The best books about surviving, thriving, and finding courage in the wilderness

Why am I passionate about this?

As the daughter of a prim and proper New England family, expectations were that I would follow societal norms: attend college, get married, and raise a family. I knew practically nothing about the world outside the United States, nor had I any curiosity about it. Everything changed in 1980 when I took a job as an accountant working for one of the world’s greatest adventurers, Richard Bangs. He literally dragged me, kicking and screaming, into the remotest heart of Africa, where I became infected by wanderlust. Ever since, as a single woman, I have embraced a life of adventure traveling around our amazing planet.

I wrote...

Becoming Fearless: Finding Courage in the African Wilderness

By Brenda Smith,

Book cover of Becoming Fearless: Finding Courage in the African Wilderness

What is my book about?

Coerced by her boss and fellow rivers guides, Brenda Smith reluctantly embarks on a rafting trip through a vast Tanzanian game reserve. If she can survive twelve terrifying days on remote jungle rivers, then she must scale Africa’s tallest mountain. She comes face to face with angry hippos, roaring lions, and stealthy crocodiles, and struggles with the extremes of unbearable heat and hypothermia. Despite the harsh external threats she conquers, her greatest challenge is a profound inner journey - a courageous transformation as she uncovers the internal source of her fears and discovers the personal strength to do anything.

Becoming Fearless is an inspirational true story that showcases what is possible when you step out of your comfort zone into the wild.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Into the Jungle

Brenda Smith Why did I love this book?

I lived in Bolivia in the late 1980s, and with three friends set off on a long wooden riverboat journey on the Rio Beni deep into the Amazon rainforest to the tiny jungle village of Rurrenebaque, a village strikingly similar to Ayachero where Ferencik set her story. I can verify that Ferencik’s detailed descriptions of the environment and its indigenous people perfectly capture the wilderness setting for this story.

The protagonist, Lily Bushwold, endures unimaginable challenges as she follows her new Bolivian love from La Paz back to his village. It is a world full of wonders and terrors, where she must use her wits to survive.   

By Erica Ferencik,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Featured in the New York Times Book Review Summer Reading Guide * A Crime by the Book "Most Anticipated" Novel * Featured in the New York Post Summer Round Up * Starred Publishers Weekly Review * A Publishers Weekly "Big Summer Books" * A Kirkus Reviews "Creepy Thrillers" Pick

In this pulse-pounding thriller from the author of the "haunting, twisting thrill ride" (Megan Miranda, New York Times bestselling author) The River at Night, a young woman leaves behind everything she knows to take on the Bolivian jungle, but her excursion abroad quickly turns into a fight for her life.


Book cover of Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

Brenda Smith Why did I love this book?

Cheryl Strayed was as naively unprepared for her hike on the Sierra Crest Trail as I was for my trip through the African wilderness.

She sought the wilderness to escape from a failed marriage and to cope with the death of her mother. We both encountered many unexpected challenges on our journeys that helped us to overcome the emotions that held us hostage. By the end of our respective journeys, we each had found life-altering strength, courage, and wisdom to move forward in our lives productively with confidence.

Stories that chronicle a person’s positive transformations are my favorites.

By Cheryl Strayed,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • A powerful, blazingly honest memoir: the story of an eleven-hundred-mile solo hike that broke down a young woman reeling from catastrophe—and built her back up again.

At twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother’s death, her family scattered and her own marriage was soon destroyed. Four years later, with nothing more to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life. With no experience or training, driven only by blind will, she would hike more than a thousand miles of the Pacific Crest Trail from the…

Book cover of Where the Crawdads Sing

Brenda Smith Why did I love this book?

I found the story of young Kya, abandoned by both parents and surviving on her own in a wild and rugged salt marsh along the North Carolina coast, both inspiring and heartbreaking.

Nature teaches and provides for her when the civilized world turns their back on her. During my time in the wilds of Africa, I saw first-hand the riches provided by the pristine surroundings we passed through, and, like Kya, felt a powerful urge to preserve and protect these special places from decimation by human progress.

The natural world, while rife with inherent dangers, unlike human beings, is never intentionally deceitful. 

By Delia Owens,

Why should I read it?

