The best survival books 📚

Browse the best books on survival as recommended by authors, experts, and creators. Along with notes on why they recommend those books.

Coming Fall 2022: The ability to sort this list by genre (signup here to follow our story as we build a better way to discover books).

Book cover of The Road

The Road

By Cormac McCarthy

Why this book?

I believe if you want to show the brightest light, you should surround it with pitch dark. McCarthy writes a bleak tale that truly illuminates the love between a father and son. In the obscurity of dusk and ash, their bond becomes palpable. On exhibit is humankind’s grit, moments of joy amidst hardship, and hope. As always, his prose is stunningly gorgeous. Cormac McCarthy is one of the very best writers in the history of the craft. I read him, in part, to educate myself as an author.
From the list:

The best novels of beauty and grit among the hardships of life

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Book cover of The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit

The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit

By Michael Finkel

Why this book?

The very idea that someone could abandon modern life and live for so long in the middle of a wood in Maine, in the USA, for close to 30 years, without being found, I find incredible. What Christopher Knight decided to do here isn’t a million miles from Chris McCandless in my earlier book recommendation, but he lasted a lot longer and was undoubtedly more successful. It takes a very special kind of person to become a true hermit, but at some time in our lives, almost all of us will wonder what it’s like to disappear, just to leave…

From the list:

The best books on people living unusual, adventurous or alternative lives

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Book cover of Robinson Crusoe

Robinson Crusoe

By Daniel Defoe

Why this book?

The reason why this book has been in print, pretty much since it first appeared in 1719, lies in its almost tedious detail. Defoe’s description of the daily chores, the sheer effort, of survival is believable and, hence, compelling. It’s also a story of religion, slavery, and, to modern eyes, blatant racism. Crusoe was captured and enslaved in North Africa, he escapes and eventually becomes a slave trader, and goes on to treat ‘Friday’ as his slave. These chilling facts are treated in the same matter-of-fact way that Defoe applies to collecting drinking water.

From the list:

The best books about the lure and mystery of islands

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Book cover of The Black Stallion

The Black Stallion

By Walter Farley

Why this book?

This is a classic tale of a wild horse that only one person can tame, a trope that resonates with every horse lover the world over, me included!

A shipwreck leaves horse-mad Alec stranded on a desert island with the Black, a wild Arabian stallion. The pair must learn to trust each other if they are to survive.

But this is as much a story about horse racing as it is a shipwreck tale, and when Alec and the Black return home to America the Black’s incredible speed sees him taking part in a match race against the two fastest…

From the list:

The best books that capture the bond between horses and people

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Book cover of The Reapers Are the Angels

The Reapers Are the Angels

By Alden Bell

Why this book?

This book had to make it into my list, because while it does have zombies, and terrifying ones at that, they serve as the backdrop for the heroine Temple to work out her inner demons while interacting with individuals who haven’t necessarily worked out their own. Ultimately, Temple is on a hero’s journey akin to the great journeys of Hercules, Jason, and Icarus.

I’ve always loved a flawed tragic hero, and I think Bell did a fantastic job not just with Temple, but with the rest of the cast. He managed to create a whole cadre of raw complex characters…

From the list:

The best books that take zombies in a new direction

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Book cover of My Side of the Mountain

My Side of the Mountain

By Jean Craighead George

Why this book?

This classic story of a boy running away to the Catskill Mountains and surviving on his own in the wilderness has stayed in my mind for years. Camping in the mountains of California with my comfortable sleeping bag and tent is so much different than reading about Sam Gribley, who brings only his knife, flint, and steel to light fires, some rope, and his ingenuity. Sam bonds with a falcon who helps him survive the harsh winter, which he spends living in a hollowed out log. 

From the list:

The best middle-grade/young adult environmental fantasy books

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