Stories—from new to very, very old—to stoke your wanderlust
This week, we scanned Amazon's bestseller list for the highest-rated adventure books, then pulled the best, most authoritative reviews for each.
'Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail' ($10)
"There is something fascinating about the idea of going far away from everything and everyone you know, being alone in the world, and searching for who you really are in a setting where the only expectations are those you impose upon yourself. This is what Cheryl Strayed did in Wild. One of the things she discovered is that the impulsivity and lack of direction which plagued her in her real life dogged her as she trekked the Pacific Crest Trail."
'A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail' ($10)
"Friends and family have always talked to me about the Appalachian Trail and how they wish to hike it someday. I never knew the hardship one could face, and the history of the trail, until I read A Walk in the Woods. Bryson is accompanied by his old friend who is very clumsy and completely unprepared for the trail. Together, these two middle-aged men work hard every day to move swiftly across the path and in doing so, they slowly become closer and closer as friends. You do not have to be an avid hiker to enjoy Bryson’s experiences and be captivated by situations that occur throughout his journey."
'Born to Run' ($10)
"Great story. I am not a runner but do train for other outdoor activities. I now have a completely different understanding of ultramarathon runners and what it takes to love what you do and to be great at it. I had no idea what to expect going into this book other than someone insisting that I should read it. It's not a hard read and I really wanted to know what happened next with each character in the book. It moves along nicely and I am impressed with the author's ability to keep you interested. It's not about finishing or beating your best time. It's about loving what you do while you're doing it."
'The Odyssey' ($6)
"Lately, the wandering of my reading has taken me home to Homer, once again. Homer proves that the test of time is a valid one: that is, there is a reason that the writing has endured 2800 years and remains widely read. In the case of The Odyssey, it seems that the experience of Odysseus in his wandering home after the sack of Troy is the journey of humanity itself. His encounters and trials and experiences, as well as his defeats and suffering and losses, are all too human. Every human being, if he lives long enough, must come to grips with most of the experiences of the heroic figures of Homer in a version suitable to the context of our era. I sense that Homer envisioned Odysseus as a perfect human being for his heyday: he was expert in the art of war and a fierce warrior as well as highly resourceful, intelligent, fit, courageous, strategically gifted, spiritual, handsome, wealthy and highly regarded by the gods and mortal beings."
'Into the Wild' ($10)
"Into the Wild is the story of Christopher McCandless and his unique journey into the depths of the Alaskan wilderness. Krakauer makes you really empathize with the troubled young protagonist and does an excellent job balancing the narrative with his own personal anecdotes. It is abundantly clear that the author is well-versed in both the story and the whole outdoors culture, and his knowledge helps add to the book. The writing is very direct but still managed to capture my emotions and keep me engrossed in the story. The story itself would be incredible without all these other elements, but I really felt like Krakauer's talents elevated the book from just an interesting account to a fantastic piece of literature."
'Into Thin Air' ($10)
"Who can better convey the insanity of ascending nine miles vertically than a survivor giving us a first-hand account? Jon Krakauer brilliantly gave us his poignant and introspective personal experience in Into Thin Air, a severe cautionary spotlight on the fallibility of commercializing altitude chasing madness. Beautifully written, a great advantage because Jon is an experienced journalist and he is himself a mountaineering enthusiast."
'AWOL on the Appalachian Trail' ($15)
"If you want to read a book about actually hiking the AT, and not a fluffy, sappy account of someone's emotional life and trying to escape their problems and then every once in a while they're hiking on this trail, then this is the book. But be clear that this is what you will be getting; a day to day, blow by blow account of hiking the AT including the minutia, drudgery and often repetitiveness that is a part of this 2000-plus mile journey. It just is."
'In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette' ($10)
"Hampton Sides is an American historian and journalist. He recounts the astonishing trials of a group of 33 dedicated seamen determined to be the first men to reach the North Pole. The story is fraught with the perils of nature and how it diminished even the heartiest explorer’s determination to survive. While steeped in historical detail, Hampton Sides makes the recitation of the facts incredibly readable and the resulting story a riveting read. I highly recommend that you add this book to your reading list; you won't be disappointed."
'Grandma Gatewood's Walk: The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail' ($8)
"Grandma Gatewood was a 67-year-old woman, whose 11 children had grown up and left home when she decided that she was going to hike the entire length of the Appalachian Trail from Mt. Oglethorpe, Georgia to Mt. Katahdin, Maine. The key, however, is that she didn't tell a soul about her intended trip, she just took off. In addition to being the first female through hiker to complete the trail, she did it with a bare minimum of gear and equipment and she did it in the summer if 1955 when women just didn't do those things. She started in canvas top sneakers and ended up going through seven pairs of shoes."