If you’re reading this site, you may think that you have to travel somewhere you’ve never been before to explore new locations and open your mind to new ideas. While visiting different countries presents a multitude of benefits, sometimes you can achieve this goal from the comfort of your own home. Reading allows you to take a brand new adventure with each title you select. From traversing the expansive Mount Everest, to taking an emotional voyage alongside arctic terns, to a journey of self-discovery on the back of a bike, books can transport you anywhere. If you’re seeking a thrilling new experience to tide you over until you’re able to travel the world again, these books will provide you with hours of entertainment and insight.
Jon Krakauer is perhaps one of the most recognizable names in nonfiction writing. Specializing in topics such as mountaineering, Krakauer is known for weaving poignant narratives with technical terminology in his popular books. Two of the most noteworthy are Into the Wild and Into Thin Air, which are equally compelling though they deal with very different subjects.
Into the Wild was published in 1996, and covers the life of Chris McCandless, a young man who cut off communication with his family and traveled across the United States before entering the Alaskan wilderness in 1992. McCandless sadly became trapped and died after 113 days, a difficult and heartbreaking ending to a promising life. Krakauer originally covered McCandless’s journey in 1993 for Outside magazine before expanding on his research and diving deeper into this tragic tale for his full-length book.
As a teenager, I had learned about Chris McCandless through Krakauer’s original article, though McCandless passed away the same year I was born. I felt overwhelmed with grief after learning about his pursuit of freedom, and how a preventable death claimed his life all too soon. Into the Wild provides you with an in-depth look at who Chris McCandless was, what he was seeking in the great wide world, and what can be learned from the mistakes he made along the way. Krakauer tells the story truthfully, but respectfully, and adds personal sentiment throughout. It stands as a testament to the person McCandless was, who he hoped to become, and it also serves as a warning for all those who dare to seek adventure unprepared.
Similarly grim, Into Thin Air, published in 1997, details Jon Krakauer’s experience summiting Mount Everest. Krakauer made the grueling trek in 1996 and was on the mountain during a devastating storm that claimed the lives of eight fellow climbers and ravaged the unforgiving terrain. This book is deeply personal and introspective, as Krakauer used his writing to try to make sense of the chain of events that led to such a profound loss of life. A must-read for anyone interested in the world of climbing and for those who want to understand how safety precautions sometimes become secondary when guides feel pressured to take their clients to the summit no matter the cost. Krakauer’s journalistic tendencies help illuminate this bustling industry in a thought-provoking cadence that keeps you turning from one page to the next.
Jedidiah Jenkins was born with adventure in his blood. His parents, Peter and Barbara Jenkins, became famous in the 1970s when they were profiled in National Geographic during their time walking across America. It took his parents five years to walk across the country, and Jedidiah credits their intrepid and fearless nature as a source of inspiration for his own unique journey. In To Shake the Sleeping Self he meticulously covers his 16-month trek from Oregon to Patagonia on a bicycle. Struck by the realization that he wasn’t doing what he really wanted to do with his life, Jedidiah set out to see the world and to find himself along the way.
Jedidiah’s writing is easily digestible, immensely relatable, and it provides a sense of clarity that is sometimes lost in travel writing. He doesn’t just describe the places he rode through—he shows you these places in a way that makes you feel as though you’re cycling alongside him. An added bonus of To Shake the Sleeping Self are the maps and drawings that Jedidiah sketched throughout his journey which provide another layer of intrigue and personalization. When you read this book, you feel like you’re having a conversation with a good friend, which is one of the many reasons why I find myself revisiting it over and over again.
Perhaps one of the greatest fiction books I’ve ever read, Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy beautifully covers a multitude of human emotions and sorrowful brushes with nature. The premise of the book surrounds the journey of Franny Stone, a woman seeking passage to Antarctica to follow the final migration of the last known colony of arctic terns. The book takes place in a future landscape devoid of many common species we take for granted today. McConaghy wanted to show what the world will be like in the coming decades if we continue to ignore the climate crisis. She describes the extinction of various animals, the rising waters of our global seas, and the unyielding burden these losses levy to the lives of everyone on Earth.
Franny’s story is one that will haunt you forever. Not just for the debilitating way that the climate crisis has impacted the creatures who inhabit our world, but through a profound sense of loss, grief, and death, that is indescribable. The second I finished reading this book I started it over from the beginning to see what lessons I could take from it once I knew how it would end.
Robin Wall Kimmerer
If you’re a lover of botany, this is the book for you. Braiding Sweetgrass details the subject of botany through two clear perspectives: that of the Native American tradition, and scientific knowledge based in Western development.
Composed of separate essays, this book is a masterful blend of technical information and personal sentiment. Kimmerer is a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation and tells stories about her love of plants and the insight she gained from engaging with the cultural connection she had to these herbs, flowers, and vegetation. Aptly named, the stories are woven together like a braided plait, both informing the reader of biological discoveries and intimate realizations simultaneously. You’ll walk away from this book with a deeper understanding of the plants that surround you, and how these elements allow you to connect with nature in new and fulfilling ways.
