The best true books about stories of survival to keep you on the edge of your seat

Who am I?

I've always been fascinated by the toughest survivors, the ones where I say to myself, “I could have never got through that.” Then I’m curious about how they endured: what mindsets and techniques did they use to fight on? When I became a writer I focused on this niche, with my first book Ten Hours Until Dawn which was followed by several other true survival and rescue tales. I became obsessed with researching where the survivors made the correct decisions and how they got trapped by bad ones. When my book The Finest Hours became a Disney movie I was deluged with people sharing their own survival stories. 


I wrote...

A Storm Too Soon: A Remarkable True Survival Story in 80-Foot Seas

By Michael J. Tougias,

Book cover of A Storm Too Soon: A Remarkable True Survival Story in 80-Foot Seas

What is my book about?

A Storm Too Soon, one of seven survival books by the author, is a fast-paced true story that took place on the ocean during one of the most explosive storms ever recorded. Seventy-foot waves batter a tattered life raft 250 miles out to sea in one of the world’s most dangerous places, the Gulf Stream. Hanging onto the raft are three men, a Canadian, a Brit, and their captain, JP DeLutz, a dual citizen of America and France. The waves repeatedly toss the men out of their tiny vessel, and JP, with 9 broken ribs, is hypothermic and on the verge of death. The captain, however, is a tough-minded character and now he’s got to rely on those same inner resources to outlast the storm.

The books I picked & why

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The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey

By Candice Millard,

Book cover of The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey

Why this book?

I thought I knew about the life of Theodore Roosevelt, but River of Doubt proved me wrong and I was hooked by the second page. After his term as President, Roosevelt undertakes a grueling mission to explore an uncharted tributary of the Amazon with his son and a couple of others. Roosevelt's grit and determination prove no match for the river and rainforest. Several times they are on the brink of death or are lost.

Besides learning about science and nature I was interested in how different people respond to stress. I might have given up and never been heard from again, but Roosevelt and his son show incredible perseverance, and the reader wonders if that will be enough to save their lives.

The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey

By Candice Millard,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In 1912, shortly after losing his bid to spend a third term as American President to Woodrow Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt with his son Kermit, a Brazilian guide and a band of camaradas set off deep into the Amazon jungle and a very uncertain fate. Although Roosevelt did eventually return from THE RIVER OF DOUBT, he and his companions faced treacherous cataracts as well as the dangerous indigenous population of the Amazon. He became severely ill on the journey, nearly dying in the jungle from a blood infection and malaria. A mere five years later Roosevelt did die of related issues.…

Shattered Air: A True Account of Catastrophe and Courage on Yosemite's Half Dome

By Bob Madgic,

Book cover of Shattered Air: A True Account of Catastrophe and Courage on Yosemite's Half Dome

Why this book?

I enjoy hiking and the occasional difficult climb up a mountain, but author Bob Madgic expertly illustrates what can happen when you ignore warning signs. In Shattered Air a group of hikers in Yosemite are climbing above the tree line when threatening weather moves in. One of the hikers wants to turn back for fear of lightning but lets himself be talked into continuing by the more experienced climbers. But experience or being an “expert” does not always translate into safe decisions, and the group is hit by repeated lightning strikes. This is not only a great survival story but gives good insight into the hazards of letting “group think” or peer pressure sway your gut instincts.

Shattered Air: A True Account of Catastrophe and Courage on Yosemite's Half Dome

By Bob Madgic,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Shattered Air as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


The Bounty: The True Story of the Mutiny on the Bounty

By Caroline Alexander,

Book cover of The Bounty: The True Story of the Mutiny on the Bounty

Why this book?

Most of us are aware of the Mutiny on the English ship Bounty from the movie or are only aware of the uprising on the ship. The Bounty story, however, is so much more. One aspect is the survival story of Captain Bligh who was put into a small launch with a few of his loyal followers and set adrift at sea. The movie portrays Bligh as an uncaring bully, and perhaps a bit of that is true, but he was also a smart sailor and leader, who guided that tiny open boat thousands of miles to safety. Readers have the option of learning about the events in either Bligh’s own words in The Bounty Mutiny, or in a fascinating account of the entire mutiny and post-mutiny events in The Bounty, by Caroline Alexander. I read both accounts and came away with an appreciation of how difficult life at sea can be even during the best of times!

