I’ve been writing book reviews since 2011, but I’ve been reading books a whole lot longer than that. One of my all-time favorite genres is the true survival story—man against nature—and these are my top five favorites.
You know about the Donner Party. You don’t want to know about the Donner Party, yet at the same time, you do. This was the draw for me when I saw this old book on the shelf of a used book store. What actually drove normal American settlers to cannibalism in the Sierre-Nevada mountains in the 1840s? Newspaperman C.F. McGlashan performed some pretty extra-ordinary investigative reporting for his day, and this book is the result. For being 140 years old, it’s an exciting read and it helps clarify lots of the rumors that still surround this terrifying story.
This tale begins innocently enough a handful of climbing parties from around the world trying to reach the summit of Mt. Everest. But when a dangerous storm blows in, many of the worlds greatest climbers—and some novices besides—get stranded and must find their way back down to civilization. Many don’t make it. Journalist Jon Krakauer was on the mountain that day and brings the heart-wrenching, heart-racing account to life. This was the first true adventure story I’d ever written, and it’s made me a lifelong addict.
This is my most recent read of all, but even getting a quarter of the way through, I knew it would be landing on my Top 5 List. Callahan finds himself shipwrecked and stranded on the open sea with nothing but a 5-foot inflatable raft and some survival gear. He must fish and collect water to survive, but he must also find within the will to even try. This is a thrilling tale of human capacity for pain and endurance, and it’s well worth the read. I even honored this one with some LEGO stories, it was so good!
I was debating which book to add to this list, this or Shackleton’s personal publication, South. I chose this because it’s a more tightly-knit story that doesn’t have the clutter of the original book. Plus it has the benefit of a “where are they now?” type section. No other survival story boasts such isolation, grandeur, suspense, and success as this, the 28-man crew surviving a shipwreck in the Antarctic. It’s one of the greatest stories ever told. I’ll be reading this one again and again.
Don’t hold it against me that I have two cannibalism books on my Top 5 List, but this book has held top place in my favorite books of all time for a long, long time. And it’s not because of the cannibalism! The efforts to which the survivors of this plane crash in the Andes go to build up enough energy to mount their own escape over the mountains of this frozen tundra is the single most exciting series of chapters I have ever read. The moment these men see the shepherds in the foothills, I want to weep. Everything about this book excites me (except the food), and you simply have to read it cover to cover. No excuses.