The best first-person books about the outdoors that should be better-known

The Books I Picked & Why

The Voyage of the Cormorant: A Memoir of the Changeable Sea

By Christian Beamish, Ken Perkins

The Voyage of the Cormorant: A Memoir of the Changeable Sea

Why this book?

Building your own sailboat from scratch, then sailing it from California down to Baja, camping, and surfing along the way: how can that not be a cool story? Christian Beamish manages the perfect blend of introspection and backstory with descriptions of sea, sky, land, and the people he meets along the way.


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Raven's Exile: A Season on the Green River

By Ellen Meloy

Raven's Exile: A Season on the Green River

Why this book?

Nobody, not even Ed Abbey, describes the red-rock deserts and rivers of the Southwest as well as Ellen Meloy did. Raven’s Exile describes raft trips through Desolation Canyon of the Green River in eastern Utah with Meloy’s husband, a BLM river ranger. Meloy’s poetic, humorous, profound, keen-eyed voice makes me want to get on that river.


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Inside Passage: Living with Killer Whales, Bald Eagles, and Kwakiutl Indians

By Michael Modzelewski

Inside Passage: Living with Killer Whales, Bald Eagles, and Kwakiutl Indians

Why this book?

This late-90s account of Modzelewski’s time among the islands of the Inside Passage north of Vancouver is a little bit out there, figuratively as well as literally; the symbolism can be a wee bit heavy at times (“inside passage” — get it?). But the life he portrays, the incredible beauty and power of this part of the world, the characters he describes so indelibly, make this a book that I’ve gone back to again and again.


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Wapiti Wilderness

By Margaret E. Murie, Olaus Murie

Wapiti Wilderness

Why this book?

I really love a lot of the writing between the two world wars — there’s something clear-eyed but lacking in guile, almost willfully large-spirited and generous. The two Muries alternate chapters, Mardie describing everyday life in the beautiful but rapidly-changing Jackson Hole of the 1930s and 40s, while Olaus writes about and illustrates his work as a famous wildlife biologist. I regularly re-read this book when I want to feel good about people and the world.


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A Winter Circuit of Our Arctic Coast: A Narrative of a Journey with Dog-Sleds Around the Entire Arctic Coast of Alaska

By Hudson Stuck

A Winter Circuit of Our Arctic Coast: A Narrative of a Journey with Dog-Sleds Around the Entire Arctic Coast of Alaska

Why this book?

The oldest of my choices, published in 1920, this classic account of an epic 2,000-mile dogsled journey in northern Alaska, written by an Episcopal missionary, still makes lists of the best books about the 50th state. A masterpiece of adventure and ethnography, with lyrical descriptions of nature, A Winter Circuit is the work of a man not only deeply and widely read about polar exploration and the history of the Far North, but also keenly aware of the social forces bearing down on Alaska’s Native peoples, and eager to support and defend their time-honed way of life.


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