4 Classic Adventure and Survival Books to Get You Through Anything

This spring, we're all reflecting on what we've learned from a tough, strange year: Let these stories from the edges of endurance lead the way.

photo collage of book covers from the four featured survival stories and adventure books

After months of near-polar isolation, marooned in our houses with new routines and the same old people, we can relate a bit better to the experiences of explorers like Ernest Shackleton. We may not know the sheer terror of bracing for a 60-foot wave in an open rowboat on the Southern Ocean, but we understand the serious work of keeping boredom at bay during an extended period of isolation. We turn to survival stories and adventure books for solace and perspective, as much as for the vicarious thrills they offer.

The best books about adventure, survival, and the natural world aren’t sea-sprayed boast-fests, but all about humbling self-discovery under extreme conditions. Even then, they end up being less about individual toughness and more about our shared resilience, whether that sense of connection and rescue comes from other people or from the particular peace that settles on the solo traveler, deep in the wilderness or way out at sea. The best outdoor adventure books are about the incomparable beauty of the natural world and the absolute necessity of other people.

As we ease into the great thaw, with warmer days, an ever-widening safety net of Covid vaccines, and the moody perspective-seeking of spring, we’re all reflecting on our lives. What do we treasure now that we didn’t fully appreciate before, and what would we happily leave behind? These great books, back from the edge of human endurance, can help lead the way.