The best books about exploration, endurance, and world expeditions

Who am I?

An ultra-endurance athlete, world adventurer, and award-winning author, Jean-Philippe Soulé has a passion for people, travel, culture, mountains, oceans, jungles, and the rest of the great outdoors. Inspired by Jacques Cousteau and other grand explorers before him, Jean-Philippe spent his childhood navigating life-changing experiences and pursuing personal achievements. After two years in the elite French Special Forces Mountain Commandos, driven by his desire for adventure, his yearning to discover new lands and culture, and his heartfelt interest in meeting diverse peoples, he left his native France to travel the world. This quest morphed him from a starry-eyed child to a recognized explorer, but only at the cost of abandoning the conditioning of the modern world and daring to do the impossible: a lesson he hopes will encourage others who refuse to accept being told “they can’t.”

I wrote...

Dancing with Death: An Inspiring Real-Life Story of Epic Travel Adventure

By Jean-Philippe Soulé,

Book cover of Dancing with Death: An Inspiring Real-Life Story of Epic Travel Adventure

What is my book about?

Dancing with Death combines themes from all the books listed below - Travel, Adventure, Culture, Endurance, Grit, Survival - in a transformational journey of self-discovery best described by these quotes:

An unforgettable escapade of ultimate danger and discover...” - Joel Dennstedt (author), Readers’ Favorite

"What the power of human will can accomplish is inspiring, emotional, and empowering.” - The Book Review Directory

Dancing with Death is a tale of adventure, sacrifice, and physical endurance with amazing cultural encounters all wrapped in good old-fashion storytelling. Two men, three years, seven countries, 3000 miles...

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Alone on the Ice: The Greatest Survival Story in the History of Exploration

Why did I love this book?

If you like books about epic expeditions, along the lines of Shackleton's Endurance, when the grand explorers of the early twentieth century had yet to reach the most remote regions of the world—books filled with more danger than fiction authors could imagine for a plot—tales of endless grit and survival—then you’ll love Alone on the Ice.

Combining his mountaineering expertise with his writing talent, author David Roberts brings you along with Douglas Mawson and his entire crew on the most incredible polar expedition, a complex story that involves sub-stories about other explorers and expeditions. (Mawson was a crew member on one of Shackleton’s early expeditions who almost reached the South Pole.) Unpacking the details takes a little time, but once you get acquainted with all these incredible people, you won’t put the book down. We modern adventure-seekers have a lot to learn from these pioneers. 

A gripping story as real as it gets.

By David Roberts,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Alone on the Ice as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

On January 17, 1913, alone and near starvation, Douglas Mawson, leader of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition, was hauling a sledge to get back to base camp. The dogs were gone. Now Mawson himself plunged through a snow bridge, dangling over an abyss by the sledge harness. A line of poetry gave him the will to haul himself back to the surface.

Mawson was sometimes reduced to crawling, and one night he discovered that the soles of his feet had completely detached from the flesh beneath. On February 8, when he staggered back to base, his features unrecognizably skeletal, the first…

Book cover of Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen

Why did I love this book?

When an ultra-running friend gave me the Born to Run audiobook, I thought, Not another running book! Running is trendy, and it seems that new (and often boring) running books pop up like mushrooms. Apart from Dean Karnazes’s excellent Ultramarathon Man, there is only just so much you can read about running without overdosing. And I have nothing against running; it saved my life. I ran my first marathon at 16 and my first ultra at 17 before focusing on mountaineering and world expeditions. I’ve been an extreme endurance athlete my entire life and I’m still a competitive ultra-cyclist in my fifties. But I hate to admit that I didn’t listen to the audiobook. Years later, when I published Dancing with Death, I noticed that Born to Run was always at the top of the many categories in which my book competed, including Extreme Sport, Central American Travel, and Inspirational books. So I started listening to the audiobook. 

Oh my. I was hooked! I wanted to slap myself for having dismissed such a brilliant memoir. I even bought the paperback to refer to. Masterfully written by Christopher McDougall, Born to Run takes you for a ride as you enter into not only the world of ultra-runners and endurance athletes but also the beautiful culture of the Tarahumara. 

You don’t need to be a runner or running fan to engage with the emotional voyage in this book. Guided by the author’s sensitivity, you’ll journey into the life and culture of one of the last traditional Indigenous communities. Enlightening and inspirational, Born to Run is a MUST READ for all those who appreciate that real-life stories can be much better than any fiction. It’s real, it’s amazing, it’s beautiful. Read it! 

By Christopher McDougall,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Born to Run as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

At the heart of Born to Run lies a mysterious tribe of Mexican Indians, the Tarahumara, who live quietly in canyons and are reputed to be the best distance runners in the world; in 1993, one of them, aged 57, came first in a prestigious 100-mile race wearing a toga and sandals. A small group of the world's top ultra-runners (and the awe-inspiring author) make the treacherous journey into the canyons to try to learn the tribe's secrets and then take them on over a course 50 miles long.

With incredible energy and smart observation, McDougall tells this story while…

Book cover of Touching the Void: The True Story of One Man's Miraculous Survival

Why did I love this book?

There is no traveling without getting lost. There is no adventure without taking risks. There is no mountaineering without danger. 

Until the early twentieth century, expeditions were mostly driven by the discovery of the last unreached regions of the planet, particularly the North and South Poles. This led to incredible sea adventures along the lines of Shackleton’s expeditions.  After the entire planet was mapped and claimed, adventurers raced toward unclimbed mountaintops. Mountaineering adventures became the modern-day explorations: Annapurna, Everest, K2, and all the mountains and climbing routes that remained to be named and conquered. Many expeditions had their tragic moments, but very few were penned by those who had made it through their harrowing experiences. Joe Simpson is one such survivor, taking you on a journey of discovery far beyond the stunning mountains of the Peruvian Andes. 

