The best books about female adventurers

The Books I Picked & Why

West with the Night: A Memoir

By Beryl Markham

Book cover of West with the Night: A Memoir

Why 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. 


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State of Wonder

By Ann Patchett

Book cover of State of Wonder

Why 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.


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Lands of Lost Borders: A Journey on the Silk Road

By Kate Harris

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

Why 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.


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Maiden Voyage

By Tania Aebi

Book cover of Maiden Voyage

Why 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.


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

By Blair Braverman

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

Why 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.


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