The Bounty: The True Story of the Mutiny on the Bounty

By Caroline Alexander,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

More than two centuries after Master's Mate Fletcher Christian led a mutiny against Lieutenant William Bligh on a small, armed transport vessel called Bounty, the true story of this enthralling adventure has become obscured by the legend. Combining vivid characterization and deft storytelling, Caroline Alexander shatters the centuries-old myths surrounding this story. She brilliantly shows how, in a desperate attempt to save one man from the gallows and another from ignominy, two powerful families came together and began to create the version of history we know today. The true story of the mutiny on the Bounty is an epic of…

Albatross: The True Story of a Woman's Survival at Sea

By Deborah Scaling Kiley, Meg Noonan,

Book cover of Albatross: The True Story of a Woman's Survival at Sea

Why this book?

When sharks are circling your life raft, I do not recommend drinking seawater to quench your excruciating thirst. In Albatross, five people find themselves adrift at sea in a small life raft with no food or water. When one of the sailors drinks seawater we see how that can dehydrate the brain and cause hallucinations. Suddenly the sailor blurts out that he is going to get his car to get some beer, and he steps out of the life raft. The sharks are waiting.

Albatross is not only a story of mistakes made, but also of courageous decisions by two survivors, Deb Kiley and Brad Cavanaugh. It is hair-raising, insightful, and might just keep you off the water.

Albatross: The True Story of a Woman's Survival at Sea

By Deborah Scaling Kiley, Meg Noonan,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In 1982 the author and four companions got caught in a storm in a 58 foot yacht off the coast of North Carolina. For five days they kept alive without food or water in a tiny inflatable dinghy after the yacht sank. The first night was spent in the water under the upside down dinghy trying to keep warm, not learning until morning that the area was infested with sharks. Two of the boys drank sea water, went mad, climbed overboard and were never seen again. Meg, badly injured, died of exposure and gangrene. Brad and Debbie were rescued by…

In Harm's Way: The Sinking of the USS Indianapolis and the Extraordinary Story of Its Survivors

By Doug Stanton,

Book cover of In Harm's Way: The Sinking of the USS Indianapolis and the Extraordinary Story of Its Survivors

Why this book?

When the USS Indianapolis was sunk in WWII by a Japanese submarine the survivors expected that because they were overdue, U.S. search planes would find them within a day. The survivors, however, spent days in shark-infested waters in the Pacific under the searing sun by day and strength-sapping cold at night. Stanton brings the story to life by focusing on four survivors, including the ship’s Doctor and the ship’s Captain McVey. We feel their will to live and the pain they must endure.  

McVey was later court-martialed because he failed to have the ship zig-zag at night, but the author shows how the Navy was unjust as it used him as the scapegoat for a series of blunders no fault of the Captain.  I love a book that exposes a cover-up and Stanton delivers.

In Harm's Way: The Sinking of the USS Indianapolis and the Extraordinary Story of Its Survivors

By Doug Stanton,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked In Harm's Way as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

On 30 July 1945 the USS Indianapolis was steaming through the South Pacific, on her way home having delivered the bomb that was to decimate Hiroshima seven days later, when she was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine. Of a crew of 1196 men an estimated 300 were killed upon impact; the remaining 900 sailors went into the sea. Undetected for five days, they struggled to stay alive, fighting off sharks, hypothermia and madness. By the time rescue arrived, only 317 men were left alive.

Interweaving the stories of some of these survivors (including the ship's Captain Butler McVay, who would…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in survival, Teddy Roosevelt, and World War 2?

6,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about survival, Teddy Roosevelt, and World War 2.

Survival Explore 126 books about survival
Teddy Roosevelt Explore 26 books about Teddy Roosevelt
World War 2 Explore 1045 books about World War 2

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The Wall, The Alchemist, and The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt if you like this list.