The best mountaineer books

3 authors have picked their favorite books about mountaineers and why they recommend each book.

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Learning to Fly

By Stephen Davis,

Book cover of Learning to Fly: An Uncommon Memoir of Human Flight, Unexpected Love, and One Amazing Dog

Have you heard of Alex Honnold? The guy who climbs shear-faced mountains without a rope… Steph Davis does that too. She also skydives and flies in a wingsuit. This book took me on an amazing voyage into the life and mind of a woman with nerves of steel, yet a loving and beautiful soul. A life brimming with achievements, yet littered with tragedy. I spent half the book with my jaw dropped open, and parts with tears streaming down my face.

Steph Davis is undoubtedly a kick-ass female.


Who am I?

My wife is a beautiful, intelligent, and determined woman. She took up rock climbing in her forties. She rides a motorcycle on and off-road. She scuba dives with sharks, she’s jumped out of an airplane, and she strapped crampons on her feet when I said we’re climbing a snow-covered mountain. One of my best friends in the world is from Finland. Typical of Finns, and Scandinavians in general, he has a dry wit and keen observations and thoughts which he delivers matter-of-factly in few words. Combining these two with a sprinkling of my own imagination produced Nora Sommer.


I wrote...

Deadly Sommer: Nora Sommer Caribbean Suspense - Book One

By Nicholas Harvey,

Book cover of Deadly Sommer: Nora Sommer Caribbean Suspense - Book One

What is my book about?

One missing girl. Two lives on the line. Four treacherous challenges. Nora Sommer's first case for the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service is one she'll never forget - if she survives.

When I decided to create a second series, I recognized the logical and most commercial path which checked all the genre boxes, would be a male protagonist in the Florida Keys. But Nora Sommer, a nineteen-year-old Norwegian runaway who’d appeared in several of my AJ Bailey novels, wouldn’t leave me alone. Her personality had become so engaging, her struggle to leave her past behind so motivating; I couldn’t deny her. Nora doesn’t think, act, react, or interact like most people. I fell in love with her character and haven’t regretted the choice for a moment.

Edge of the Map

By Johanna Garton,

Book cover of Edge of the Map: The Mountain Life of Christine Boskoff

Garton dives deep into the investigation into Christine Boskoff's disappearance in the Himalayas. This book tells the beautiful story of Christine's career as a mountaineer, in the 90s when Everest was becoming as much of a status symbol as a feat of human perseverance. As a lover of Everest stories, I ate this one up – female-forward mountaineering stories are still few and far between.


Who am I?

I got interested in long-distance backpacking in my mid-twenties, looking for an escape from the messy life I had created for myself. I wanted to reinvent myself, and a blog about the Appalachian Trail suggested a perfect solution. After 650 miles on the trail and the death of my mother, I knew I would never be the same. In the years since, I have hiked the Wonderland Trail (as featured in Alone in Wonderland) and the Colorado Trail. Backpacking has become more than an escape – it has become home.


I wrote...

Alone in Wonderland

By Christine Reed,

Book cover of Alone in Wonderland

What is my book about?

Alone in Wonderland follows Christine Reed's journey thru-hiking the 93-mile Wonderland Trail loop around Mt Rainier. Among the alpine beauty of Washington state, Reed faces the physical challenges of hiking, the questions of fellow hikers on the trail, and the wildlife that calls the mountain home. More than an outdoor adventure story, this memoir dives into the search for independence and the ease with which we cross from seeking independence to finding ourselves feeling alone in the world. 

Where the Mountain Casts Its Shadow

By Maria Coffey,

Book cover of Where the Mountain Casts Its Shadow: The Dark Side of Extreme Adventure

Mountaineering attracts people of lionlike courage. What of the people who wait for them at home? When Maria Coffey started dating a climber, she found herself part of an exclusive club…and she soon needed them more than ever after her partner was lost in an accident. As she struggles through her bereavement she examines the adventuring nature, and the bravery needed to make a life with such a person.

Who am I?

