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

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve been fascinated by wild and lonely places since early childhood. Growing up in a small village, there were plenty to choose from. Foraging and an interest in the medicinal properties of plants grew out of that fascination, and later brought me to survival guides and the concept of survival itself. Hostile places, historical skills, and wilderness experiences all have a hold over my imagination. The notion of being prepared for humanity’s decline is something I find endlessly intriguing. Can such a thing be prepared for? What form will our destruction take and how does this affect the methods we need to survive it? I’ll probably keep reading and writing about it until we have an answer.

I wrote...


By Sarah Goodwin,

Book cover of Stranded

What is my book about?

Stranded is the story of a reality show gone wrong on a remote Scottish island. Disasters and dissent leave Maddy, an outcast botanist, in a fight for survival against the elements and her fellow islanders. Extreme cold, starvation, poisonous plants, and a local legend of a witch all feature in this tale of survival and isolation. 

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Call of the Wild

Sarah Goodwin Why did I love 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. 

By Guy Grieve,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Guy Grieve's life was going nowhere - trapped in a job he hated, commuting 2,000 miles a month and up to his neck in debt. But he dreamed of escaping it all to live alone in one of the wildest, most remote places on earth - Alaska.

And just when he'd given up hope, the dream came true. Suddenly Guy was thrown into one of the harshest environments in the world, miles from the nearest human being and armed with only the most basic equipment. And he soon found - whether building a log cabin from scratch, hunting, ice fishing…

Book cover of Drop City

Sarah Goodwin Why did I love 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.

By T.C. Boyle,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

It is 1970, and a down-at-the-heels California commune devoted to peace, free love, and the simple life has decided to relocate to the last frontier-the unforgiving landscape of interior Alaska-in the ultimate expression of going back to the land. Armed with the spirit of adventure and naive optimism, the inhabitants of "Drop City" arrive in the wilderness of Alaska only to find their utopia already populated by other young homesteaders. When the two communities collide, unexpected friendships and dangerous enmities are born as everyone struggles with the bare essentials of life: love, nourishment, and a roof over one's head. Rich,…

Book cover of The Beach

Sarah Goodwin Why did I love 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.

By Alex Garland,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

On Richard's first night in Bangkok, a fellow traveller slits his wrists, leaving Richard a map to "the Beach", where white sands circle a lagoon hidden from the sea, coral gardens and freshwater falls are surrounded by jungle. Richard was looking for adventure, and now he has found it.

Book cover of The Physician

Sarah Goodwin Why did I love 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.

By Noah Gordon,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Physician as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Rob Cole, a penniless orphan in 11th-century London, is possessed by a mysterious power - he can sense death. A mere apprentice, he dreams of controlling the forces of life and death, of mastering the knowledge that will earn him the title of physician.

Book cover of The Grace Year

Sarah Goodwin Why did I love 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.

By Kim Liggett,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Grace Year as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 14, 15, 16, and 17.

What is this book about?

The Instant New York Times Bestseller! Kim Liggett's The Grace Year is a speculative thriller in the vein of The Handmaid’s Tale and The Power.

Survive the year.

No one speaks of the grace year. It’s forbidden.

In Garner County, girls are told they have the power to lure grown men from their beds, to drive women mad with jealousy. They believe their very skin emits a powerful aphrodisiac, the potent essence of youth, of a girl on the edge of womanhood. That’s why they’re banished for their sixteenth year, to release their magic into the wild so they can…

You might also like...

American Flygirl

By Susan Tate Ankeny,

Book cover of American Flygirl

Susan Tate Ankeny Author Of The Girl and the Bombardier: A True Story of Resistance and Rescue in Nazi-Occupied France

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Susan Tate Ankeny left a career in teaching to write the story of her father’s escape from Nazi-occupied France. In 2011, after being led on his path through France by the same Resistance fighters who guided him in 1944, she felt inspired to tell the story of these brave French patriots, especially the 17-year-old- girl who risked her own life to save her father’s. Susan is a member of the 8th Air Force Historical Society, the Air Force Escape and Evasion Society, and the Association des Sauveteurs d’Aviateurs Alliés. 

Susan's book list on women during WW2

What is my book about?

The first and only full-length biography of Hazel Ying Lee, an unrecognized pioneer and unsung World War II hero who fought for a country that actively discriminated against her gender, race, and ambition.

This unique hidden figure defied countless stereotypes to become the first Asian American woman in United States history to earn a pilot's license, and the first female Asian American pilot to fly for the military.

Her achievements, passionate drive, and resistance in the face of oppression as a daughter of Chinese immigrants and a female aviator changed the course of history. Now the remarkable story of a fearless underdog finally surfaces to inspire anyone to reach toward the sky.

American Flygirl

By Susan Tate Ankeny,

What is this book about?

One of WWII’s most uniquely hidden figures, Hazel Ying Lee was the first Asian American woman to earn a pilot’s license, join the WASPs, and fly for the United States military amid widespread anti-Asian sentiment and policies.

Her singular story of patriotism, barrier breaking, and fearless sacrifice is told for the first time in full for readers of The Women with Silver Wings by Katherine Sharp Landdeck, A Woman of No Importance by Sonia Purnell, The Last Boat Out of Shanghai by Helen Zia, Facing the Mountain by Daniel James Brown and all Asian American, women’s and WWII history books.…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in survival, wilderness survival, and Northern California?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about survival, wilderness survival, and Northern California.

Survival Explore 189 books about survival
Wilderness Survival Explore 24 books about wilderness survival
Northern California Explore 18 books about Northern California