The best books about explorers

59 authors have picked their favorite books about explorers and why they recommend each book.

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Book cover of Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage

Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage

By Alfred Lansing,

Why this book?

Shackleton’s voyage to the Antarctic is spellbinding, sweeping over me like a tsunami. It begins with the loss of the Endurance, crushed in the ice: “she seemed a huge creature suffering and gasping for breath, her sides heaving against the strangling pressure.” An odd narrative with a huge cast of characters and reconstructed from logbooks, notes, and memories of survivors, what is the secret of its success? I have never read a story in which the elements of the natural world exerted such a continuous challenge. Nature sinks the ship, sends a leopard seal loping across the ice in…
From the list:

The best books for would-be travellers

Book cover of Between Man and Beast: An Unlikely Explorer and the African Adventure the Victorian World by Storm

Between Man and Beast: An Unlikely Explorer and the African Adventure the Victorian World by Storm

By Monte Reel,

Why this book?

I love nonfiction adventure books that immerse you in the details of an adventure while providing enough background information to understand the historical, cultural, and scientific perspectives of an era. In the mid-19th century, Paul du Chaillu spent years in Western Africa tracking down the njena, the mythical beast. This book makes for interesting reading as the author weaves the true-life adventure story of the discovery of the gorilla with Darwin’s evolutionary debate, and the challenges a Victorian-era scientist faced to prove his credibility. 

From the list:

The best books about obsession with African wildlife and adventure

Book cover of Arctic Dreams: Imagination and Desire in a Northern Landscape

Arctic Dreams: Imagination and Desire in a Northern Landscape

By Barry Lopez,

Why this book?

I was the Arctic bureau chief (a one-person show) for a now long-forgotten news chain, living in the Northwest Territories of Canada when Lopez was there collecting stories for this book. It was fun to read because I had visited many of the places he explored and knew almost all of the scientists he profiled. What the book lacks because of its largely Eurocentric view of the polar world is made up by the fact it turned so many people onto the much neglected polar world.

From the list:

The best books on the nature and the environment

Book cover of Meet Me in Atlantis: My Obsessive Quest to Find the Sunken City

Meet Me in Atlantis: My Obsessive Quest to Find the Sunken City

By Mark Adams,

Why this book?

Mark Adams is simply a delightful writer. In this book, he dares to ask the age-old question: did Atlantis actually exist? He sifts through the facts and the fiction, taking the reader with him in his traipse across the globe to find answers. Like his other books, Meet Me in Atlantis is a fun read, where you’ll learn a lot and have some laughs along way.

From the list:

The best books on Atlantis if you love adventure

Book cover of Vikings: The North Atlantic Saga

Vikings: The North Atlantic Saga

By William F. Fitzhugh, Elisabeth Ward,

Why this book?

One of the best ways to envision a historical period is to see its artifacts. Vikings: The North Atlantic Saga is a companion to a Smithsonian exhibit of the same name and contains a rich trove of images and descriptions of viking physical culture, along with essays about the archeology of their discovery, and how they were used in the exploration of the North Atlantic, and the eventual journey to the New World.

From the list:

The best books for understanding the Vikings

Book cover of American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America

American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America

By Colin Woodard,

Why this book?

Some of our state lines were cultural borders. The Colony of Massachusetts was founded by and for Puritans; Maryland was created for Catholics; Pennsylvania for Quakers. That process continued after the Revolution, regardless of state (or later-to-become state) lines. Colin Woodard’s book explores the founding of such cultural regions and reveals how those not-on-the-map lines influence our differing views to this day.

From the list:

The best books on boundaries

Book cover of The Vinland Sagas

The Vinland Sagas

By Unknown, Keneva Kunz (translator),

Why this book?

The settlement of Greenland and the first visits to America by Europeans are among the most interesting achievements of the Vikings. This took place around the year 1000 AD, and two hundred years later stories of these events were recorded in two sagas: Groenlendinga saga and Eirik’s saga. Not every word should be trusted, but they provide lively and dramatic tales of how it all may have happened and of persons involved. The main events and the chronology are confirmed by archaeology. This small and handy book (find a fairly recent copy of the many paperback editions) is splendid entertainment…

From the list:

The best books on Vikings: their day-to-day life, achievements, and culture

Book cover of The Far Traveler: Voyages of a Viking Woman

The Far Traveler: Voyages of a Viking Woman

By Nancy Marie Brown,

Why this book?

Nancy Brown's search for one of the most intriguing characters of the sagas, Gudrid Thorbjarnardóttir, is both a detective story and an evocation; a travelogue and history. It brings the adventuring spirit of the age to life; and in exploring this most fascinating and intrepid woman – the first European to give birth on American soil – it warns us not to forget half of the Viking population.

From the list:

The best books about the Viking period

Book cover of The Sea Road

The Sea Road

By Margaret Elphinstone,

Why this book?

The ‘sea-fiction’ literary canon is very male-focused. But in the real world, women put to sea too, and were sometimes at the forefront of exploration. Maria, the heroine of my novel, was the first non-native woman to set foot on the northwest coast of America, when she arrived with Francis Drake during his circumnavigation voyage in the summer of 1579. Five hundred years earlier, on the other side of the continent, another female pioneer, Gudrid Thorbjarnardóttir, explored and settled the Newfoundland coast. 

Gudrid, the ‘Far Travelled’ of Icelandic sagas, is brought to life in this beautifully written and vividly imagined…

From the list:

The best books about historical sea voyages

Book cover of Alone on the Ice: The Greatest Survival Story in the History of Exploration

Alone on the Ice: The Greatest Survival Story in the History of Exploration

By David Roberts,

Why this book?

If you like books about epic expeditions, along the lines of Shackleton's Endurance, when the grand explorers of the early twentieth century had yet to reach the most remote regions of the world—books filled with more danger than fiction authors could imagine for a plot—tales of endless grit and survival—then you’ll love Alone on the Ice.

Combining his mountaineering expertise with his writing talent, author David Roberts brings you along with Douglas Mawson and his entire crew on the most incredible polar expedition, a complex story that involves sub-stories about other explorers and expeditions. (Mawson was a crew…

From the list:

The best books about exploration, endurance, and world expeditions

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