[Compiled by Miles Harvey
and the editors of
in May, 1996]
Sailing Alone Around the World, by Joshua Slocum. Slocum was the first man to circumnavigate the globe single-
handed, in a 37-foot boat that he rebuilt himself from a derelict oyster sloop. In this lovely 1899 book, he recounts one life-threatening escapade after another with unwavering Victorian good cheer. Sheridan House.
- by Heinrich Harrer. Austrian mountaineer Harrer had the bad luck to be in Karachi when Britain declared war on Germany in 1939. He was arrested and sent to an internment camp in northern India. He escaped, made a perilous mountain trek to Tibet, and eventually became pals with the young Dalai Lama. His 1953 book tells his story-intense and incredible. J. P. Tarcher.
Seven Years in Tibet,
- by Mark Twain. "A long sea voyage not only brings out all the mean traits one has, but raises up others he never suspected he possessed, and even creates new ones," writes Twain in this darkly hilarious 1869 account of a "pleasure excursion" to Europe and the Middle East. Who but Twain could have initiated the flip, no-bullshit style emulated by travel writers ever since? Signet Classics.
The Innocents Abroad,
- by Beryl Markham. Ernest Hemingway declared that after reading Markham's graceful memoirs, "I was completely ashamed of myself as a writer." Largely ignored when first brought out in 1942, this lively account of a childhood in Kenya and a career as a record-
West with the Night,
breaking aviator was a huge hit after being republished in 1983. North Point Press/Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
- Out of Africa, by Isak Dinesen. Dinesen's account of life on a Kenyan coffee plantation, full of sharp vignettes about native people and wildlife, is fascinating --- all the more so when read side-by-side with Beryl Markham's West with the Night. The two works cover the same countryside and many of the same characters, including men who played important roles in the lives of both of these exceptional women. Modern Library.
- by Jan Morris. "You could do a lot worse than Hico," Morris writes about a town in Texas --- no small praise from a travel writer who during the course of a 40-year career has been everywhere and done everything. In this fine collection, published in 1984, Morris takes us from the Lone Star State to Australia to Yugoslavia to China, with many delightful diversions along the way. Oxford University Press.
- by Colin Thubron. Thubron won a couple of literary awards for this wild account of a brutal solo journey into the enigmatic land of "a billion uncomprehended people." During the course of the 10,000-mile trip, he tours underground nuclear shelters, visits a tongue doctor whose diagnoses include "insufficient Yin," and has an uneasy night's sleep in the bed of the late Chairman Mao. Out of print.
Behind the Wall: A Journey Through China,
- by Jamaica Kincaid. "The thing you have always suspected about yourself the minute you become a tourist is true: A tourist is an ugly human being," writes Kincaid. And in this powerful 1988 polemic, in which she writes with passion and precision about her native Antigua, she looks at travel through the eyes of the visited rather than the visitor, exploring the links among tourism, imperialism, and racism. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
A Small Place,
- by Bruce Chatwin. The gifted author of In Patagonia looks at the way Australian aborigines map their world by ritual singing as they travel-and in doing so explores our contradictory urges to own land and to wander. Viking Press.
- by Tim Cahill. The Outside editor-at-
Jaguars Ripped My Flesh,
large happens to be one of the world's funniest and finest bards of adventure travel. This feverish collection takes him from the jungles of Peru, where he searches for the ruins of a lost civilization, to the cloud forests of Rwanda, where he follows gorillas, to the icy waters of Alaska, where he kayaks among orcas. Vintage Books.
- by Paul Theroux. Theroux's first travel book, about a hilariously improvised railway journey from London to Tokyo, became a surprising 1975 best-seller and launched the career of one of the world's top misadventure writers. Viking Press.
The Great Railway Bazaar: By Train Through Asia,
- by Wilfred Thesiger. An enterprising Brit travels to the Empty Quarter to satisfy that proverbial "urge to go where others had not been." This lively 1959 story of grueling adventures includes forward-looking insights into the Bedouin culture and the environment. Penguin Books.
- by V. S. Naipaul. Naipaul's return to India, the land of his ancestors, has been criticized as being politically incorrect, but it is undeniably fine travel writing, full of humor and disturbing details. Peter Smith Publisher.
An Area of Darkness,
- edited by Mary Morris. Morris has put together an extraordinary and sometimes offbeat collection that includes everyone from pioneering eighteenth-
Maiden Voyages: Writings of Women Travelers,
century feminist Mary Wollstonecraft to Vita Sackville-West to Joan Didion. Vintage Books.
- by Randy Wayne White. Outside's ever-amusing "Out There" columnist travels the globe in search of adventure and absurdity-and always finds both, in locales ranging from a plush health spa in Florida to the terrorist-infested mountains of Peru. Henry Holt.
