The best books about female adventurers

Who am I?

In my third novel, Great Circle, a fictional aviator named Marian Graves disappears while trying to fly around the world north-south in 1950. While researching and writing, I became a travel journalist, partly so I could follow my character into far-flung, rugged corners of the world. Traveling, I encountered people who lead truly adventurous lives, and I started to seek out riskier experiences myself. I swam with humpback whales, tracked snow leopards in the Himalayas, and journeyed across huge seas to Antarctica’s Ross Ice Shelf. I still don’t consider myself a full-fledged adventurer, but I love reading about women contending with the challenges of wild places and their own internal landscapes.


I wrote...

Book cover of Great Circle

What is my book about?

After being rescued as infants from a sinking ocean liner in 1914, Marian and Jamie Graves are raised by their dissolute uncle in Missoula, Montana. After encountering a pair of barnstorming pilots passing through town Marian commences her lifelong love affair with flight. At fourteen she drops out of school and finds a wealthy bootlegger who provides a plane and subsidizes her lessons, an arrangement that will haunt her for the rest of her life, even as it allows her to fulfill her destiny.

A century later, Hadley Baxter is cast to play Marian in a film that centers on Marian's disappearance in Antarctica. Her immersion into the character of Marian unfolds, thrillingly, alongside Marian's own story, as the two women's fates – and their hunger for self-determination in vastly different geographies and times – collide. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of West with the Night: A Memoir

Maggie Shipstead Why did I love this book?

Even though Beryl Markham was a bit of a romantic wrecking ball (she famously enticed Denys Finch-Hatton away from Isak Dinesen/Karen Blixen—Robert Redford and Meryl Streep, respectively, in Out of Africa), I have a hard time not wanting to be her. She was the ultimate free-range child in Kenya at the beginning of the 20th century and grew up to be a racehorse trainer, talented pilot, idiosyncratic beauty, and, as evidenced by this memoir, a spare, elegant writer of seemingly effortless lyricism. Damn, she was cool. 

By Beryl Markham,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked West with the Night as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WEST WITH THE NIGHT appeared on 13 bestseller lists on first publication in 1942. It tells the spellbinding story of Beryl Markham -- aviator, racehorse trainer, fascinating beauty -and her life in the Kenya of the 1920s and 30s.

Markham was taken to Kenya at the age of four. As an adult she was befriended by Denys Finch-Hatton, the big-game hunter of OUT OF AFRICA fame, who took her flying in his airplane. Thrilled by the experience, Markham went on to become the first woman in Kenya to receive a commercial pilot's license.

In 1936 she determined to fly solo…


Book cover of State of Wonder

Maggie Shipstead Why did I love this book?

Dr. Marina Singh is a very reluctant adventurer, sent into the Amazon jungle to find her former mentor, a pharmaceutical researcher who has gone rogue. I like a novel with a bit of mystery, and I like a character who rises to a challenge. Marina doesn’t do everything right; she can be pretty hapless. But she adapts and grows over the course of this absorbing book (it’s Ann Patchett, c’mon), and she makes adventure seem possible, even for the squarest of us.

By Ann Patchett,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked State of Wonder as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

SHORTLISTED FOR THE ORANGE PRIZE FOR FICTION There were people on the banks of the river. Among the tangled waterways and giant anacondas of the Brazilian Rio Negro, an enigmatic scientist is developing a drug that could alter the lives of women for ever. Dr Annick Swenson's work is shrouded in mystery; she refuses to report on her progress, especially to her investors, whose patience is fast running out. Anders Eckman, a mild-mannered lab researcher, is sent to investigate. A curt letter reporting his untimely death is all that returns. Now Marina Singh, Anders' colleague and once a student of…


Book cover of Lands of Lost Borders: A Journey on the Silk Road

Maggie Shipstead Why did I love this book?

I’m more of a spin class person than a “cycle thousands of miles through Central Asia” person, but I loved reading about Kate Harris’s months tracing the Silk Road by bicycle in 2011. She doesn’t sugarcoat the hardships of such an undertaking (rain, snow, mountains, traffic, logistics, bureaucracy, scary humans, forbidden Chinese border crossings, friction with the friend who’s riding with her), which makes her human as well as brave, tough, funny, and brilliant. Books like this make huge travel projects seem possible, and even if I’ll never do anything on this scale, I love imagining such epic experiences.