You will live every moment as if you were the one left for dead with broken bones and no way out of the bottom of that crevice. The physical pain will resonate in all your cells. You will fight your greatest fear, touch the void, and face your own mortality, discovering the phenomenal power of the human spirit within you. When you understand what it means to be alive, you will transform. More than a mountaineering book, Touching the Void is an epitaph to life. Joe Simpson died on that mountain, for he was reborn a new man. A gut-wrenching inspirational read not only for adventurers.

By Joe Simpson,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Touching the Void as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Extensive reading is essential for improving fluency
and there is a real need in the ELT classroom for motivating, contemporary
graded material that will instantly appeal to students

Based on the internationally acclaimed book by Joe Simpson, Touching
the Void is the compelling true story of a mountaineering
expedition which goes dreadfully wrong.



Perfect also for native English speaking children who are struggling
with their reading

Full colour photos and film stills bring story
to life and aid comprehension

Fact File section explores the making of the film, climbing Everest
and other related…

Book cover of The Lost City of the Monkey God: A True Story

Why did I love this book?

Here’s another famous writer joining an expensive sponsored expedition in the name of science. I often feel that real adventurers don’t get enough of the spotlight; instead, we’re served dull (and often fake) epic adventures just because they’re backed by huge funds and a celebrity. 

I probably wouldn’t have read The Lost City of the Monkey God if it weren’t for my Canadian friend and cartographer Derek Parent, who was a consultant on the book and advisor for my own expedition. He highly recommended me to read it, and I’m so pleased I did. 

Of course, you’d expect beautiful prose from acclaimed writer Douglas Preston. What I didn’t expect was that he would take me on an emotional voyage and make me re-live the nine months I spent exploring the Honduran jungle of La Moskitia sixteen years before him as part of a three-year expedition I narrated in my award-winning adventure-travel memoir Dancing with Death

The author isn’t only good with words, he has a genuine explorer-adventurer spirit that infuses his writing. Where I describe the beauty of the local Pech culture, Preston’s tale will give you goosebumps about all the dangers of the rainforest they inhabit. A superbly crafted narration, more gripping and epic than Indiana Jones and Lara Craft’s adventures combined, for this is all real. In an era when we thought there was no exploration and discovery left to be experienced, The Lost City of the Monkey God proves us wrong.

Preston will make you live as if you were an explorer on the team, discovering one of the last world wonders from an ancient civilization and suffering all its consequences. Exploration and Adventure, Ancient Culture, Science, Endless Dangers, and a masterly crafted tale make this an epic read you won’t be able to put down. Be warned, though: If you ever thought about visiting the Honduran jungle, this book might make even the most optimistic adventurer think twice. Yet you can’t travel to any tropical destination without reading it. An essential MUST READ! I think that The Lost City of the Monkey God and Dancing with Death were meant to be read as a pair. 

By Douglas Preston,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Lost City of the Monkey God as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The #1 New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller, named one of the best books of the year by The Boston Globe and National Geographic: acclaimed journalist Douglas Preston takes readers on a true adventure deep into the Honduran rainforest in this riveting narrative about the discovery of a lost civilization -- culminating in a stunning medical mystery.

Since the days of conquistador Hernán Cortés, rumors have circulated about a lost city of immense wealth hidden somewhere in the Honduran interior, called the White City or the Lost City of the Monkey God. Indigenous tribes speak of ancestors who…

Book cover of Annapurna: The First Conquest of an 8,000-Meter Peak

Why did I love this book?

Without Annapurna, I would have never climbed a mountain. It not only inspired my childhood but all the mountaineers who followed in author Maurice Herzog’s footsteps. Herzog was also a captain of the 27th BCA during World War II, the mountain battalion where I served as a Special Forces Mountain Commando in the 1980s—but that’s not why I picked this book. I can’t think of a better way to describe it than to quote my own memoir, I, Tarzan: Against All Odds:

It was a time before the modern mountaineering climbs masterfully described by Jon Krakauer and Joe Simpson. It was a time when Heinrich Harrer’s books were not yet translated into French. It was a time when large-scale commercial climbing had not yet become the norm. It was a time when mountaineering defined the essence of adventure. I couldn’t stop reading about it [mountaineering]. Even though I never had the chance to climb, I was climbing daily in my imaginary world.”

Annapurna isn’t only about mountaineering and grand adventures. It’s a beautiful book about the human spirit and life and death. It’s a story that transcends time without ever aging. Annapurna was one of the first mountaineering books (along with Roger Frison-Roche’s First on the Rope) that inspired my entire life, and I can’t recommend it enough. 

By Maurice Herzog,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Top 100 Sports Books of All Time, Sports Illustrated "Those who have never seen the Himalayas, those who never care to risk an assault, will know when they finish this book that they have been a companion of greatness."-New York Times Book Review In 1950, when no mountain taller than 8,000 meters had ever been climbed, Maurice Herzog led an expedition of French climbers to the summit of an 8,075-meter (26,493-foot) Himalayan peak called Annapurna. But unlike other climbs, the routes up Annapurna had never been charted. Herzog and his team had to locate the mountain using crude maps, pick…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in explorers, mountaineering, and running?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about explorers, mountaineering, and running.

Explorers Explore 81 books about explorers
Mountaineering Explore 34 books about mountaineering
Running Explore 15 books about running

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Wild, Getting Undressed, and Running with the Buffaloes if you like this list.