Online Index to National Geographic's Top 100
In 2004 NatGeo published a list of 100
Best Adventure Books of All Time, probably the best list of its
type. If a canon of Outdoor/Adventure/Exploration literature could
reasonably be made, this might be it, at least from an American/UK
perspective. The selection process National Geographic used was rigerous
and the books are mostly primary source first-person accounts taken from
all periods of history. You won't find last years best sellers or
second-hand journalist accounts. Luckily many of the books are in the
public domain and thus freely available online in first edition scans.
The scans contain everything that made the book famous - often lacking
in later reprints - such as pictures, maps and drawings. Below are those
books from the list, that are also freely online. Descriptions are from
the National Geographic article linked above.
Catlin spent six years among the Plains Indians, and his paintings of
them are world renowned. His book should be, too. He was a brave
man.ready to take on a grizzly unaided.and a sensitive one. His book
glows with respect for these people. Much of what we know about their
lives we know because of him. Read, and give thanks.
Amateur archaeologist Stark takes the usual British attitude to
adventure.What, me worry?.as she crosses vast empty places in Persia,
dodging bandits, dodging the police, and "passing through fear to the
absence of fear." A fine memoir.
Ten years before Lewis and Clark, the Canadian Mackenzie, traveling with
a group of voyageurs, became the first white man to cross North America.
The story of their struggle to take their birch-bark canoe against the
current up the Peace River is worth a book in itself.
"If you see a man in a blizzard bending over a rock you may be sure it
is me and that I am lost." So says de Poncins in this intense and very
beautiful book about his sojourn among the Inuit in the Canadian north,
where he goes to assuage a restlessness in his soul. This is his story
of finding himself.
Angry wounded grizzly bears, boats made out of buffalo hide, fights with
the Blackfeet, semistarvation.it's all here, the life of a trapper in
the Rockies in the 1830s and '40s, as told by one of the survivors, who
kept this raw journal.
All bluff and bluster? Not Teddy. People died on this trip down the Rio
da Duvida, or the River of Doubt, which had never been mapped. Poisonous
snakes were common, close calls frequent, starvation a possibility,
fever inevitable. A thrilling book.
Irving bought an unpolished memoir by a trapper named Benjamin
Bonneville for $1,000 and then rewrote it. It was a good investment;
this lively account, stocked with incident and grand in its sweep, is
the happy result.
Three hundred would-be conquistadores land near present-day Tampa in
1528 to make Florida their own. Eight years later, four naked survivors,
our author among them, emerge from the wilderness of Mexico. Though
little known outside historical circles, this is one of the most
extraordinary survival stories ever told.
The movies have taught us to see Captain Bligh as a villain and the
mutineers as justified, but Bligh's own account, naturally, tells a
different story. Once the rebellious sailors force Bligh and 18 loyal
crew members onto the Bounty's 23-foot (7 meter) longboat, it becomes a
remarkable survival story: an open-boat voyage of nearly 4,000 miles
(6,440 km), on a scrap of bread and a half cup of water per man per day.
Ruxton was an English adventurer who visited the American West, then
returned to England and wrote this book. Technically, it's a novel (he
changed a few names), but in fact it's a more accurate look at the lives
of the mountain men than most nonfiction accounts. It's full of
marvelous stories, and its heroes are just what we'd expect: strong,
resourceful men of few words.
Imagine hacking your way through thick jungle while racked with malaria.
The country around you is in chaos and on the brink of civil war. And
you discover, despite all this, the lost city of Tikal. And 43 other
Maya ruins. Stephens is the father of American archaeology, and this is
his beautiful account of the expedition that made him so.
Hakluyt believed that England should rule the seas and develop colonies
before Spain gobbled up the whole world, and he compiled this book to
fire the ambitions of his countrymen. At a million and a half words,
it's less a book than an encyclopedia, packed with exploration and
adventure stories that run from the tales of King Arthur to Drake,
Raleigh, and beyond. It was, of course, influential beyond measure.
Herodotus tells us about five young men of the Nasamones tribe who tried
and failed to find the source of the Nile. More than 2,200 years later,
it was still unknown. In two separate expeditions, in 1858 and 1860,
British explorer Speke located and named Lake Victoria and at last
determined that this was the origin of the Nile. His book reads like
Victorian fiction-sweeping, detailed, and hip-deep in exploits.
King was a Yale man, a ladies' man, a friend of Henry Adams's, and a
geologist. While still in his 20s, he began a survey of the 40th
parallel, from the Sierra to the Rockies. He had adventures galore and
was a natural storyteller. He was also one of the first Americans to
climb mountains simply because they were there.
