Although I’m fairly wimpy in “real life,” I enjoy the vicarious experience of reading about other peoples’ travails in harsh climates. Here are some favorite tales of true adventure and survival (with a bit of history thrown in):
The Cruelest Miles by Gay Salisbury
When isolated Nome, Alaska, was struck by a diphtheria epidemic in 1925, the serum needed to treat the disease was 1,000 miles away. Twenty teams of sled dogs raced through minus 60-degree temperatures to transport the medicine. This gripping account describes their epic quest, a journey that later inspired the annual Iditarod race.
Island of the Lost by Joan Druett
New Zealand historian Joan Druett writes nonfiction maritime history as well as a series of historical maritime mysteries. Island of the Lost is a compelling true account of two shipwrecks on the remote, inhospitable Auckland Island in 1864. Unknown to each other, the crews of the ships are on opposite ends of the island, struggling to stay alive. The two groups undergo remarkably different experiences, with one crew cooperating closely as a team while the other group fragments apart. Druett draws on survivor journals and other historic documents to explore the men’s fascinating fight for survival. If you like gritty true sea survival tales, you might also enjoy The Endurance by Caroline Alexander and In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick.
River of Doubt by Candice Millard
After Theodore Roosevelt lost his bid for re-election in 1912, he embarked on a treacherous expedition along an uncharted river deep in the Amazon jungle. He and his fellow explorers encountered a series of hardships including unnavigable rapids, loss of supplies, malaria, deadly wildlife and poison-tipped arrow attacks. This nonfiction page-turner weaves together outdoor adventure, biography and natural history. Fans of historical exploration accounts such as Stephen Ambrose’s Undaunted Courage will enjoy this hard-to-put-down true life adventure story.
Finally, Fergus Fleming has written a number of exciting nonfiction books about perilous expeditions into unexplored territories. In Killing Dragons, he profiles the mountain climbers of the 18th and 19th centuries who tried to ascend the Alps, a hazardous region previously believed to be home to dragons and demons.
Does anyone have other favorite true tales of extreme adventure to recommend?