When I was 10, my father quoted to me the line by Henry David Thoreau, that "the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation." This scared me deeply. It became an enduring question. What makes us feel truly alive? I love stories that take us to these edges. I like to explore what we chase - love, adventure, ambition, art - and where it goes wrong. I’ve long been drawn to stories about people who climb the world’s most dangerous mountains, putting themselves through unthinkable ordeals in places that don’t care if we live or die. And what of their friends, families and partners?


I wrote...

Ever Rest

By Roz Morris,

Book cover of Ever Rest

What is my book about?

Twenty years ago, Hugo and Ash were on top of the world. As the rock band Ashbirds they were superstars. Then Ash went missing on a mountain, and the lives of Hugo and everyone around him were changed forever. Two decades on, Ash’s fiancée Elza is still struggling to move on, her private grief outshone by the glare of publicity. Hugo is now a recluse in Nepal. Robert, an ambitious session player, feels himself both blessed and cursed by his brief time with Ashbirds, unable to achieve recognition in his own right. While the Ashbirds legend burns brighter than ever, Elza, Hugo, and Robert are as stranded as if they were the ones lost in the ice. How far must they go to come back to life?

To the Greatest Heights

By Vanessa O'Brien,

Book cover of To the Greatest Heights: Facing Danger, Finding Humility, and Climbing a Mountain of Truth

Vanessa O'Brien recounts her journey from busy businesswoman to badass mountaineer. She is now the fastest woman to complete the seven summits (both versions just in case you had anything to say about that!) She's brash and gutsy, doesn't hold back what she really thinks, and addresses some of the human and environmental issues facing the world's biggest and ever increasingly popular peaks.


Who am I?

I got interested in long-distance backpacking in my mid-twenties, looking for an escape from the messy life I had created for myself. I wanted to reinvent myself, and a blog about the Appalachian Trail suggested a perfect solution. After 650 miles on the trail and the death of my mother, I knew I would never be the same. In the years since, I have hiked the Wonderland Trail (as featured in Alone in Wonderland) and the Colorado Trail. Backpacking has become more than an escape – it has become home.


I wrote...

Alone in Wonderland

By Christine Reed,

Book cover of Alone in Wonderland

What is my book about?

Alone in Wonderland follows Christine Reed's journey thru-hiking the 93-mile Wonderland Trail loop around Mt Rainier. Among the alpine beauty of Washington state, Reed faces the physical challenges of hiking, the questions of fellow hikers on the trail, and the wildlife that calls the mountain home. More than an outdoor adventure story, this memoir dives into the search for independence and the ease with which we cross from seeking independence to finding ourselves feeling alone in the world. 

Annapurna

By Arlene Blum,

Book cover of Annapurna: A Woman's Place

It illustrates how one woman’s courage to forge ahead in a male-dominated world produced scientific work that challenged gender stereotypes and led to all-male clubs breaking their male-only rules.

Who am I?

I have loved writing since I was in grade school and after graduating university with a degree in International Affairs I became a journalist. I’ve written six non-fiction books and also teach Journalism at SUNY Purchase.  I’ve always been fascinated about the way one person’s life or one seemingly small episode in history allows us a way to examine the larger picture: whether it was how Fanny Bullock Workman showed what it meant to be a woman in a predominantly male world of mountain climbing or how the deliberate sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff in the closing days of WWII showed that war is never black and white, that there are layers to people and stories and events that we should always try to consider.


I wrote...

Queen of the Mountaineers: The Trailblazing Life of Fanny Bullock Workman

By Cathryn J. Prince,

Book cover of Queen of the Mountaineers: The Trailblazing Life of Fanny Bullock Workman

What is my book about?

Fanny Bullock Workman was a complicated and restless woman who defied the rigid Victorian morals she found as restrictive as a corset. With her frizzy brown hair tucked under a topee, Workman was a force on the mountain and off. Instrumental in breaking the British stranglehold on Himalayan mountain climbing, this American woman climbed more peaks than any of her peers and became the first woman to map the far reaches of the Himalayas.