During his two years in the desert, Doughty traveled with camel
caravans, lived in Bedouin tents, went hungry, and faced much danger.
Then he wrote it all up in the most stylized, peculiar prose, which
nevertheless gives us a fascinating picture of a type of Arab life that
has been all but forgotten today.
Corbett was an Indian-born Englishman who became legendary for his
ability to track and kill man-eating tigers and leopards.a valuable
skill in a region where a single tiger could kill as many as 400 people.
This is old-fashioned storytelling at its best.
In the summer of 1869, young and fresh, Muir traveled through the Sierra
Nevada with a shepherd and his flock. This book is his journal, and it,
too, is young and fresh. Muir, who would become a legendary advocate for
wilderness and the founder of the Sierra Club, always played down the
dangers he faced. But this book is full, nevertheless, of bears. And
charm. It reminds you of how much wildness we have lost.
Liberia, 1935: "The great majority of all mosquitoes caught in Monrovia
are of a species known to carry yellow fever." The U.S. Army map of the
country's interior filled in the blanks with the word "Cannibals." "Have
you thought of the leeches?" someone asked Greene. He went anyway, into
the forest, on foot, village to village. Be glad. The book is just plain
Whatever else English explorers can do, they can almost always write.
And when things are at their worst, they manage, somehow, to be most
eloquent. That's the only word for Scott's Journals, with its entries
running right to the end of his desperate race home from the South Pole.
Scott's courage.and his mistakes.are known to everyone. Here it all is
as he lived it, and as he died.
Whymper is famous for his first ascent of the Matterhorn and for the
accident coming down, in which four of his companions died when their
rope broke. He was irritable and sour but also a true iron man of the
mountains. And his book ranks high among the classics of mountaineering
in part for having helped promote the very notion that peaks are meant
to be climbed.
Bird was no lady in the conventional Victorian sense but a world
traveler. She ventured through the Rockies when they were still wild,
met up with grizzly bears, and climbed Longs Peak when it was thought
impossible for a woman to do so. She had to thaw her ink on the cabin
stove to write, and she wrote delightfully.
We know him for finding Livingstone, who wasn't lost, in 1871, but the
truly adventurous trip was Stanley's next, in 1874, when the British
explorer became one of the first Europeans to run the length of the
Congo. His account of that journey reads like some wonderful old boys'
adventure tale.except that it's true.
In 1846, the future historian of the American West went west himself,
following the trail of the emigrant trains into the Rockies. "A month
ago," he writes along the way, "I should have thought it rather a
startling affair to have an acquaintance ride out in the morning and
lose his scalp before night, but here it seems the most natural thing in
the world." Generations of readers have loved this book; you will, too.
He spoke fluent Arabic and traveled in disguise to places barred to
infidels. Harer, in East Africa, was one such place, and he wrote this
extraordinary book about his adventures there. Burton was the very
archetype of the British explorer.eccentric, restless, brave. A product
of his time, he was consciously superior to the natives, but remarkably
adept at making his way through alien cultures nonetheless. You read him
for him as much as for what he accomplished.
At loose ends and in your 50s, what better way to pass the time than to
sail alone around the world? The journey took three years and covered
46,000 miles (74,000 kilometer); Slocum was chased by pirates, survived
major storms, suffered hallucinations. But he made it. He was the first
to do it alone. Then he wrote this marvelous, salty book. In 1909, he
put to sea again. This time, he disappeared.
In 1795, Park enters the African interior with a servant, a horse, some
clothing, a few trade goods, a pair of pistols, and two days' worth of
provisions. Eighteen months later, he emerges with nothing but the
clothes on his back and his notes, which he'd kept in his hat. In
between lies perhaps the best of the great early African explorations.
The grand old man of modern biology was a gentleman of leisure, a crack
shot, and no scientist when, at 22, he boarded the Beagle for its long
survey voyage to South America and the Pacific. His record of the trip
is rich in anthropology and science. (His shipmates called him "the
Fly-catcher.") The adventure comes in watching over Darwin's shoulder as
he works out the first glimmerings of his theory of evolution.
It is Antarctica, 1912, and the Australian Mawson and two other men set
out across King George Land. They find themselves in treacherous
terrain, and one vanishes into a crevasse, along with dogs, a sledge,
and most of the food. Then the second man dies of starvation and
dysentery. Blizzards rage for days, a week. Mawson endures. Mawson
lives. A fine read that has never gotten quite the attention it
Captain Cook made three voyages to the Pacific, discovered the east
coast of Australia, stove a hole in his boat within the Great Barrier
Reef, tried to find the Northwest Passage, had countless encounters with
natives.and died during one of them.and was one of the greatest
explorers the world has ever known. His Journals are a sober but
fascinating account of how it felt to redefine the boundaries of the
She went by steamboat and canoe, accompanied by native crewmen, up the
Ogooue. She fought off crocodiles with a paddle, hit a leopard over the
head with a pot, and wrote with equal charm about beetles and burial
customs. Other African explorers were more daring, none more engaging.
