The best books about surviving in the wild, no matter the cost

Sarah Goodwin Author Of Stranded
By Sarah Goodwin

The Books I Picked & Why

Call of the Wild

By Guy Grieve

Book cover of Call of the Wild

Why this book?

A non-fiction account of one office worker’s yearlong attempt to survive in Alaska. As someone who finds non-fiction quite dry and hard to read, this book is the best of both worlds. It has the detail of a true account with the wit and humor of fictional story. This book gives me something that former SAS professionals and hardened explorers cannot; the experiences of an everyday man, trading his desk job for a log cabin in one of the most dangerous parts of the world. 

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Drop City

By T.C. Boyle

Book cover of Drop City

Why this book?

This novel encapsulates my two loves; a fracturing society and the wilderness. Partially inspired by a real 60s commune, the storyline takes a turn when its free-loving hippies are ousted from their eternal summer of love. Lured by the promise of land and lack of authoritarian oversight, they pack up a school bus and head for Alaska. The characters quickly find that living truly ‘back to nature’ is much harsher and more deadly than they had imagined. Their struggle to adapt makes for unmissable scenes of both man’s inhumanity and solidarity.

Drop City shines where misogyny meets free love and California dreams crash-land in the Alaskan wilderness.

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

The Beach

By Alex Garland

Book cover of The Beach

Why this book?

When people talk about islanders losing their grip on civilization, the book they usually mention is Lord of the Flies. To me, The Beach will always eclipse it in terms of both shock value and by virtue of being aimed more squarely at adults. 

It’s the story of a group of backpackers who discover an Edenic Thai island, unspoiled by tourism. The narrative is part humorous dissection of serial backpacker/tourist culture and part harrowing survival thriller. The island community is slowly torn apart by jealousy, drug lords, and arrogance in a grim acid trip of shark attacks and unrequited love. The unreliable protagonist is really just the icing on the cake.

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

The Physician

By Noah Gordon

Book cover of The Physician

Why this book?

Clocking in at over seven hundred pages, this is the longest book to have remained interesting from cover to cover. It charts the fortunes of Robert Cole from post-Roman London to Persia in his quest to become a doctor by attending a majority Muslim university. To do so he risks his life to cross continents and assume a new identity. 

This novel takes you through deserts, wars, plagues, and the brutally fickle court of the Shah, all through the eyes of a man gifted with the power to sense death itself. The protagonist makes difficult choices and survives not only famine and conflict, but bloody political intrigue and interreligious conflict.

The sheer level of historical and medical detail needs to be experienced to be believed.

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

The Grace Year

By Kim Liggett

Book cover of The Grace Year

Why this book?

This book pairs witchcraft with survival in a way that is just sheer perfection to me. In a dystopian village, young women are sent to a wilderness camp to ‘use up’ their dangerous magical talents before returning to be married. If they return at all. 

Fiercely feminist in both concept and delivery, this book doesn’t make any pretense that women aren’t part of the problem too. Something that sets it apart from other novels that focus on female-only utopias. The plot allows for the exploration of how women in this world are pulled apart from one another and turned into their own worst enemies. Not only does the main character have to survive the wild, she has to learn to survive the world she must return to.

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Closely Related Book Lists

Distantly Related Book Lists