Author and journalist Cathryn J. Prince brings Fanny Bullock Workman to life and deftly shows how she negotiated the male-dominated world of alpine clubs and adventure societies as nimbly as she negotiated the deep crevasses and icy granite walls of the Himalayas. It's the story of the role one woman played in science and exploration, in breaking boundaries and frontiers for women everywhere.

Savage Summit

By Jennifer Jordan,

Book cover of Savage Summit: The Life and Death of the First Women of K2

A different mountain, and reputedly more deadly than Everest. The focus is on a handful of professional elite mountaineers, all women, and the different ways they achieve their climbing dreams, according to their personalities - from phenomenal physical grit to unashamed use of every feminine wile. Yes, it seems you can sleep your way to the top. You might think this sounds monstrous, but I found it incredibly human and moving, and afterward I searched YouTube for videos of these women, to see their actual faces, full of unstoppable life.

Who am I?

When I was 10, my father quoted to me the line by Henry David Thoreau, that "the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation." This scared me deeply. It became an enduring question. What makes us feel truly alive? I love stories that take us to these edges. I like to explore what we chase - love, adventure, ambition, art - and where it goes wrong. I’ve long been drawn to stories about people who climb the world’s most dangerous mountains, putting themselves through unthinkable ordeals in places that don’t care if we live or die. And what of their friends, families and partners?


I wrote...

Ever Rest

By Roz Morris,

Book cover of Ever Rest

What is my book about?

Twenty years ago, Hugo and Ash were on top of the world. As the rock band Ashbirds they were superstars. Then Ash went missing on a mountain, and the lives of Hugo and everyone around him were changed forever. Two decades on, Ash’s fiancée Elza is still struggling to move on, her private grief outshone by the glare of publicity. Hugo is now a recluse in Nepal. Robert, an ambitious session player, feels himself both blessed and cursed by his brief time with Ashbirds, unable to achieve recognition in his own right. While the Ashbirds legend burns brighter than ever, Elza, Hugo, and Robert are as stranded as if they were the ones lost in the ice. How far must they go to come back to life?

Killing Me Softly

By Nicci French,

Book cover of Killing Me Softly

We’re in fiction now. This is the story of Alice, a young professional woman with a settled life and reliable boyfriend, who jettisons it all when she meets Adam, a mountaineer. Adam is very broken, with PTSD after a tragedy in the mountains. I know climbers who would say the plot is sensationalist, but I’ve also met climbers who seem to have left their most vivid selves in that white otherworld. And this is the essential territory of Nicci French novels - people with dangerous edges and missing pieces, and how charismatic they are. 


Who am I?

When I was 10, my father quoted to me the line by Henry David Thoreau, that "the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation." This scared me deeply. It became an enduring question. What makes us feel truly alive? I love stories that take us to these edges. I like to explore what we chase - love, adventure, ambition, art - and where it goes wrong. I’ve long been drawn to stories about people who climb the world’s most dangerous mountains, putting themselves through unthinkable ordeals in places that don’t care if we live or die. And what of their friends, families and partners?


I wrote...

Ever Rest

By Roz Morris,

Book cover of Ever Rest

What is my book about?

Twenty years ago, Hugo and Ash were on top of the world. As the rock band Ashbirds they were superstars. Then Ash went missing on a mountain, and the lives of Hugo and everyone around him were changed forever. Two decades on, Ash’s fiancée Elza is still struggling to move on, her private grief outshone by the glare of publicity. Hugo is now a recluse in Nepal. Robert, an ambitious session player, feels himself both blessed and cursed by his brief time with Ashbirds, unable to achieve recognition in his own right. While the Ashbirds legend burns brighter than ever, Elza, Hugo, and Robert are as stranded as if they were the ones lost in the ice. How far must they go to come back to life?

Into the Silence

By Wade Davis,

Book cover of Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory, and the Conquest of Everest

For anyone interested in George Mallory and the famous first three British Everest expeditions, it doesn’t get any better than Into the Silence. The research here is unparalleled and unprecedented, yielding a level of detail not found in any other books on this topic. If you think you’ve read all there is to say about these expeditions, you may be surprised. It’s a real stunner.


Who am I?

