The best books on courage, camaraderie, and survival in the face of danger

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up in Washington State. My father and my uncles fought in WWII; one was captured in Africa, and one was the first to fly over the Himalayas. My father wanted me to be a missionary, but I was drawn to the world. I became a runner and loved the camaraderie in track and field, but I was uncomfortable in college and didn't like my coach. I wanted to go far away. I began my career as an aide in the U.S. Senate but left and became a journalist in Afghanistan. Each of these books is a story of courage, camaraderie, and survival. I hope you enjoy them.

I wrote...

Captive: My Time as a Prisoner of the Taliban

By Jere Van Dyk,

Book cover of Captive: My Time as a Prisoner of the Taliban

What is my book about?

Jere Van Dyk and three Afghan guides had crossed into the tribal areas of Pakistan, where no Westerner had ventured for years, hoping to reach the home of a local chieftain by nightfall. But then, a dozen armed men in black turbans appeared over the crest of a hill.

This book is Van Dyk's searing account of his forty-five days in a Taliban prison. The main action takes place in a single room, cut off from the outside world, where Van Dyk feels he can trust nobody, not his jailers, not his guides (who he fears may have betrayed him), and certainly not the charismatic Taliban leader whose fleeting appearances carry the hope of redemption as well as the prospect of immediate, violent death. 

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Seven Pillars of Wisdom

Jere Van Dyk Why did I love this book?

The mystery of the first paragraph drew me in, what he called "the evil of his tale," leading a guerrilla war in the Arabian desert in World War I.

I knew about the burning heat and the wind, of letting a camel find the water and the bitter cold at night, and I am in awe of his strength in fighting the Ottoman Turks. I love his descriptive writing of the wind, and the silence of a Crusader castle. He wrote at Shepherds Hotel in Cairo, left his manuscript on a train in a London station, and had to start over.

"At the bottom, we crossed the flat Gaa, matching our camels in a burst over its velvet surface until we overtook the main body and scattered them with the excitement of our gallop." It was romantic., but... "Round the bend, whistling its loudest, came the train...I touched off the first driving wheel, and the explosion was terrific." He killed many men. "His name will live in history," wrote King George V., and "in the legends of Arabia," wrote Winston Churchill.

Read his story, then watch David Lean's famous movie.

By T. E. Lawrence,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Seven Pillars of Wisdom as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

With an Introduction by Angus Calder.

As Angus Calder states in his introduction to this edition, 'Seven Pillars of Wisdom is one of the major statements about the fighting experience of the First World War'. Lawrence's younger brothers, Frank and Will, had been killed on the Western Front in 1915. Seven Pillars of Wisdom, written between 1919 and 1926, tells of the vastly different campaign against the Turks in the Middle East - one which encompasses gross acts of cruelty and revenge and ends in a welter of stink and corpses in the disgusting 'hospital' in Damascus.

Seven Pillars of…

Book cover of The Last Step: The American Ascent of K2

Jere Van Dyk Why did I love this book?

In my twenties, two friends and I climbed Mt. Hood, 11,249' in Oregon. The snow cracked loudly at night, and I worried about an avalanche. When I was in my 40s, Galon Rowell, a famous mountain photographer, and I, on an assignment from National Geographic to find the source of the Brahmaputra River, climbed from the flat terrain at 16,000' up into Mt. Khalish, 21,778.' in Tibet. We looked down at the Himalayas. K-2, at 28,251", is the second highest mountain in the world (Everest is 29,032'), on the Chinese-Pakistani border, and is considered by mountaineers to be the hardest to climb.

I loved the story, written by a fellow climber, about the boldness, tenacity, camaraderie, and competition of men, and women, pushing for weeks through rough storms to make the team that would go for the summit. What I love most is the story of Jim Wickwire approaching the top, stopping and waiting for a friend, and giving up his lead. And then he stayed too long at the top.

By Rick Ridgeway,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Last Step as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

Book cover of The Desert and the Sea: 977 Days Captive on the Somali Pirate Coast

Jere Van Dyk Why did I love this book?

Since 9/11, beginning with the slaughter of Daniel Pearl of the Wall Street Journal by al-Qaida in Karachi, Pakistan, in 2002, the kidnapping of journalists has grown to become a state-sponsored industry, mainly in the Muslim world from the Philippines to Africa, to the Middle East. Many survivors write about their kidnappings.

I especially liked Michael Scott Moore's book, in part because I know him, but more because he was held and tormented for three years in the desert by Somali pirates; yet forgives them to save himself. Moore is a German-American journalist and a surfer from California who also lives in Berlin. I loved his courage of diving, naked, from the deck of the ship he was on into the Red Sea, and swimming for freedom.

To be a kidnap victim is to live in a primal, sometimes reptilian world. I liked that he didn't hold back in telling his story, including his friendship with the Asian crewmembers, and that after he was released, he traveled back to Asia to help them.

By Michael Scott Moore,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Desert and the Sea as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Michael Scott Moore, a journalist and the author of Sweetness and Blood, incorporates personal narrative and rigorous investigative journalism in this profound and revelatory memoir of his three-year captivity by Somali pirates-a riveting,thoughtful, and emotionally resonant exploration of foreign policy, religious extremism, and the costs of survival.

