Culture Notebook

The Best New Survival Books

Plus, Outside staffers' favorite survival books of all time

The Best New Survival Books

You'll wonder as you read, "Would I have survived?" Photo: Maria Portelles/Unsplash

Though “survival” is a slightly specific genre, we never seem to run out of new books on the subject. This spring proves the point, with three new stories of nail-biting worst-case scenarios—and they’re all true.

Honeymoon Horror Story

‘Ruthless River’ by Holly Fitzgerald

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  Photo: Courtesy Vintage

Fitzgerald and her husband head out on an adventurous honeymoon in the Amazon, and... you see where this is going, right? After their plane crashes in thick jungle, they try to make their way out on a decrepit raft, with all the scary critters, mosquito swarms, and close calls that you might expect. Fitzgerald writes about her ordeal in a quick and dialogue-heavy manner, so this one’s a fast read.

All of a sudden I felt a stinging, burning sensation. It began on my scalp then ran down my neck, onto my bare shoulders and then my back, like flames blistering my skin. “I’m on fire! Please, help me!”

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Stuck in a Seven-Story Crevasse

‘Icefall’ by John All

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  Photo: Courtesy PublicAffairs

Maybe you remember All from an 11-minute YouTube video in which he films his own escape from a 70-foot crevasse on Everest in 2014. (Watch here—the scary stuff starts at 4:40.) In Icefall, the scientist elaborates on other scary run-ins from his travels studying the changing climate, from avalanches to snakes. But yes, reading about that crevasse fall is a highlight, especially since All lets us in on parts of the escape he didn’t capture on camera—considering he climbed out with 15 broken bones, we can't blame him for not filming the whole thing. 

I was being battered to lumpy meat. I was picking up speed. Faster, and hopelessly faster still. Ten, twenty, maybe thirty miles an hour, gravity pulled me down. Four stories. Five. More. How far to the bottom? No telling. Did it matter? I was dying.

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Stranded in the Middle of the Ocean

‘A Speck in the Sea’ by John Aldridge and Anthony Sosinski

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  Photo: Courtesy Weinstein Books

​There are two men on a lobster boat 40 miles from Long Island, and it’s the middle of the night. One of the men sleeps while the other works on the deck. The man on the deck falls overboard and the boat, on autopilot, drifts away from his sight. John Aldridge was that unfortunate man, and it’s pretty astounding that he survived, considering he had no flotation devices and fell into a vast stretch of ocean where it was near impossible for rescue teams to quickly locate him. Soon to be a feature-length film as well, his story is laid out in agonizing detail here—ping-ponging between Aldridge’s personal account of his stranding and the actions of his family, friends, and rescue personnel as they scrambled to locate him.

Red-hot adrenaline is coursing through me, and I am flailing, gagging on seawater, thrashing my arms as I reach for the receding Anna Mary. I am trying to run to my boat—to fly toward it—shrieking “Anthony! Anthony!”, then screaming “Fuuuuuuuuuck!” at the top of my lungs.

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Our Favorite Survival Books of All Time (in 15 Words or Less)

In the Kingdom of Ice by Hampton Sides: If an eccentric millionaire ever invites you on an expedition to the Arctic...don’t go. —Reid Singer, associate editor

Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer: You’re focused on surviving Area X, but it’s not nature you need to worry about. —Jenny Earnest, social media manager

The Tiger by John Vaillant: Massive feline with a taste for human flesh goes on rampage. —Jonah Ogles, articles editor

How to Stay Alive in the Woods by Bradford Angier: Because everyone should know how to make a bola and build a proper fire. —Bryan Rogala, video production manager

In The Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick: Such brutal descriptions of severe sunstroke that I couldn’t read without water and chapstick nearby. —Wes Judd, assistant editor

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen: More pilot skeletons than any middle schooler should have to witness, but still educational. —Erin Berger, associate editor

The Call of the Wild by Jack London: Dog eats dog. Dog eats kibble. Dog eats snow. Dog eats, well... everything. —Will Egensteiner, associate editor

Touching the Void by Joe Simpson: Iconic survival story on 21,000-foot Andean peak. Blizzards! Crevasse falls! Broken limbs! Hypothermia! Dehydration! —Luke Whelan, assistant editor

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams: We can only hope to have this much fun when the world ends. Timeless satire. —Jay Bouchard, editorial fellow

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