I fell in love with the Himalayas in the 8th grade and vowed to go there one day. Eighteen years later I fell in love again, with a woman this time, who was living in Nepal. While living there I trekked extensively and read everything I could about the mountains, especially Everest. I thought it was odd that all the Everest books started in 1921, but the mountain was discovered in 1853. What took them so long? Hence my book The Hunt for Mount Everest.


I wrote...

The Hunt for Mount Everest

By Craig Storti,

Book cover of The Hunt for Mount Everest

What is my book about?

The height of Mount Everest was first measured in 1850, but it would be 71 years before any westerner got closer than 40 miles of the famous peak. The Hunt for Mount Everest tells the gripping back story of the quest to find the world’s highest mountain and claim the last great prize in the history of exploration, climaxing one June morning in 1921 when George Mallory and Guy Bullock became the first westerners—and almost certainly the first people—ever to set foot on the mountain. It is a story of high drama, two disastrous wars, larger-than-life characters, a few quiet heroes, hundreds of mules, thousands of camels, and two zebrules—all playing out against a backdrop of the most spectacular geography on earth.

Touching the Void

By Joe Simpson,

Book cover of Touching the Void: The True Story of One Man's Miraculous Survival

The original – and many of the best – books about extreme sports are mountaineering books, dating back to a time before the phrase was even coined. This is one of, if not the best of the genre. Joe Simpson’s account of his extraordinary fight for survival after a fall in the Peruvian Andes takes no prisoners. It’s brutal and raw and a wonderful piece of writing. 


Who am I?

I started climbing and running around the hills in my teens, got into boats, became a professional sailor for twenty years, then took up surfing at thirty and snowboarding at forty. There’s something special about playing with gravity, whether it’s sliding down hills or waves, or defying it on a mountain face. All these books capture the thrill and the dangers.


I wrote...

Powder Burn

By Mark Chisnell,

Book cover of Powder Burn

What is my book about?

Sam had given up her Manhattan job and flown off to chase her dream of becoming an investigative journalist. Three months later, alone in a soulless internet café, she’s facing some cold, hard facts; she’s unpublished, unhappy, and broke. And right then, the gorgeous Pete Halland blows into her life – headed for the mythical Powder Burn mountain to write history and blast into legend. 

If she throws in her lot with Pete it could rescue her dreams, but he’s holding back some crucial information – the question for Sam is... what? Soon, Sam is up to her neck in snow and the weather is the least of her problems; lost in a secretive Himalayan kingdom with – what could be – a magic sword and a simmering and potentially bloody revolution.

The Moth and the Mountain

By Ed Caesar,

Book cover of The Moth and the Mountain: A True Story of Love, War, and Everest

This book is of the incredible-but-true genre. A man who knows neither how to fly nor how to climb buys a plane which he plans to fly to India, crash land on the lower slopes of Everest, and climb the rest of the way to the top—all for the (married) woman he loves. Does he make it? What a question! It’s the premise that matters.


Who am I?

I fell in love with the Himalayas in the 8th grade and vowed to go there one day. Eighteen years later I fell in love again, with a woman this time, who was living in Nepal. While living there I trekked extensively and read everything I could about the mountains, especially Everest. I thought it was odd that all the Everest books started in 1921, but the mountain was discovered in 1853. What took them so long? Hence my book The Hunt for Mount Everest.


I wrote...

The Hunt for Mount Everest

By Craig Storti,

Book cover of The Hunt for Mount Everest

What is my book about?

The height of Mount Everest was first measured in 1850, but it would be 71 years before any westerner got closer than 40 miles of the famous peak. The Hunt for Mount Everest tells the gripping back story of the quest to find the world’s highest mountain and claim the last great prize in the history of exploration, climaxing one June morning in 1921 when George Mallory and Guy Bullock became the first westerners—and almost certainly the first people—ever to set foot on the mountain. It is a story of high drama, two disastrous wars, larger-than-life characters, a few quiet heroes, hundreds of mules, thousands of camels, and two zebrules—all playing out against a backdrop of the most spectacular geography on earth.

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