerous river spots is called The Abattoir where the locals threatened him with death. In five months he ventured through Kisangani, Mbandaka, Kinshasa, Matadi, Boma and eventually got to Banana village where the river flows into the Atlantic Ocean.

This adventure book is a real page-turner. Full of exciting experiences and beautiful descriptions of Congo nature, the book is a must-read for every lover of African nature. It's also a valuable source of information for daredevils who want to repeat Harwood's stunt.

Here are some of the most interesting quotes from the book:

  • „In East Africa, regardless of local languages, the word mazungu is generally used for a white person. The word comes from Swahili and actually translates as "someone who wanders around aimlessly". It was first used by natives in the region to describe European explorers in the eighteenth century, who must have seemed to be doing exactly that”.
  • „You can please some of the people all the time, all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all the people all of the time”.
  • „The Democratic Republic of the Congo has more lightning activity than anywhere else in the world”.

Click here to buy it on Amazon.


11. "Arabian Sands" by Wilfred Thesiger

This captivating book is Wilfred Thesiger's account of his voyage through the dry "Empty Quarter" of Arabia.

Thesiger was bored with Western life, its softness, rigidity, and, most importantly, its predictability: "the machines, the calling cards, the meticulously aligned streets." Repulsed by living in Western Europe, he decided to explore the deserts of Arabia.

Thesiger spent five years wandering the vast parched deserts. He travelled among peoples who had never seen a European and thought that killing "Christian infidels" was their most important obligation. He experienced everyday challenges of Bedouin people, their hunger and thirst, the long marches beneath the inescapable sun, the bitingly cold nights.

He was the first European to explore most of this region, and just before he left the deserts of Arabia, oil was discovered there and started the process that would change the Middle East forever.

The book describes brilliantly the dangers of Thesiger's travels, his unconventional personality and his insights into the Bedouin way of life. His invaluable record is crucial for everyone who intends to understand the modern Middle East.

Click here to buy the book on Amazon.


12. "On the Road to Babadag: Travels in the Other Europe" by Andrzej Stasiuk

"On the Road to Babadag" is a must-read for every enthusiast of Polish literature.

Presents a fascinating journey through the less popular part of Europe, which has been considered backward. Andrzej Stasiuk travels by car and train and hitchhikes through Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Slovenia, Albania and Moldova.

The author doesn't write about societies, he focuses on small local communities and on individuals met on the road.

What I especially liked about the book is that the author is modest, kind and curious. He goes along with the fact that there are many things in this world he will never understand. He visits people who earn 25 EUR per month (if they have jobs at all), he listens to them, smokes cheap cigarettes which they smoke and doesn't behave like a colonizer.

The book describes his travel adventures not only in a geographical sense but most importantly, intellectual and spiritual dimension. It's a treaty about the nature of the world, with a distinct division between try and fake. It's an expedition into the mind of a Middle Europe citizen who is totally different than Western European.

Click here to buy it on Amazon.


13. "The Journals Of A White Sea Wolf" by Mariusz Wilk

Are you looking for an unusual example of travel literature? Here's another title worth reading.

"The Journals Of A White Sea Wolf" is Mariusz Wilk's first book about Russia. Wilk is a famous Polish journalist and traveller who decided to travel to the Solovetsky Islands (also called Solovki) located in the White Sea.

Solovki, as remote and inaccessible islands, had long been used as a prison for political "offenders". During the Soviet Union era, the government created there one of the most famous gulags in Russian history.

For the author, those islands are the quintessence of Russia. On this beautiful archipelago, we can easily see all the complexities and contradictions of Russia, which are harder to grasp on the continent.

Solovki are Russia in miniature: the government's impartiality, Orthodox church, museum, local business, folksy mafia, hospital, music school, bull farm, forest company, a small factory of agar-agar, Soviet Police and custody. Municipal service is very bad but poaching thrives. There are romances and political quarrels. The legendary Russian drinking has become apocalyptic.

Wilk lived on the Solovetsky Islands for over 2 years and came to know every single of the islands' residents. 

During his stay in Russia, he wrote an unusual travel book, a beautiful descriptive work that shocked the society when it was first published in 1998. Wilk was the first author who wrote differently about Russia and he knew what he was doing - he lived there.

Click here to buy it on Amazon.

Ufff, that took me quite a lot of time

Now it’s your turn – we create this place together. It would be great if we stayed in touch.

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