46 authors picked Where the Crawdads Sing as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


For years, rumours of the 'Marsh Girl' have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl. But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be…

Book cover of A Well-Tempered Heart

Brenda Smith Why did I love this book?

I identify strongly with the main character Julia Win, a Manhattan attorney, whose life had felt empty since returning from a tiny Burmese village in search of her missing father.

She is drawn back to Burma by questions left unanswered from her first visit. Both Julia and I were deeply affected by the actions of our fathers as young girls. In physically remote locations, we both searched for explanations that would free us from internal fears and doubts.  

By Jan-Philipp Sendker,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Well-Tempered Heart as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The sequel to the international best-selling novel The Art of Hearing Heartbeats.
Almost ten years have passed since Julia Win came back from Burma, her father’s native country. Though she is a successful Manhattan lawyer, her private life is at a crossroads; her boyfriend has recently left her and she is, despite her wealth, unhappy with her professional life. Julia is lost and exhausted.
One day, in the middle of an important business meeting, she hears a stranger’s voice in her head that causes her to leave the office without explanation. In the following days, her crisis only deepens. Not…

Book cover of This Tender Land

Brenda Smith Why did I love this book?

This story also tells of a river journey by four young orphans who in 1932 escape from a horrid Indian training school and travel for months down the Mississippi River. They head into the unknown, unprotected from the perils they encounter.

On my journey, I needed to be constantly vigilant for natural predators like lions, hippos, and crocs. These children had to be on the lookout for human predators: the search party sent looking for them, drifters, grifters, and traveling faith healers. Facing each obstacle we encountered on our trips, we managed not only to survive but actually thrive in hostile surroundings.

By William Kent Krueger,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked This Tender Land as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

1932, Minnesota-the Lincoln School is a pitiless place where hundreds of Native American children, forcibly separated from their parents, are sent to be educated. It is also home to an orphan named Odie O'Banion, a lively boy whose exploits earn him the superintendent's wrath. Forced to flee, he and his brother Albert, their best friend Mose, and a brokenhearted little girl named Emmy steal away in a canoe, heading for the mighty Mississippi and a place to call their own.

Over the course of one unforgettable summer, these four orphans will fly into the unknown and cross paths with others…

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Love, Sex, and Other Calamities: 15 Stories and a Poem by Ralph Hickok

By Ralph Hickok,

Book cover of Love, Sex, and Other Calamities: 15 Stories and a Poem by Ralph Hickok

Ralph Hickok Author Of Vagabond Halfback: The Saga of Johnny Blood McNally

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up in Green Bay and my dad was the official scorer for the Packers, so I was immersed in pro football history even as a child. During my careers as a newspaper feature writer and editor and as an advertising copywriter, I also became a sports historian. My magnum opus was “The Encyclopedia of North American Sports History,” 650,000 words. But my favorite by far is my biography of Johnny Blood. I was 12 or 13 when I decided I wanted to write it, 33 when I began working on it, 38 when I finished it, and 78 when it was finally published.

Ralph's book list on the history of pro football

What is my book about?

From Kirkus Reviews: "This debut short-story collection paints the wistful life of a newspaper journalist as seen through his sexual and romantic encounters...

Throughout, Hickok writes in an assured style, pulling readers along. The narrow sexual focus results in a distorted picture, yet other aspects of Art's life emerge at the edges—his intelligence, his career as a journalist, and even the sincerity with which he gives in to his male urges and construes sex as love... 

Subdued yet alluring; a pensive reflection on the male psyche."

Love, Sex, and Other Calamities: 15 Stories and a Poem by Ralph Hickok

By Ralph Hickok,

What is this book about?

A man arrives in a new city, hoping to start a new life, but he’s still haunted by memories of past loves…
A 12-year-old boy and an 11-year-old girl have a brief romantic encounter when their families are vacationing in neighboring lakeside cottages…
Two teenagers enjoy sexual experimentation when she babysits for her little brother while her parents are out drinking…
A high school boy has a crush on an older woman who identifies with Molly Bloom…
A college freshman falls in love with a high school freshman and is amazed at the depths of her passion…
A guy wins…

5 book lists we think you will like!

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