Reading the Stars: Adventure Stars' Favorite Books

Fifteen of the world's best athletes, explorers, and writers pick their favorite adventure books of the past 35 years.

If you take a book with you on your trips, it gains a story of its own.   Photo: Moyan Brenn/Flickr

We challenged some of our favorite writers, athletes, and explorers to pick the single best book written since the first issue of Outside hit newsstands. The result? A reading list with titles that range from classic to quirky—and a few that define adventure in ways we hadn't even considered.


Explorers

Mike Fay, conservationist
The Last Place on Earth, by Michael (Nick) Nichols and Mike Fay (2005)
That's easy for me—not because I'm one of the authors but because it represents a sustained push over 15 years by two friends—a photographer and a conservationist—that resulted in the creation of some 17 national parks in Congo forests totaling more than ten million acres. We did it by showing everyone the wonders of those forests. Nick's photos will go down in history as the best wildlife photography of the century, flat out.

David de Rothschild. Click to enlarge.   Photo: Harry Borden/Corbis Outline

David de Rothschild, adventurer 
Beasts of No Nation, by Uzodinma Iweala (2005) 
An inspiring novel about a child soldier in West Africa. The book's power to show the resilience of the human spirit and a determination to survive against all the odds is without equal.

Will Gadd, adventurer
Touching the Void: The True Story of One Man's Miraculous Survival, by Joe Simpson (1989)
It's one of those books every climber has read or should read—it's a hell of a story.

Colin Angus, adventurer
Ultimate High: My Everest Odyssey, by Göran Kropp (1999)
In an era when summiting Everest has become ho-hum, Ultimate High—which details Swedish adventurer Göran Kropp's incredible unsupported bicycle ride from Sweden to Everest and back, and his summit without oxygen—puts the sparkle back into the ultimate climb. Göran's amicable way, unfettered ambition, and passion for adventure leap from the pages.


Writers

Bob Shacochis, writer
Equator: A Journey, by Thurston Clarke (1988)
I'll read anything by Edward Hoagland, Barry Lopez, and Peter Matthiessen. But Clarke's Equator stands out as something by an extraordinary writer who is generally overlooked. The premise—circle the globe, following the equator—is inspired, original, and infinitely more challenging than you might imagine. Clarke's writing is consistently all of the above and more. The man is as intrepid as Redmond O'Hanlon, and his insights, like his spellbinding narratives and the ever-rich quality of his prose, are unforgettable.

Tom Bissell, writer
Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West, by Cormac McCarthy (1985)
It's the quintessential American novel: violent, beautiful (even if the beauty is often obscene), haunted by the authoritarian god of the Old Testament (embodied by the Ahab-like character known as Judge Holden), and above all completely uncanny and weird. In its depiction of cowboys and Indians locked in vicious insurgency warfare, Blood Meridian becomes almost like the Iliad of Old West America.

David Quammen, writer
Charles Darwin: Voyaging (1995) and Charles Darwin: The Power of Place (2002), by Janet Browne
Browne's magisterial two-volume biography of Charles Darwin has been hugely valuable and impressive to me.

Tim Flannery, writer
The Origins of Virtue: Human Instincts and the Evolution of Cooperation, by Matt Ridley (1997)
A spellbinding exposé of how human economics is an outgrowth of our species's evolutionary experience—and of how trade in particular has created some human virtues. It gave me hope that our economic system can be reformed to deliver a better outcome for all humanity.

Pico Iyer, writer
Mason & Dixon, by Thomas Pynchon (1997)
Mason & Dixon may well be the greatest American epic since Melville. For those of us who believe that the Summer of Love is at least as important as any winter of our discontent, for those of us who long to see Hunter S. Thompson brought into the same sentence as Samuel Johnson, and for those who suspect that the American West may conceal truths and possibilities that nothing in New York can match, Mason & Dixon is the kind of work that can change our lives, by showing us that we and our country, our minds, our language had riches inside that could never have been guessed at. In that respect, it was the greatest trip I've taken in recent years, an adventure as mind-altering (as fun, as full of excitement) as any journey I have ever made.


Climbers and Mountaineers

Conrad Anker. Click to enlarge.   Photo: Colin Angus

Conrad Anker, mountaineer
Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Fight Terrorism and Build Nations... One School at a Time, by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin (2006)
A climber befriends the people of the Karakoram and turns the friendship into something positive—a great humanitarian story.

Steph Davis, climber
Thirteen Senses: A Memoir, by Victor Villaseñor (2001)
Intense, funny, magical, wild, spiritual, and passionate. Villaseñor says that members of Western societies who believe that we have five senses, period, have blinders on. I am always exploring my senses and my mind—it's why I'm a climber.

Jimmy Chin, mountaineer & photographer
Into the Wild, by Jon Krakauer (1996)
A beautiful and tragic story. Christopher McCandless's aimlessness, fierce in-dependence, and search for solace and peace in wild places are things that I relate to. McCandless gave himself entirely to the wild, and it devoured him. Though it hasn't yet devoured me, I relate to that part, too.

Kit DesLauriers, ski mountaineer
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, by Barbara Kingsolver, with Steven L. Hopp and Camille Kingsolver (2007)
The true story of the authors' one-year commitment to eating only locally grown foods. It's an amazingly timely statement on the way we've been feeding ourselves over the past 30-plus years, which, in a nutshell, has been in a nonsustainable and less than optimally healthy way.


Skateboarders and Surfers

Tony Hawk, skateboarder
Into Thin Air, by Jon Krakauer (1997)
Gives you the firsthand excitement and drama (and tragedy) of the quest to summit Everest. It's the kind of book that can only be felt—no cinematic adaptation could ever do it justice.

Layne Beachley, surfer
Life of Pi, by Yann Martel (2001)
An incredibly inspirational novel about a young Indian boy stranded on a small lifeboat in the Pacific for months—with a tiger, a zebra, a hyena, and an orangutan. I could not put it down.

From Outside Magazine, Oct 2007 Get the Latest Issue
 

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