By Kate Harris,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

"Lands of Lost Borders carried me up into a state of openness and excitement I haven't felt for years. It's a modern classic."-Pico Iyer

A brilliant, fierce writer, and winner of the 2019 RBC Taylor Prize, makes her debut with this enthralling travelogue and memoir of her journey by bicycle along the Silk Road-an illuminating and thought-provoking fusion of The Places in Between, Lab Girl, and Wild that dares us to challenge the limits we place on ourselves and the natural world.

As a teenager, Kate Harris realized that the career she craved-to be an explorer, equal parts swashbuckler and…


Book cover of Maiden Voyage

Maggie Shipstead Why did I love this book?

I first read this memoir as a young teenager and was completely captivated by the idea of a girl not much older than myself simply raising a sail and setting off into the vast ocean. In 1985, Tania Aebi was eighteen and aimless, and her father gave her an ultimatum: either go to college or sail solo around the world. She chose the latter. Sailing is hard work, and Aebi has plenty of hard days, but her unusual coming-of-age story is romantic (sometimes literally) and exciting and opened my eyes to the possibilities of adventure and courage.

By Tania Aebi,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Maiden Voyage as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 1985 Tania Aebi was an 18-year-old working as a bike messenger in New York City and frequenting bars until late at night. It was then that her father offered her a college education, or a boat. However, if she chose the boat, she would have to sail around the world alone. This volume tells of her 27,000 mile voyage. When she left New York harbour in 1985, she had never sailed alone before and knew little about navigation or anchorage. What began as a quest for adventure became a spiritual test, and fight for survival.


Book cover of Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube: Chasing Fear and Finding Home in the Great White North

Maggie Shipstead Why did I love this book?

I love cold, northern places and dogs, and, if you haven’t already noticed, warts-and-all stories about women finding strength they didn’t know they had in the wilderness. Blair Braverman’s memoir checks all these boxes. As a teenager, she goes to a folk school in the Norwegian Arctic and learns to work with sled dogs, something she later continues as a guide in Alaska. (Braverman is now a professional musher and has run the Iditarod.) The book’s subtitle is Chasing Fear and Finding Home In the Great White North, and Braverman is unsparing in her exploration of fear rooted in both the human and natural world. I read this book on a series of airplanes in one long travel day, and I’m still reminded of it every time I see Braverman’s delightful Twitter stories about her dogs.

By Blair Braverman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A rich and revelatory memoir of a young woman reclaiming her courage in the stark landscapes of the north.

By the time Blair Braverman was eighteen, she had left her home in California, moved to arctic Norway to learn to drive sled dogs, and found work as a tour guide on a glacier in Alaska. Determined to carve out a life as a “tough girl”—a young woman who confronts danger without apology—she slowly developed the strength and resilience the landscape demanded of her. 

By turns funny and sobering, bold and tender, Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube brilliantly recounts Braverman’s…


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Book cover of An Italian Feast: The Celebrated Provincial Cuisines of Italy from Como to Palermo

Clifford A. Wright Author Of An Italian Feast: The Celebrated Provincial Cuisines of Italy from Como to Palermo

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Who am I?

Author Philosopher Historian Researcher Gastronomer Bibliophile and reviewer

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What is my book about?

An Italian Feast celebrates the cuisines of the Italian provinces from Como to Palermo. A culinary guide and book of ready reference meant to be the most comprehensive book on Italian cuisine, and it includes over 800 recipes from the 109 provinces of Italy's 20 regions.

An Italian Feast is a gastronomy about Italian culinary history and consciousness, about how Italians cook, eat, and how their food is an intimate part of their culture. It is the first book in any language to comprehensively explore the gastronomy and cuisine not just of Italy, and not just the regions of Italy, but all 109 provinces of Italy, linking each with each other in terms of history, agriculture, economics, and the material culture of creative food illustrated with recipes.

An Italian Feast: The Celebrated Provincial Cuisines of Italy from Como to Palermo

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