If you’re anything like me, the next-best thing to going on an epic adventure is reading about someone else’s! At the same time, I can only handle so many memoirs about climbing Everest before I start to wonder what else counts as adventure, exploration, or going beyond a “normal” life. Below are some of my favorite recommendations—books inspired by adventure, the natural world, personal development, or all of the above. These are stories of expeditions, experiments, and triumphs of many kinds.
Disclaimer: unless otherwise noted, these books are written for an adult audience, and therefore may include adult themes and language.
Spirit Run: A 6,000-Mile Marathon Through North America’s Stolen Land, by Noe Alvarez (memoir)
This epically cool book is both a memoir and a collection of stories, as Alvarez chronicles an intense journey through North America in his own voice and the voices of others he meets along the way. The following is from the literature of the group he runs with, called Peace and Dignity Journeys, and is quoted in the book as well:
“Peace and Dignity Journeys occur every four years and start with Indigenous runners on opposite ends of the continent (Chickaloon, Alaska, and Tierra del Fuego, Argentina). They run for six months through hundreds of Indigenous communities where they participate in their respective spiritual practices and traditions; spark dialogue on the issue of peace and dignity for Indigenous peoples; model their responsibility to Mother Earth, Father Sky, communities, and themselves; and receive the community’s prayers. These prayers and conversations are then carried to proceeding communities until the runners reach the center of the hemisphere.”
The two groups meet at the Panama Canal in a ceremony of unity. Pick this one up to learn quite a lot about a variety of Indigenous peoples’ traditions and beliefs, as well as the social aspects of organizing a multicultural event.
The Signature of All Things, by Elizabeth Gilbert (fiction)
I’ll be the first to say it—this is a slow read. However, anyone who has ever been on a hike with me (or a walk, or simply been outside in my presence) can tell you that the thrilling amount of information about mosses (bryophytes!) in this book is enough to make a person obsessed for the rest of their days. This is an adventure through the eyes of a botanist, and very worth reading if only to be immersed in Gilbert’s beautiful storytelling and description of natural spaces.
Lab Girl, by Hope Jahren (memoir)
Hope Jahren is a geobiologist and an award-winning author. Her relatable memoir has much to say about the experience of a woman in science, mental health, and friendship, all intertwined with nearly unending knowledge of trees and other plants.
Hoot, by Carl Hiaasen (fiction, young readers)
Carl Hiaasen’s colorful novels are a treat for all audiences, but his series of novels for young readers is surprisingly silly and heartfelt for any age of reader. Hoot chronicles the creation of an animal-rights activist as a young man stands up for a family of owls, and Flush tackles water pollution with a quirky cast of characters. Like Hiaasen’s novels for adults, his books for young readers are set in Florida and overflow with exploration of one of the country’s wildest habitats.
The Forest Unseen: A Year’s Watch in Nature, by David George Haskell (nonfiction)
If you enjoyed My Octopus Teacher on Netflix, this is the book for you! The author visits a small patch of the local forest each day for a year to observe the myriad of things happening within it. This is, surprisingly, really not a memoir! Haskell writes poetically about his observations, then focuses deeply on the science behind what he sees, and sometimes connects spirituality with the natural world.
Wildwood, by Colin Meloy (fiction, young readers)
This adventurous tale about an impassable wilderness and a brave girl’s expedition into it is written for young readers, but is a lighthearted and compassionate adventure read for any age. You know how Harry Potter is immensely enjoyable even when you’ve well outgrown the age of person it was written for? Meloy crafts a similar atmosphere—there are magical elements, talking animals, and mystery, all beautifully told. Enjoy it as a light read on vacation or before bed!
A few more Adventure Treks book recommendations:
- Rooted: Life at the Crossroads of Science, Nature, and Spirit, by Lyanda Lynn Haupt (nonfiction)
- To Shake the Sleeping Self, by Jedediah Jenkins (memoir)
- Dogs on the Trail: A Year in the Life, by Blair Braverman (photo story. Check out her other work on living in the Arctic and working with sled dogs—it’s fascinating.)
- Braiding Sweetgrass, by Robin Wall Kimmerer (nonfiction), and The Overstory, by Richard Powers (fiction), both reviewed by AT staff here.