For 27 years Christopher Knight lived in the Maine woods. Locals believed he could be anything from a hermit to a phantom, as he broke into surrounding cottages for provisions but left without a trace. Kind strangers attempted to leave notes and care packages, though Knight never engaged with these acts of service. Until, one day in 2013, he was arrested for breaking into a summer camp, which finally revealed the details of the solitary life he had been living for almost three decades.
Michael Finkel first covered the story for GQ Magazine—his captivating tone, and obvious interest in Christopher Knight as a human and as a subject, painted the tale of the North Pond Hermit in brilliant clarity. The Stranger in the Woods delves deeper into Knight’s desire to choose a life alone in the harsh Maine landscape, but it also shows what Knight’s existence became once he was forced to re-enter a world he tried so desperately to escape. Featuring elements of nature, exploration, self-discovery, and mystery, this book engages all your senses and leaves you feeling contemplative about your own choices.
What inspires someone to ditch their normal routine and set out for the unfamiliar? For Derick Lugo, it was an amalgamation of factors—the absence of set plans, the mention of the Appalachian Trail, the desire to fill months of free time with an experience outside of his comfort zone. And so he set off to traverse over 2,000 miles of terrain from Georgia to Maine with little knowledge of the great outdoors. Lugo entered a world much different than his own, as he grew up in Brooklyn and spent much of his life immersed in city culture. As a young Black man, he was unsure as to what he would face when entered the largely-white world of with thru-hiking, but he put one foot in front of the other and pushed ahead into the unknown.
You won’t want to put this book down for even a moment. Lugo beautifully describes the humility and humanity needed to undertake the Appalachian Trail, and he shows the reader exactly what’s available to them if they’re willing to let go and take a leap of faith.
My fascination with the ocean began when I was very young. There was always something about the majestic lull of the waves that made me feel more complete when I was near them. Since then, I’ve tried to soak up as much knowledge about the ocean as possible—I wanted to understand the creatures that roam the seas, the nature found beneath the surf, the lives of those who set out on this frontier without knowing if they’ll return. Which is why I was immediately drawn to The Outlaw Ocean by Ian Urbina.
Urbina set out to uncover the seedier happenings that take place on our world’s oceans. From trafficking to pirates, from thieves to smugglers, Urbina uses the 600 plus pages of The Outlaw Ocean to shed light on some of the darkest corners of the sea. This book is particularly fascinating because it provides insight into the shipping, fishing, and oil industries in a way that many people fail to witness on their own. His reporting is eye-popping in the way it exposes harsh truths while respecting the pull of the open ocean that many of us feel in our daily lives.
Lauret Savoy believes that a landscape holds memories like a human being — it remembers what it once was in a way that many of us would find unfathomable. Throughout Trace, Savoy explores this hidden memory in an effort to explain how the sand beneath our feet and the trees over our heads are landmarks of forgotten eras. The stories of Native Americans and enslaved Africans are often left to become whispers on the wind, but Savoy wanted to lean in closer to hear what these voices had to say and the marks they left behind on the terrain around them. This is the primary premise of Trace, and the reason why I can’t recommend this book highly enough.
Running 240 pages, you can easily read through the entirety of this prose in a day or two, but the lessons you take away from the text will stick with you for a lifetime. To inhabit this world is to live with a responsibility to understand your environment, and Lauret Savoy helped me lean in closer, listen harder, and respect the footsteps placed into the ground long before my own.
H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald is a bestseller for a reason. This captivating tale of Macdonald’s adoption of a hawk is a portrait of grief, discovery, and the understanding that occurs when you slow down long enough to observe the universe through the eyes of a creature much different than yourself. I enjoyed this book because it provided valuable and illuminating knowledge about hawks and the level of care needed to raise them, but it also discusses the loss of a loved one in a way that I found particularly moving.
Though we all experience death through our own process of grieving, we sometimes fail to convey this profound sense of sadness to those around us. Macdonald laid her grief on the page for everyone to see and consume, and she did so in a way that made me acknowledge personal losses in a more direct fashion. If you’re struggling to accept loss in any form—whether it’s the death of a loved one, a firing from a beloved job, a longing for normalcy as it once was—you’ll find clarity in H is for Hawk and a sense of comfort, which is all any of us can really ask for these days.
Famed British naturalist Gerald Durrell credited his time living on the Greek island of Corfu for the blooming of his interest in conservation. The Corfu Trilogy covers this period of Durrell’s life where he had the freedom and opportunity to observe animals in their natural habitat and discovered that they need protection from the elements just as much as we do. I love these stories because they’re told with childlike enthusiasm, and because they reignite a fascination I’ve always held for the creatures that surround us.
I’d recommend reading the collection through in its entirety, though you can certainly pick through each book individually to see what stories capture your interest. Gerald Durrell built his life around the conservation of the natural world, and I loved having the chance to understand where this lifelong passion came from and how Durrell sparked that same love of nature in many generations since.
Top photo by Markus Spiske