Somewhere between hanging your coat on your cubicle wall this morning and taking your much-deserved 9:15 coffee break, you probably dreamed about getting on an airplane and going somewhere. Anywhere. Preferably somewhere no man has ever been before, if you’re dashing like we are.
We’ve all been there. We want to see the world, abandon our desks and leave our mark on some remote and distant corner of the globe. Well, the joke’s on us. At this point, someone has probably beaten us to it — and no doubt almost died (or, for that matter, actually died) in the process. For the most part, we know what lies around every bend, across every ocean, behind almost every rock. Hell, we even know what lies behind rocks on Mars. In some ways it’s disappointing. Then again, man’s penchant for exploration — crazy, reckless, often death-defying exploration — has yielded some pretty good literature over the years, which is a pretty happy consolation prize.
Here we round up what we think are the 20 best adventure books of all time. They’re stories of conquests, of scientific discovery, and jut generally of brave men and women doing batshit crazy things. We’ve grouped these stories the only way we could think of: taken by land, by air, and by sea. So sit back, crack a beer, and thank god you didn’t have to go through any of the shit that happens in these books.
Strap on your boots
|In Trouble Again by Redmond O’Hanlon
A semi-famous British explorer, writer and Darwin scholar stumbles his way through the dark and largely mysterious (yes, even by the 1980s) rain forests of Venezuela. Now you get why the title’s so foreboding. $11
|Through the Brazilian Wilderness by Theodore Roosevelt
Clinton started a charity and Dubya paints portraits of his dogs. What did Teddy Roosevelt, perhaps the nation’s most macho President, do after his term? He hitched up his stirrups, threw on a giant hat and set off for South America in the name of scientific discovery. Your move, 44. $9
|In Brightest Africa by Carl Akeley
Akeley was a bona fide explorer, but he’s best known as the philanthropic taxidermist who almost single-handedly created (and populated) the African Hall at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. These are his diaries. They’re a little racist, but other than that you can learn a lot. $40
|Travels With Charley by John Steinbeck
On the Road is for confused teenagers and grown men with Grateful Dead patches on their backpacks. Steinbeck is one of America’s all time great prose stylists, and this is his story of driving across his great country. Recently it’s been criticized for being heavily fictionalized. So what? Embellishing stories only makes them better. $9
|A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush by Eric Newby
Newby is one of the sharpest, funniest travel writers in print. His first book takes him to a remote corner of Afghanistan where, in 1956, no Englishman had set foot for more than half a century. Not ballsy enough for you? He also drives perilously through Turkey, befriends a dubious companion and climbs a 20,000-foot mountain. $11
|Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey
Abbey’s writing about his time as a National Park Ranger is much less Yogi Bear and much more Walden. He is at peace in the desert of the American Southwest, and after reading his stories it’s easy to think we could be, too. $7
|In Search of King Solomon’s Mines by Tahir Shah
Solomon’s Mines, where the king sourced the gold for his Temple in Jerusalem, are like a cursed, semitic Holy Grail. Many have searched for them, none have succeeded. Tahir Shah goes on a quest to Ethiopia to find them and, as you can imagine, very little good comes of it (except, of course, this book). $18
|Young Men and Fire by Norman Maclean
In 1949, 13 firefighters died in the storied Mann Gulch forest fire in Montana. In 1992, Norman McLean set off on an adventure to figure out what the hell happened out there. The results are riveting. $12
|The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain
Next time you’re reminiscing about that backpacking adventure you and your college roommate took through Italy, remember that you weren’t the first American to go abroad. Mark Twain wasn’t either, but he was definitely one of the funniest and most perceptive—especially when he gets to the Holy Land. $5
|The Green Hills of Africa by Ernest Hemingway
All the gin swilling and abortion equivocating of his fiction aside, this is the book that made Hemingway famous as a dirty, rugged big-game-hunting man’s man. And also a man of letters—much of the book concerns his often profound and sometimes meandering thoughts on writing. $14