Batfishing in the Rainforest: Strange Tales of Travel and Fishing,
- by Maurice Herzog. After being swept off his feet in an avalanche and left dangling by a rope around his neck, Herzog "began to pass water, violently and uncontrollably." Your reaction may be only slightly less extreme as you move from one nail-biting moment to the next in this wonderful 1953 tale of triumph and frostbite. Out of print.
Annapurna: First Conquest of an 8,000-Meter Peak,
- by Apsley Cherry-Garrard. Cherry-Garrard was one of the men who survived Robert Falcon Scott's doomed 1910-1913 Antarctica expedition. During the journey, he and his companions had to endure temperatures so cold that "we began to look upon minus fifties as a luxury." And although Cherry-Garrard maintains that "no words could express [the trip's] horror," he gives it an unforgettable try in this book, originally published in 1922. Carroll & Graf Publishers.
The Worst Journey in the World,
- by Gabriel Garcia Márquez. First appearing as a series of newspaper articles in 1955, early in the Nobel Prize-winning novelist's career, this creepy nonfiction work tells the story of a Colombian sailor who survived for ten days in a lifeboat without food or water after being washed overboard in the Caribbean. Vintage International.
The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor,
- by Redmond O'Hanlon. "But they eat people there! They're cannibals! Blowpipes! Phut. Phut. You die," a helpful official warns O'Hanlon at the beginning of this book. But perils be damned, nothing stops him from making a harrowing and hilarious journey into wildest Borneo. Vintage Books.
Into the Heart of Borneo,
- by Jon Krakauer. Was Chris McCandless a nut case or simply another idealistic thrill-seeker in search of the ultimate adventure? Krakauer, a contributing editor of Outside, handles the question ingeniously in this story of a complex character who starved to death after giving away $24,000 in savings and walking into the Alaskan bush, determined to live off the land. Villard Books.
Into the Wild,
- by Evelyn Waugh. A great tale of not getting there: In this 1934 account-hilarious in spite of its colonialist stereotyping-Waugh attempts a difficult expedition through British Guiana and Brazil but gets stranded in a backwater Amazon town inhabited by people "naturally homicidal by inclination." Out of print.
Ninety-Two Days: The Account of a Tropical Journey Through British Guiana and Part of Brazil,
- by Eric Newby. Near the end of this epic mountaineering misadventure in Afghanistan, Newby passes a group of lepers. "That's about all we've got left to catch," comments his ever-wry sidekick, Hugh. Written in 1958, Newby's story of dysentery, ill-fitting boots, and failed climbing is a comic masterpiece.
A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush,
The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst, by Nicholas Tomalin and Ron Hall. In 1968, Crowhurst attempted to become the first person to sail solo around the world without stopping. His boat broke down first, then his mind. For months, he drifted aimlessly in the Atlantic, sending fraudulent reports about his progress back to London, slowly coming to believe that he was the son of God. Somehow, Tomalin and Hall make marvelous sense of this fascinating and bizarre story of madness and tragedy at sea. International Marine.
- by Isabelle Eberhardt. They don't make them like Isabelle Eberhardt anymore --- then again, they never did. Traveling widely in North Africa at the turn of the century, she became a Muslim, dressed as a man, and engaged in more than her share of kif-smoking and random sex. This odd little collection offers fascinating glimpses into what the author herself describes as "the life of an adventurous soul." City Lights Books.
The Oblivion Seekers and Other Writings,
- by Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca. Talk about tough trekking: In this curious little wonder of a book, originally published in 1542, a Spanish conquistador recounts an eight-year, 6,000-mile walk to Mexico that began as an ill-fated exploration of Florida in 1527. University of New Mexico Press.
Adventures in the Unknown Interior of America,
- by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. They shot "buffaloe." They were stung by "muskeetors." They found an inland route to the Pacific "ocian." But hey-President Thomas Jefferson wasn't paying them for their spelling ability. The quirky and at the same time majestic log of the most important trip in American history, published in book form in 1904, a century after the trip itself, never ceases to fascinate. Viking Press.
The Journals of Lewis and Clark,
- edited by William Kittredge and Annick Smith. Kittredge and Smith-each a brilliant chronicler of the West-have put together a literary anthology as grand as the state itself. More than 1,100 pages long, it covers everything from Indian myths to the accounts of early explorers to the work of contemporary writers such as James Welch, Ivan Doig, and Richard Ford. Montana Historical Society Press.
