The 25 (Essential) Books for the Well-Read Explorer

The best adventure books ever written

The best adventure books ever written     Photo: Illustration by Brian Cronin

Hey, we're with you. Given half a chance, we'd much rather hit the road than the armchair. Nothing can replace the intensity of authentic experience. Yet experience needs shape and wisdom and behind every great adventure are the stories that inspired it. We read before we go; and after we arrive, free and clear in far-flung terrain and edgy places, we invariably find echoes of the voices that led us there.

The following list is devoted to books that offer the truest inspiration, the deepest reflection, the strongest provocation. These are books that seize imaginations and rattle sedentary lives.

Longtime readers will note that this is our second venture in literary list-making. The first Outside Canon, which appeared in May 1996, spanned many centuries, from Gilgamesh to Al Gore, and encompassed a host of genres, including fiction, sports, environmental manifestos, natural history, poetry, and how-to books. This time around, we were determined to drill to the core. To compile the distilled contents of a tool kit for adventure literacy. The writing, we decided, must be urgent and contemporary in spirit, so we narrowed our sights to the last 100 years or so. No fiction. No collections and no geopolitical reportage. (Otherwise, how could we pass up Cahill and Kapuscinski?) Nothing classic for the sake of self-importance we wanted two-fisted, readable works defined by an insatiable appetite for the world at its wildest. Books that do what the indomitable boxer Joe Frazier had in mind when he said, "I don't want to knock my opponent out. I want to hit him, step away, and watch him hurt. I want his heart."

These books stole ours.

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