The best books describing real, epic journeys of survival

George Bearfield Author Of Foursquare: The Last Parachutist
By George Bearfield

Who am I?

After my Grandfather died in 2000 I set myself the challenge of building as complete a picture as I could of his incredible life story. He had travelled by foot across occupied Europe and the Middle East in 1940, before fighting on the front line in France, and ultimately behind enemy lines in Czechoslovakia. I envied his life experience and the high stakes he was required to live his life by, whilst also being grateful for the peace that he and others like him had delivered to my generation. Whether reading or writing I’m captivated by true stories of courage and fortitude aiming to immerse myself in them. 

I wrote...

Foursquare: The Last Parachutist

By George Bearfield,

Book cover of Foursquare: The Last Parachutist

What is my book about?

In 1938, when Bohemia and Moravia were occupied by Nazi Germany, Jaroslav and Josef Bublík fought their way to their country's exiled intelligence service in England. Jaroslav began training parachutists to go back to their home country and in 1941, Josef was amongst the first to be dropped. In one of the most daring actions of the Second World War, Heydrich - the Nazi 'Protector' - was assassinated. But Josef and his colleagues were tracked down in Prague and killed.

60 years later, Jaroslav’s grandson wanted to know what happened next. Did he lead the last Czechoslovak parachute drop of the War? What exactly was the mission? And why had it become shrouded in secrecy?

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The books I picked & why


By Henri Charriere,

Book cover of Papillon

Why did I love this book?

Charriere’s story of his escape from a penal colony in French Guiana in 1931, where he was serving a life sentence for murder, is utterly engrossing. The reader quickly becomes immersed in a fantastical world of survival, betrayal, luck, and daring, as the author – nicknamed ‘Papillon’ as a result of the butterfly tattoo on his chest – describes his exploits in the darkest depths of prison, the untamed jungles of South America and the unforgiving tropical seas. The knowledge that Charriere himself later said that the book was “only 75% true” and an amalgam of his story with those of other inmates he knew and met, does nothing to diminish the book's impact and unrelenting entertainment value.

By Henri Charriere,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Papillon as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An immediate sensation upon its publication in 1969, Papillon is a vivid memoir of brutal penal colonies, daring prison breaks and heroic adventure on shark-infested seas.

Condemned for a murder he did not commit, Henri Charriere, nicknamed Papillon, was sent to the penal colony of French Guiana. Forty-two days after his arrival he made his first break for freedom, travelling a thousand gruelling miles in an open boat. He was recaptured and put into solitary confinement but his spirit remained untamed: over thirteen years he made nine incredible escapes, including from the notorious penal colony on Devil's Island.

This edition…

Book cover of The Forgotten Soldier

Why did I love this book?

When I was researching my grandfather’s actions fighting for Czechoslovakia in World War Two, for my own book, including his time of the front line in France in 1940, I grew tired of academic history books and sought out a firsthand account of the realities of combat. Guy Sajer’s story of his experiences as a German soldier on the Eastern Front provided exactly what I was looking for: As I read it, I could feel the mud caked on my fingers, the shrapnel wound stinging my arm, and the trench foot creeping up my leg. The fact that Sajer was fighting, somewhat unwillingly, with the Nazis gives a whole extra layer of interest too.

By Guy Sajer,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

An international bestseller, this is a German soldier's first-hand account of life on Russian front during the second half of the Second World War.

When Guy Sajer joins the infantry full of ideals in the summer of 1942, the German army is enjoying unparalleled success in Russia. However, he quickly finds that for the foot soldier the glory of military success hides a much harsher reality of hunger, fatigue and constant deprivation. Posted to the crack Grosse Deutschland division, with its sadistic instructors who shoot down those who fail to make the grade, he enters a violent and remorseless world…

Book cover of Master of Spies: The Memoirs of General Frantisek Moravec

Why did I love this book?

Frantisek Moravec was the Head of Czechoslovak Military Intelligence before and during the Second World War, when he was also my grandfather’s boss. When I found out that Morovec had written a memoir, after escaping from Czechoslovakia in 1948, I scoured the internet to find it. I really didn’t expect the book to be the masterpiece that it is. Moravec recounts with fine detail, how he and his team continually used their wits and guile to stay ahead of both the Nazis and the Communists and maintain Czechoslovakia’s existence, right up until the Iron Curtain eventually descended. In particular he recounts how he oversaw Operation Anthropoid, the assassination of the infamous Nazi leader Reinhard Heydrich, who had been the architect of the Final Solution. This is a book that really demands fresh attention.  

Book cover of The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon

Why did I love this book?

As I was nearing the end of the research for my book, I was desperately trying to decide on a narrative approach that would allow me to tell the full story I had uncovered. I found the inspiration in an unexpected place as I read The Lost City of Z on my kindle by a swimming pool on vacation. Grann’s book tells the story of the British explorer Percy Fawcett who disappeared with his son in the Amazon in 1925, on an obsessive hunt for the ancient lost city of the title. Grann’s approach was to retrace Fawcett’s steps, and tell the story of his own quest alongside that of the explorer – flipping between narratives as he progressed. This narrative trick brought the distant, tragic story into the tangible present, making it far more engaging, contemporary, and real. 

By David Grann,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Lost City of Z as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


'A riveting, exciting and thoroughly compelling tale of adventure'JOHN GRISHAM

The story of Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett, the inspiration behind Conan Doyle's The Lost World

Fawcett was among the last of a legendary breed of British explorers. For years he explored the Amazon and came to believe that its jungle concealed a large, complex civilization, like El Dorado. Obsessed with its discovery, he christened it the City of Z. In 1925, Fawcett headed into the wilderness with his son Jack, vowing to make history. They vanished without a…

Book cover of The Long Walk: The True Story Of A Trek To Freedom

Why did I love this book?

Slawomir Rawicz was a Polish Army lieutenant who was imprisoned by Russian intelligence agents after the German invasion of Poland in 1941. His book describes how he and six others escaped from the Siberian Gulag and travelled on foot through the Gobi Desert to Tibet, the Himalayas, and India. Much like Henri Charriere’s Papillon, Rawicz’s story is so fantastical that many have questioned its veracity. But the book still appealed to me as, the more I have read such stories the more I have understood that the truth really is stranger than fiction, and often they faithfully convey an experience, even if memory has clouded the detail of specific incidents.

By Slavomir Rawicz,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Long Walk as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"I hope The Long Walk will remain as a memorial to all those who live and die for freedom, and for all those who for many reasons could not speak for themselves."--Slavomir Rawicz

In 1941, the author and six other fellow prisoners escaped a Soviet labor camp in Yakutsk--a camp where enduring hunger, cold, untended wounds, untreated illnesses, and avoiding daily executions were everyday feats. Their march--over thousands of miles by foot--out of Siberia, through China, the Gobi Desert, Tibet, and over the Himalayas to British India is a remarkable statement about man's desire to be free.

While the original…

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