In January 2012, having covered a Somali pirate trial in Hamburg for Spiegel Online International-and funded by a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting-Michael Scott Moore traveled to the Horn of Africa to write about piracy and ways to end it. In a terrible twist of fate, Moore himself was kidnapped…

Book cover of The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt

Jere Van Dyk Why did I love this book?

I loved learning that Theodore Roosevelt was the most beloved man in America when he was president. Is there any politician in recent memory we would call beloved?

I liked how he, as a young man, after losing his wife and his mother to illness on the same day, persevered. I liked that he, an aristocrat, went out West to be a man, where he stood his ground and punched a man in a bar, pursued and brought two outlaws to justice, and that as a politician, he kept speaking to a crowd after being shot by a gunman.

I didn't like that he all but started the Spanish-American war, but I liked that he rode with his back straight through gunfire in Cuba. Then I learned that he was ashamed of his father, who bought his way out of the Civil War. That was why, I thought, he had to be brave, to be different from his father, and to save the family legacy. He was an author, writing over twenty books, a man of action who created our national park system and the environmentalist movement.

In reading about his rise, I found a man whom I could admire, like my father, who lost his father when he was a teenager. In doing so, I learned more about myself.

By Edmund Morris,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WINNER OF THE PULITZER PRIZE AND THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD • Selected by the Modern Library as one of the 100 best nonfiction books of all time

“A towering biography . . . a brilliant chronicle.”—Time

This classic biography is the story of seven men—a naturalist, a writer, a lover, a hunter, a ranchman, a soldier, and a politician—who merged at age forty-two to become the youngest President in history.

The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt begins at the apex of his international prestige. That was on New Year’s Day, 1907, when TR, who had just won the Nobel Peace Prize,…

Book cover of Anti-Memoirs

Jere Van Dyk Why did I love this book?

I was sitting in a cafe in Paris with a friend from Texas. I had just finished my time in the Army and was studying on the GI Bill. My friend was reading a book. I asked what it was about. He looked at the cover. I would like it, he said and gave it to me. I couldn't put the book down.

He dedicated the book to Mrs. John Fitzgerald Kennedy, I learned that John Kennedy toasted him at a White House dinner in his honor as "the man we all wanted to be," For years I too wanted to be like him. As a young man, he went to French Indochina and lived in China, struggling then.

He wrote Man's Fate, his first novel, which made him famous. He was a pilot in the early days of the Spanish Civil War. He made a documentary about the war. He was in the French Tank Corps in World War II, was wounded and captured, escaped and became a commander in the Maquis, was captured again, interrogated by the Gestapo, and faced a firing squad. "Freedom must be sought behind prison walls," he wrote. I liked his talks with a Catholic priest, with Nehru and Mao Tse Tung. Years later, I learned what he said about prison walls and who I am is true.

By Andre Malraux, Terence Kilmartin (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Anti-Memoirs as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Reprint from the French edition. Five printings plus a book club edition. André Malraux (1901 - 1976) was a French adventurer, award-winning author, and statesman. Having traveled extensively in Indochina and China, Malraux was noted especially for his novel entitled La Condition Humaine (Man's Fate) (1933), which won the Prix Goncourt. He was appointed by General Charles de Gaulle as Minister of Information (1945-1946), then as Minister of State (1958-1959), and the first Minister of Cultural Affairs, serving during De Gaulle's entire presidency (1959-1969).

You might also like...

The Forest Knights

By J. K. Swift,

Book cover of The Forest Knights

J. K. Swift Author Of Acre

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I love a good fight scene! It doesn’t need to be long and gruesome, but it must be visceral and make me nervous for those involved. Don’t get me wrong, I also love a good first-kiss scene but unfortunately, my past has made me more adept at recognizing and writing one over the other. I started training in martial arts at the age of nine and continued for thirty years. I don’t train much these days but I took up bowmaking a few years back and now spend a lot of time carving English longbows and First Nations’ bows. I recently also took up Chinese archery.

J. K.'s book list on with realistic fight scenes

What is my book about?

The greatest underdog story of the medieval age.

A wild land too mountainous to be tamed by plows. A duke of the empire, his cunning overshadowed only by his ambitions. A young priestess of the Old Religion, together with a charismatic outlaw, sparking a rebellion from deep within the forests. And an ex-Hospitaller caught between them all.

The Forest Knights

By J. K. Swift,

What is this book about?

A druid priestess enlists the help of an ex-Hospitaller warrior and a charismatic outlaw to fight Austrian tyranny in medieval Switzerland. A subtle blend of fantasy and history, ALTDORF (Book 1) tells the events leading up to one of the greatest underdog stories of the medieval age, the Battle of MORGARTEN (Book 2).

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Pirates, T. E. Lawrence, and Teddy Roosevelt?

11,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Pirates, T. E. Lawrence, and Teddy Roosevelt.

Pirates Explore 87 books about Pirates
T. E. Lawrence Explore 7 books about T. E. Lawrence
Teddy Roosevelt Explore 43 books about Teddy Roosevelt