National Geographic 100 Greatest Adventure Books


What are the essential ingredients in a great adventure story? The Latin root of the word, oddly enough, means “an arrival,” but adventure almost always entails a going out, and not just any going out but a bold one: Sail the Pacific on a balsa raft; pit your skills against K2; sledge to the South Pole. It is a quest whose outcome is unknown but whose risks are tangible, a challenge someone meets with courage, brains, and effort—and then survives, we hope, to tell the tale.

Like a hot air balloon, book lists inflate and ignite me.  I just stumbled across this May 2004 list. They are all thrilling, true stories. The website has a short recap of each book. Here is an abridged list of the titles (and links to Amazon) and Kindle availability. 

1.   The Worst Journey in the World (Apsley Cherry-Garrard) Free Kindle
2.   The Journals of Lewis and Clark (Lewis & Clark Expedition) Free Kindle
3.   Wind, Sand and Stars (Antoine de Saint-Exupery)
4.   The Exploration of the Colorado River and Its Canyons (John Wesley Powell) Kindle
5.   Arabian Sands (Wildfred Thesiger) Kindle
6.   Annapurna (Maurice Herzog)
7.   Desert Solitaire (Edward Abbey) Kindle
8.   West with the Night (Beryl Markham) [Used paperback $.01] Kindle
9.   Into Thin Air (Jon Krakauer) Kindle
10. Travels (Marco Polo) Free Kindle
11. Farthest North (Fridtiof Nansen) Free Kindle
12. The Snow Leopard (Peter Matthiessen) Kindle
13. Roughing It (Mark Twain) Free Kindle
14. Two Years Before the Mast (Richard Henry Dana) Free Kindle
15. South (Ernest Shackleton) Free Kindle
16. A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush (Eric Newby)
17. Kon-Tiki: Across the Pacific by Raft (Thor Heyerdahl) Kindle
18. Travels in West Africa (Mary H. Kingsley) Free Kindle
19. The Spirit of St. Louis (Charles A. Lindberg)
20. Seven Years in Tibet (Heinrich Harrer) Kindle
21. The Journals (James R. Cook) Free Kindle
22. The Home of the Blizzard (Sir Douglas Mawson) Free Kindle
23. The Voyage of the Beagle (Charles Darwin) Free Kindle
24. Seven Pillars of Wisdom (T.E. Lawrence) Kindle
25. Travels in the Interior of Africa (Mungo Park) Free Kindle
26. The Right Stuff (Tom Wolfe) Kindle
27. Sailing Alone Around the World (Joshua Slocum) Free Kindle
28. The Mountain of My Fear/Deborah:A Wilderness Narrative (David Roberts)
29. First footsteps in East Africa (Richard Francis Burton) Free Kindle
30. The Perfect Storm (Sebastian Junger) Kindle
31. The Oregon Trail (Francis Parkman Jr.) Free Kindle
32. Through the Dark Continent (Henry M. Stanley)
33. A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains (Isabella Lucy Bird) Free Kindle
34. In the Land of White Death (Valerian Albanov) Kindle
35. Endurance (Frank Arthur Worsley)
36. Scrambles Amongst The Alps (Edward Whymper) Kindle
37. Out of Africa (Isak Dinesen) Kindle
38. Journals: Scott’s Last Expedition (Robert Falcon Scott) Free Kindle
39. Everest: The West Ridge (Thomas F. Hornbein) Kindle
40. Journey Without Maps (Graham Greene)
41. Starlight and Storm (Gaston Rebuffat)
42. My First Summer in the Sierra (John Muir) Kindle
43. My Life as an Explorer (Sven Hedin)
44. In Trouble Again (Redmond O’Hanlon)
45. The Man Who Walked Through Time (Colin Fletcher)
46. K2, The Savage Mountain (Charles Houston and Robert Bates)
47. Gipsy Moth Circles the World (Sir Francis Chichester)
48. Man-Eaters of Kumaon (Jim Corbett)
49. Alone: The Classic Polar Adventure (Richard E. Byrd) Kindle
50. Stranger in the Forest: On Foot Across Borneo (Eric Hansen)

