It's human nature to crave adventure. When we let our minds wander past what's familiar, what's expected, and perhaps what's grown monotonous, we can begin to form the outline of a different experience—and that possible change can be alluring. For some, adventure is a fresh start—the answer to feeling unfulfilled, sad, or restless. Maybe adventure awaits because of a job or a long-held goal. Or sometimes adventure arrives as nothing more than a simple need to see the world.
And for those of us who are content enough to just read about adventure, there have been plenty of people who've published stories about thrilling tales, so all we need to do is sit back and turn the pages.
We found 15 adventure books that will get your heart pumping and mind racing as you travel around the world with present and past explorers. These stories illustrate challenging and entertaining scenarios, and they might make you curious enough to one day set out on your own epic tale.
Here are our picks for the best adventure books to read now.
Wild by Cheryl Strayed
Faced with the unrelenting pain of her mother's death and the end of her marriage, Cheryl Strayed decides that the best way she can begin to heal is by hiking the full length of the Pacific Crest Trail. Strayed's memoir details her solitary experiences on this grueling expedition with the type of vulnerable openness of a close friend—it's heartbreaking and painful at times, but ultimately inspiring and reassuring. You'll also enjoy the film version of Wild, too, with Reese Witherspoon starring as Strayed.
Travels in Siberia by Ian Frazier
"For most people, Siberia is not the place itself but a figure of speech," author Ian Frazier says at the beginning of this sprawling novel about the region. Siberia is the mysterious, dangerous, and unforgiving place out there—a part of eastern Russia that few dare to explore. But Frazier sets out to do just that by meticulously studying the area, its history, and its people, creating an adventure story that still makes the world feel large.
In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick
This National Book Award winner follows the story of a 19th-century whaling crew aboard the Essex, which is attacked by a sperm whale and sinks into the Pacific Ocean. The survivors attempt to sail to South America on smaller, open whalers, but must grapple with starvation and dehydration during the three months that they're lost at sea. Prepare to feel like you're part of the crew as you read In the Heart of the Sea, since the author used the accounts of the actual survivors in his retelling.
Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer
Although author Jon Krakauer had given up mountain climbing years before, he decides to join an expedition up Everest as a potential story for Outside magazine in May 1996. But once he gets to the base camp, he decides to continue. Krakauer's story of what happens next—when a storm hits, disaster strikes, and eight people are killed—offers a glimpse into one of the world's most dangerous and awe-inspiring locations in Into Thin Air.
Jungle by Yossi Ghinsberg
In 1981, author Yossi Ghinsberg sets out on a dream to explore the undiscovered regions of the Amazon. Along the way, he meets three other like-minded travelers, and the four men continue on together—but it doesn't go as planned. Eventually the men split into pairs, and because of an accident, Ghinsberg soon finds himself alone in the jungle with few supplies. His retelling of how he survived for weeks alone in the jungle will make you wonder if you could do the same.
Touching the Void by Joe Simpson
In another tale about a man's wish to explore an unforgiving landscape, Touching the Void is a story about author Joe Simpson's climb up the Siula Grande in the Peruvian Mountains alongside partner Simon Yates in 1985. The recounting isn't what you'd expect—the men make it to the 20,813-foot summit. But on the way down, Simpson breaks his leg and then has to figure out how to survive.
A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
Bill Bryson is a famous travel writer, and he has plenty of adventurous stories to choose from if you're in the mood. But this story is for all readers who think that adventure is far away—because Bryson discovers that it can be found right beyond his backyard in the Appalachian Mountains. He decides to walk the Appalachian Trail, often finding that it's harder than it seems, and tells the story of its history and his struggles on it with self-effacing and comforting humor in A Walk in the Woods.
A Cook’s Tour by Anthony Bourdain
Anthony Bourdain was famous for his numerous travel series, but this 2001 New York Times best seller is what helped propel him into the television spotlight. Using the wry but curious language that eventually became known as his unique voice, Bourdain sets out to discover "the perfect meal" by traveling throughout the world and throwing any caution to the wind in A Cook’s Tour. It's a story about adventure, people, and food—all of the things that made him a beloved figure.
The Motorcycle Diaries by Ernesto Che Guevara
You may recognize the author's name for his revolutionary Marxist teachings, but this memoir follows Ernesto Che Guevara when he was all but a 20-something medical student seeking adventure with his friend Alberto Granado. In 1952, the two men decided to discover South America on the back of a motorcycle they named La Poderosa in The Motorcycle Diaries. It's a nine-month journey that eventually inspires the rest of Guevara's life.
Pyongyang by Guy Delisle
Not all adventure books have to take the shape of black words on white paper. Take Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea as an example, which is a graphic novel that uses art to describe the mysterious intricacies of this country. Guy Delisle is an animator with a two-month visa to work in the capital, and since cameras aren't allowed, he uses animation to describe the culture he's trying to get to know as an outsider.
A Sense of Direction by Gideon Lewis-Kraus
Like most adventurers, Gideon Lewis-Kraus can't help but feel like he's missing out on self-discovery by staying in San Francisco. So he moves to Berlin and then works his way by foot across the Camino de Santiago in Spain, the Shikoku in Japan, and the Uman in Ukraine. He does this all to study the respective faiths of Catholicism, Buddhism, and Judaism, as well as the classic lessons of a pilgrimage. But Lewis-Kraus is also trying to come to terms with his father's past and their present relationship in A Sense of Direction.
The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard
The Worst Journey in the World lives up to its name, simply because it describes the story of the British Antarctic Expedition that took place between 1910 and 1913. It's not surprising that the expedition was extremely challenging, since Antarctica is still difficult to explore, and that's what makes this story so compelling. By detailing what this team went through to catalog this part of the world, and ultimately what was done to survive, this book illuminates a captivating part of history.
West With the Night by Beryl Markham
Perhaps you've never heard of Beryl Markham, and if that's the case, you should read this memoir. Markham grew up in Kenya in the early 20th century and became a pioneer aviator as an adult. She's the first person to fly east to west across the Atlantic on a solo non-stop flight, which is more difficult to do than traveling west to east, and West With the Night showcases her drive to make it happen before anyone else.
An African in Greenland by Tété-Michel Kpomassie
When Tété-Michel Kpomassie was a kid growing up in Togo, he came across a book about Greenland and became fascinated by it. He made it his mission to eventually go there and become a hunter, and he spends the next decade of his life saving the money to do so. Once he arrives, Kpomassie then explains what happened when he got to explore Greenland at last and what it was like to eventually return home.
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
Even if you've never read this 1851 classic, you've heard of it, of course. Thanks to its namesake white whale, the sailor Ishmael, the captain Ahab, and many other interesting characters and strange episodes, Moby Dick is still captivating readers for its descriptions of adventure on the open sea. Maybe it's time to finally know what the fuss is all about by picking up a copy, and we wouldn't be surprised if you become just as enthralled with the story.