When she died, the British buried her at sea with full military honors.
Nine balsa-wood logs, a big square sail, a bamboo "cabin" with a roof
made of banana leaves.thus did Norwegian Heyerdahl and his companions
set sail from Peru toward Polynesia to prove a point: that the South
Pacific was settled from the east. Point proved? Maybe not, but it's one
hell of a ride.a daring tale, dramatically told.
Shackleton's story bears endless retelling (and it has been retold, in
fine accounts by Alfred Lansing and, more recently, Caroline Alexander).
Here we have it in the great British explorer's own words, quiet,
understated, enormously compelling. We all know the story: the
expedition to Antarctica in the Endurance, the ship breaking up in the
ice, the incredible journey in an open boat across the world's stormiest
seas. Though Shackleton's literary gifts may not equal those of
Cherry-Garrard or Nansen, his book is a testament, plain and true, to
what human beings can endure.
Scion of a prominent Boston family, Dana dropped out of Harvard and,
hoping to recover the strength of his eyes, weakened by measles, signed
on with a merchant ship as a common sailor. His book about his time at
sea is an American classic, vivid in its description of the sailor's
life and all its dangers and delights.
Twain lit out for the territory when the Civil War started and knocked
around the West for six years. Roughing It is the record of that time,
a great comic bonanza, hilarious when it isn't simply funny, full of the
most outrageous characters and events. It is not an adventure book, it
is an anti-adventure book, but no less indispensable.
In 1893, Nansen purposely froze his ship into the Arctic ice and
traveled with the drift of the pack. When the ship approached striking
distance of the Pole, he set out for it by dogsled, reaching the highest
latitude yet attained by man before turning back to Norway. He was gone
three years. The book is both an epic and a lyric masterpiece.
Polo dictated these tales to a scribe, a writer of romances named
Rustichello, while the two men shared a cell in a Genoese prison. Just
how much Rustichello added to the text nobody knows. Yet most of what
Polo tells us about his overland journey to Asia checks out. He traveled
during a relatively peaceful time, so this is not a book about taking
physical risks. Nor is it as accessible to modern readers as many of the
books on this list. Yet it is without question the founding adventure
book of the modern world. Polo gave to the age of exploration that
followed the marvels of the East, the strange customs, the fabulous
riches, the tribes with gold teeth. It was a Book of Dreams, an
incentive, a goad. Out of it came Columbus (whose own copy of the book
was heavily annotated), Magellan, Vasco da Gama, and the rest of modern
Powell lost most of his right arm fighting for the Union, but that
didn't stop him from leading the first descent of the Grand Canyon. The
year was 1869, and he and his nine men started on the Green River in
wooden boats. "We have an unknown distance yet to run," writes Powell,
"an unknown river yet to explore. What falls there are, we know not;
what rocks beset the channel, we know not; what walls rise over the
river, we know not. Ah, well!" Ah, well, indeed. The rapids were
overpowering. They lost boats and supplies. They ran out of food. Near
the end, three of the men lost their nerve and climbed out of the
canyon; they were killed by Indians. The others stayed with Powell and
survived. Powell himself was an unusual man.tough, driven, hard to
please. He was also a thoughtful man, a friend of Native Americans, and
a gifted geologist. It is this combination.deep curiosity allied with
great courage.that makes the book a classic.
by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark (1814)
Are there two American explorers more famous? Were there any braver?
When they left St. Louis in 1804 to find a water route to the Pacific,
no one knew how extensive the Rocky Mountains were or even exactly where
they were, and the land beyond was terra incognita. Lewis and Clark's
Journals are the closest thing we have to a national epic, and they are
magnificent, full of the wonder of the Great West. Here are the first
sightings of the vast prairie dog cities; here are huge bears that keep
on coming at you with five or six bullets in them, Indian tribes with no
knowledge of white men, the mountains stretching for a thousand miles;
here are the long rapids, the deep snows, the ways of the Sioux, Crow,
Assiniboin; here are buffalo by the millions. Here is the West in its
true mythic proportions. Historian Stephen Ambrose's Undaunted Courage
gives a fine overview, but to hear the adventure in the two captains'
own dogged, rough-hewn words, you need the complete Elliott Coues
edition in three volumes. Buy all three. Dive in. Rediscover heroism.
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