51. Travels in Arabia Deserta (Charles Doughty)
52. The Royal Road to Romance (Richard Halliburton)
53. The Long Walk (Slavomir Rawicz) Kindle
54. Mountaineering in the Sierra Nevada (Clarence King) Kindle
55. My Journey to Lhasa (Alexandra David-Neel)
56. Journal of the Discovery of the Source of the Nile (John Hanning Speke) Kindle
57. Running the Amazon (Joe Kane)
58. Alive (Piers Paul Read)
59. The Principall Navigations (Richard Hakluyt)
60. Incidents of Travel in Yucatan (John Lloyd Stephens)
61. The Wreck of the Whaleship Essex (Owen Chase)
62. Life in the Far West (George Frederick Augustus Ruxton)
63. My Life as an Explorer (Roald Amundsen)
64. News from Tartary (Peter Fleming)
65. Annapurna: A Woman’s Place (Arlene Blum)
66. Mutiny on the Bounty (William Bligh) Free Kindle
67. Adrift: Seventy-six Days Lost at Sea (Steven Callahan)
68. Castaways: The Narrative of Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca Kindle
69. Touching the Void (Joe Simpson) Kindle
70. Tracks (Robyn Davidson)
71. The Adventures Of Captain Bonneville (Washington Irving) Kindle
72. Cooper’s Creek: Tragedy and Adventure in the Australian Outback (Alan Moorehead)
73. The Fearful Void (Geoffrey Moorhouse)
74. No Picnic on Mount Kenya (Felice Benuzzi)
75. Through The Brazilian Wilderness (Theodore Roosevelt) Free Kindle
76. The Road to Oxiana (Robert Byron)
77. Minus 148 Degrees (Art Davidson) Kindle
78. The Travels of Ibn Battutah
79. Jaguars Ripped My Flesh (Tim Cahill) Kindle
80. Journal of a Trapper (Osborne Russell) Kindle
81. Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle (Derval Murphy)
82. Terra Incognita: Travels in Antarctica (Sara Wheeler)
83. We Die Alone (David Howarth) Kindle
84. Kabloona: Among the Inuit (Gontran De Poncins)
85. Conquistadors of the Useless (Lionel Terray)
86. Carrying the Fire (Michael Collins)
87. Adventures in the Wilderness (William H. H. Murray)
88. The Mountains of My Life (Walter Bonatti)
89. Great Heart: The History of a Labrador Adventure (James West Davidson)
90. Journal of the Voyage to the Pacific (Alexander MacKenzie)
91. The Valleys of the Assassins (Freya Stark)
92. Silent World (Jacques Cousteau)
93. Alaska Wilderness (Robert Marshall)
94. North American Indians (George Catlin)
95. I Married Adventure (Osa Johnson)
96. The Descent of Pierre Saint-Martin (Norbert Casteret)
97. The Crystal Horizon: Everest-The First Solo Ascent (Reinhold Messner)
98. Narrative of a Journey across the Rocky Mountains to the Columbia River (John Kirk Townsend)
99. Grizzly Years (Doug Peacock)
100. One Man’s Mountains (Tom Patey)

I’m interested in your feedback.  Which books have you enjoyed? What areas would you like to vicariously explore? Which titles look intriguing? Are the books you would add to this list?

I found this list because of my interest in Beryl Markham’s West of the Night, which I’m listening to while I garden. (I love it.) Books on my shelf: 16, 17, 27, 33, 37, 53. Books on my Kindle: every Free title. It’s a knee-slapper that someone who rarely takes mild risks loves adventure books.


10 thoughts on “National Geographic 100 Greatest Adventure Books

  1. Hasn’t National Geographic heard of Mildred Cable and Eva French, and their travels in the Gobi desert?I am astonished.  They were missionaries with the China Inland Mission, and quite indomitable.  Cable seemed to be the writer, and wrote quite a few books I think.  A quote from Wikipedia says, “A reviewer said of Cable and French’s book, The Gobi Desert, that “this may be the best of many good books about Central Asia and the old Silk Road through the deserts of Western China.”” wiki article gives more info.  Fascinating.  And an amazing missionary endeavor that should not be forgotten.

  2. I love this list!!! Thank you, thank you, thank you for finding and posting it!  Steve and I are about to go out for the evening, but I’ll definitely come back later and let you know which ones I’ve read and which ones I own, but have not yet read.

  3. Carol, we really are sisters in spirit!  I, too, am extremely risk-averse, but I love reading travel and exploration books!Here’s the ones I’ve read and enjoyed: 1, 3, 8, 9, 26, 27, 30, 35, 37, 38, 49, 58, 66, 69, 89, 95.  Here’s the ones on my bookshelf that I have not yet read: 13, 14, 17, 23, 31, 47, 52, 59, 61.  What am I interested in?  Why, all the rest on that list that I have not yet read!  I’ll soon be burning up PBS points trying to get some of those titles.  And here are books that I’ve enjoyed that I would add to that great list:Across the Limpopo: A Family’s Hazardous Journey Through Africa – Michael NicholsonThe Climb: Tragic Ambitions on Everest – Anatoli BoukreevThis Game of Ghosts – Joe SimpsonInto Africa: The Epic Adventures of Stanley and Livingstone – Martin DugardThe Travels of William Bartram – William BartramUndaunted Courage – Stephen AmbroseThe South Pole – Roald AmundsenRiver of Darkness – Buddy LevyWaugh Abroad – Evelyn WaughBlue Highways – William Least Heat MoonLeft for Dead: My Journey Home from Everest – Beck Weathers

  4. I have read many of these and really like the list.  One book that few people have heard of but that I consider one of my favorite adventure books of all time is this one:Kayaks Down the Nileby John Goddard book recounts the first ever complete trip from the sources of the Nile to the Mediterranean.  It was done in 1950.

  5. Awesome list! I’m planning on reading The Long Walk this year; my brother devoured it in less than a day, so I know it’s gotta be good. :)I’d add David Howarth’s We Die Alone to the list. It’s a superb WWII survival story. You can read my review of it here.Thanks for the list! I’ll be adding some of these titles to my Kindle library.

  6. Now this is a list I could sink my teeth into! I would start however with the grandaddy of adventure writers – John Muir. Superb writer, fascinating man. A good introduction is “The Wilderness World of John Muir”, an anthology or his “Travels In Alaska” or “My First Summer In The Sierra”. Several of his books are free on Kindle. However, for just mind boggling adventure I would put “Endurance” #1. “The Snow Leopard” by Peter Matthiesen is gorgeous from beginning to end. (Other books of his are disappointing.) Here’ a favorite paragraph from “Snow Leopard”, . “Desert Solitaire” is another favorite masterpiece. Not really an adventure story, more from the nature genre. If that one’s listed I’d have to add “A Sand County Almanac” by Aldo Leopold. For sure in my top 10 favorites of all time.

Comments are cinnamon on my oatmeal!

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