1. Wind, Sand, and Stars – by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
One of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read. Saint-Exupéry describes his adventures in the early days of aviation (think flying in pairs because it was so likely that one plane would break down, or sticking one’s head out of the cockpit to try to see well enough to navigate through bad weather) — and the language he uses rolls off the tongue like poetry.
2. West with the Night – by Beryl Markham
A beautifully written memoir of Markham’s experiences growing up in early 20th century east Africa, and about her adventures as an aviator in the early days of the flight. Full of amazing moments and inspiring stories.
3. Unbroken – by Laura Hillenbrand
This story follows the life of Louis Zamperini as he trains for the Olympics, survives the crash of his Air Force bomber only to be stranded on a raft in the Pacific, and ultimately spends a long stint as a POW in a Japanese prison camp. There’s an intensity in the writing that drew me in and made this book a difficult one to put down.
4. Kon-Tiki – by Thor Heyerdahl
Thor Heyerdahl takes an anthropological hypothesis — could Polynesia have been peopled by explorers from pre-Colombian South American cultures? — and turns it into the adventure of a lifetime, building a raft from materials that would have been available to these pre-Colombian people groups, and sailing across the Pacific with nothing but the stars to guide him.
5. A Time of Gifts – by Patrick Leigh Fermor
An 18-year-old from London decides to travel across Europe on foot, with the ultimate destination of Constantinople. It’s the 1930s, between the two world wars, and the adventures that come his way are intriguing and very different than those encountered by a European traveler today.
6. Going Solo – by Roald Dahl
If you only know Roald Dahl as the author of books like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach, you should definitely check out his autobiography about the time he spent working for Shell Oil Company in East Africa and his adventures as an RAF pilot during WWII. Full of exciting stories about venomous snakes and plane crashes and told in Dahl’s inimitable style, this book is difficult to put down.
7. The Places In Between – by Rory Stewart
Rory Stewart, a journalist from Scotland, decides to traverse Afghanistan on foot, just months after the Taliban was deposed. This is the account of his adventures.
8. In the Heart of the Sea – by Nathaniel Philbrick
A whaling ship gets rammed and destroyed by an angry whale. The crew members that remain are left adrift in the middle of the Pacific ocean, and must figure out a way to survive. Read more
9. Whatever You Do, Don’t Run – by Peter Allison
An Australian man takes a job as a safari guide in Botswana. This is the account of his many hilarious adventures with both the wildlife and the tourists he encounters. Read more
10. Endurance – by Alfred Lansing
Ernest Shackleton’s 1914 expedition to explore Antarctica turns into a near-impossible quest for survival. This gripping account of their plight is well worth the read.