The Last Best Place: A Montana Anthology,
- by William Bartram. In 1773, Bartram undertook the first botanical exploration of the then-wild terrain of the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida. His widely influential account, full of beautiful Cherokee maidens, noble Creek warriors, and "blessed unviolated spot[s] of earth," was published 18 years later and is still a delight. Dover.
The Travels of William Bartram,
- by Ian Frazier. Frazier, a rare satirist who understands the difference between real humor and hip smugness, drives 25,000 miles up and down and across the often overlooked region between Montana and Texas. His account-which take us from the spot where Sitting Bull's cabin stood to a house once terrorized by Bonnie and Clyde to an abandoned Cold War command center-is equal parts absurdity and profundity. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
- by Verlyn Klinkenborg. "If farmers were at all disposed to rhapsody," writes Klinkenborg, "they might get eloquent about [their] work." Luckily, we've got Klinkenborg to get eloquent for them in this lively account of visits to rural Minnesota, Iowa, and Montana at haying season. Who would ever have guessed that alfalfa could be so interesting? Lyons & Burford.
- by Edward Hoagland. "In the cabin I'm in, a grizzly skin is pinned to the wall like a spread-eagled moth. I should probably note that I'm allergic to it," writes Hoagland in his first book of travel writing, which set the contrarian tone for the extraordinary career that has followed. Sierra Club Books.
Notes from the Century Before: A Journal from British Columbia,
- by Jonathan Raban. Raban's tragicomic tale of his three-month, 2,000-mile boat trip down the Mississippi is among the best works of a growing genre of Twain-inspired Big Muddy travelogues. Picador.
Old Glory: An American Voyage,
- by Annie Dillard. Hard upon its 1974 publication, this Pulitzer Prize-winning meditation produced a plague of Dillard wannabes, yammering on endlessly about their supposed mystical revelations in nature. But what distinguishes the real thing is Dillard's grace, wit, and flat-out talent to convince us that she experiences religious ecstasy at the sight of a muskrat in her local creek --- and to make us feel it ourselves. HarperCollins.
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek,
- by Mary Austin. "So stupid and tiresome and dull!" That was the way Mark Twain viewed the desert, and few argued with him until Austin came along. This pioneering collection, published in 1903, brings to life the fascinating and complex worlds, both natural and human, of the American Southwest. University of New Mexico Press.
The Land of Little Rain,
- by Barry Lopez. The Antichrist lives in the Arctic --- at least that's what seventh-century theologians believed. It's just one of the many fascinating notions that Lopez ponders in his monumental 1986 look at the Arctic's place in the human imagination, a study that took him to every corner of this vast and stunning landscape. Bantam Books.
Arctic Dreams: Imagination and Desire in a Northern Landscape,
- by Wallace Stegner. Anyone unfamiliar with the late Stegner's work need only read this eclectic set of essays, published in 1969, to understand the deep respect --- even love --- with which he's regarded by present-day writers about wilderness and the West. "We simply need... wild country available to us," he writes, "even if we never do more than drive to its edge and look in. For it can be a means of reassuring ourselves of our sanity as creatures, a part of the geography of hope." Out of print.
The Sound of Mountain Water,
- by John McPhee. "I'd kill the last pregnant wolf on earth right in front of the president at high noon," declares one of the many unforgettable characters in this even-handed look at environmental issues that faced the Alaskan wilderness in the midseventies and that have only intensified since. Coming into the Country, published in 1977, ranks among the finest of this gifted writer's works. Noonday Press/Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Coming into the Country,
- by John Steinbeck. Steinbeck contemplates Hitler, Marx, and Henry Ford on one page and then moves on to naked mollusks and keyhole limpets in this remarkable and offbeat 1951 journal of a scientific expedition he took with marine biologist E. F. Ricketts to the Gulf of California. Viking Press.
The Log from the Sea of Cortez,
- by Terry Tempest Williams. Williams juxtaposes two types of inundation-the changing water level in the Great Salt Lake, which devastates a local bird refuge, and the spread of cancer through her mother's body. The result is a strikingly original book, both a meditation on the horror of death and a celebration of the raw power of life. Vintage Books.
Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place,
- by Diane Ackerman. "I often find things renewing about ordeal," writes Ackerman. And in this rollicking set of hands-on essays about exotic animals, her ordeals are the reader's delight, whether she's floating with whales off Patagonia or straddling alligators in Florida. Random House.
The Moon by Whale Light: And Other Adventures Among Bats, Penguins, Crocodilians, and Whales,
- by Stephen Jay Gould. How did Homo sapiens come to be? According to Gould, the answer has more to do with plain old luck than with the supposed superiority of the species. In this gripping work on unusual 530-million-year-old fossils found in the Canadian Rockies, the noted science writer argues that evolution works more like a big lottery than a competition in which only the strong survive. W. W. Norton.
Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History,
- by Edward O. Wilson. Scientists know of at least 750,000 species of insect --- but that's mostly a comment about what we don't know: The tropical rainforests may hold tens of millions more. In this authoritative book, the Harvard entomologist and Pulitzer Prize winner tells us why biodiversity is important --- and why the insects won't be the only victims of rainforest destruction. Harvard University Press.
The Diversity of Life,
- by David Quammen. For those Outside readers who find themselves craving Quammen's wry, incisive view on all things natural, this first collection of his columns is a must. It delightfully digresses on everything from sea cucumbers' anuses to virgin birth among turkeys and is a wonderful introduction to the books that have followed it: his 1988 essay collection The Flight of the Iguana and the much-anticipated and just-published The Song of the Dodo. Avon Books.
Natural Acts: A Sidelong View of Science and Nature,
- by Loren Eiseley. Trivia quiz for Talking Heads fans: Who first used the repeated phrase "once in a lifetime," writing about the flow of water? Apparently David Byrne is among the many admirers of these lyrical essays on the origins and future of the universe. Some of the science in this 1959 work is now outdated, but Eiseley's prose is brilliant --- same as it ever was. Vintage Books.
The Immense Journey,
- by Michael Pollan. Like a Venus's-flytrap, Second Nature appears innocuous but packs a mean bite. Disguised as just another gardening tome, it is in fact a muscular meditation on the natural world, covering everything from Thoreauvian philosophy to raccoon turds. Bantam Books.
Second Nature: A Gardener's Education,
- by Ralph Waldo Emerson. "So we shall come to look at the world with new eyes," writes Emerson. Prophetic words indeed: This revolutionary exploration of humankind's mystical links to the environment, published in 1836, inspired everyone from Thoreau to Annie Dillard. Beacon Press.
- by Roderick Nash. Nash's groundbreaking and engrossing 1967 look at our culture's changing views of nature takes us from Puritan days, when Cotton Mather preached that the wilds were full of "Droves of Devils" and "Fiery Flying Serpents," to the beginnings of the modern era. Yale University Press.
Wilderness and the American Mind,
- by Gary Snyder. "A rude thought about a Ground Squirrel or a Flicker or a Porcupine will not go unnoticed," Snyder writes. From anybody else such statements would be cause to break out the lithium, but from the Pulitzer Prize-
The Practice of the Wild,
winning poet and Zen philosopher they make brilliant sense, especially in this fine collection of essays on humankind's need for wildness. North Point Press/Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
- by Donald Worster. The label "ecologist" has been applied to everyone from Darwin to the Unabomber. So what does it mean? That's the question that environmental historian Worster probes in this immensely interesting book. By looking at the diverse ideological paths that led to modern environmentalism, he offers profound clues about the road ahead. Cambridge University Press.
Nature's Economy: A History of Ecological Ideas,
"The Significance of the Frontier in American History," by Frederick Jackson Turner. Turner's landmark essay --- still highly readable after more than 100 years --- argues that the very wildness of the American continent stripped settlers of their European ways and fostered individualism, independence, and democracy. Hugely influential among historians, Turner's argument gave Cotton Mather's nasty old wilderness a righteous new image: birthplace of American virtue. In Early Writings of Frederick J. Turner, Irvington Publishers.
The Age of Missing Information, by Bill McKibben. McKibben conducts a strange experiment. First, he watches a single day's worth of cable TV programming --- more than 1,000 hours of tape. Then he spends 24 hours camped on a mountaintop. What's fascinating here is not his obvious conclusion --- nature is better --- but his fine, penetrating observations about both worlds. Penguin Press.
- by Stephen J. Pyne. "Fire and humans have coevolved, like the bonded strands of a DNA molecule," writes Pyne in a sweeping historical treatise that examines our world's love/hate relationship with conflagration. His engrossing ideas leave bright embers in the memory. Henry Holt.
World Fire: The Culture of Fire on Earth,
- by Robert Pogue Harrison. The forest has been populated by a variety of strange creatures in the human imagination, from jolly green giants to goddesses wearing garlands of bull testicles. In this subtle book-surprisingly accessible for a scholarly treatise --- Harrison looks at what our mythical, literary, and artistic conceptions of the forest tell us about ourselves. University of Chicago Press.
Forests: The Shadow of Civilization,
- by Keith Thomas. Full of deliciously bizarre events and characters-such as a British lord who kept pet leeches, which he named after prominent surgeons-this superb book looks at the period between 1500 and 1800, when Western culture began to develop a revolutionary new respect for the natural world. Pantheon Books.
Man and the Natural World: A History of the Modern Sensibility,Outside Magazine
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