Admit it, even if you don’t have any interest in proving your own endurance by running a hundred miles or crossing Antarctica, there is still a fascination with those who have chosen to do so. Here are our top ten books featuring stories of extraordinary, real-life endurance exhibited by people who have taken on freezing temperatures, angry oceans, extreme athletics, massive mountains, and much more.
The Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expedition by Caroline Alexander: In August 1914 Sir Ernest Shackleton set sail in the Endurance with a crew of 27, intent on being the first expedition to cross Antarctica; instead, he and his crew became marooned and had to survive for 635 days and nights, without proper shelter and rations, before being rescued.
The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men against the Sea by Sebastian Junger: Journalist Sebastian Junger takes us on a compelling journey to explore what may have happened to the Andrea Gail and her six-man crew that disappeared in a tremendous storm off the Outer Banks in 1991.
Over the Edge: A Regular Guy’s Odyssey in Extreme Sports by Michael Bane: Bane creates “The List” of 13 adventures from cave diving to mountain biking to the Iditarod to climbing Denali. Interesting for anyone who’s ever wondered about over-the-edge adventures and the psychology of risk taking.
The Hard Way: Stories of Danger, Survival, and the Soul of Adventure by Mark Jenkins: Jenkins, an excellent writer and columnist for Outside Magazine, is the ultimate outdoorsman. He goes everywhere and does everything (as long as it’s dangerous).
Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing: A very readable, exciting, personal retelling of one of the greatest of all polar adventures.
Ice Bound: A Doctor’s Incredible Battle for Survival at the South Pole by Jerri Nielsen: Describes wintering over at the South Pole—the people who choose to do it and what they put up with. Nielsen gets breast cancer during her tour as the Pole doctor when escape to the outside world is impossible.
North to the Night: A Year in the Arctic Ice by Simon Alvah: Lyrical description and thoughtful discussions of loneliness and endurance lift this above the typical “look what I survived” tale.
Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall: McDougall reveals the secrets of the world’s greatest distance runners–the Tarahumara Indians of Copper Canyon, Mexico–and how he trained for the challenge of a lifetime: a fifty-mile race through the heart of Tarahumara country pitting the tribe against an odd band of super-athletic Americans.
The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance by David J. Epstein: Explores the roles of both genetics and training in athletic success, arguing that both are equally necessary components of athletic achievement while considering such topics as race, gender, and genetic testing.
Alone on the Ice: The Greatest Survival Story in the History of Exploration by David Roberts: The unbelievable account of Douglas Mawson’s fight for survival after the members of his expedition team and the dogs that pulled their sledges are killed during the Australasian Antarctic Expedition in 1913.