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Surviving isn’t all about planning your perfect bug-out, looking for food and water, or building shelter. It’s also about surviving in the pages of literature, living through the imaginations of some of the greatest authors. Here are 24 epic books that will whisk you away on incredible adventures.
Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors by Piers Paul Read
Written by British author Piers Paul Read and first published in 1974, Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors is the dramatic story of an Uruguayan amateur rugby team whose plane crashed in the remote Andes mountains. Forced to make shelter and find food to survive, they drank the blood of their fallen companions, ate what they could scavenge, and built makeshift homes on rugged terrain. With no outside help during the ten weeks, they were stranded in the barren wilderness, their tale admirably illustrates human resilience and hope in peril. The story was later adapted into a 1993 Hollywood film directed by Frank Marshall featuring an all-star cast. Alive chronicles this incredible journey of survival against all odds as it gives readers an understanding of how far people can push themselves to endure physical hardship for their family, friends, and loved ones.
Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine, and the Miracle That Set Them Free by Héctor Tobar
Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine and the Miracle That Set Them Free by Héctor Tobar is a powerful story that offers an unprecedented portrait of survival. When a mining disaster trapped thirty-three men underground for sixty-nine days and two grueling weeks on August 5, 2010, in Chile, it captured the entire world’s attention. In this book, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Héctor Tobar narrates the heart-wrenching tale of survival while blending with the powerful accounts of some of these miners.
This book peels back layer after layer to reveal rare footage from inside the mine, secret documents buried by industrial giants who exploited cheap labor and lax regulations to conceal decades of misdeeds, official testimonies from authorities as well as eyewitness accounts from people on the surface following closely every dramatic twist until that magical day when all were rescued alive.
This gripping account investigates how determination can triumph over despair and reveals how hope drives humans to endure almost unimaginable hardship. Readers will gain insight into what psychologists call ‘post-traumatic growth’ – where real-life disasters can lead to spiritual awakenings and personal transformation in more uplifting ways than we could ever have imagined.
438 Days: An Extraordinary True Story of Survival at Sea by Jonathan Franklin
In 438 Days: An Extraordinary True Story of Survival at Sea, acclaimed journalist Jonathan Franklin shares the unbelievable true story of Salvador Alvarenga, who survived an unprecedented 438 days adrift in a small boat in the Pacific Ocean.
Alvarenga was working as a commercial fisherman off the Mexican coast when his small boat capsized in a sudden storm. He and his companion were stranded with no food or drinking water, and their GPS was damaged. As days passed and hopes faded, Alvarenga relied on his will to survive to find the strength he never knew he had.
Franklin’s book reveals Alvarenga’s internal torment and physical suffering as he battled isolation, starvation, despair, and even wild animals while approaching volcanic islands with no sign of habitation. The miraculous conclusion of Alvarenga’s journey highlights perseverance through tremendous adversity and lessons in resilience, friendship, and forgiveness.
Tracks: A Woman’s Solo Trek Across 1700 Miles of Australian Outback by Robyn Davidson
Originally published in 1980, Tracks: A Woman’s Solo Trek Across 1700 Miles of Australian Outback by Robyn Davidson chronicles the author’s journey as she travels alone to traverse the continent with only four camels and a dog. This extraordinary memoir tells not only of her physical endurance but also her inner struggle as she confronts loneliness and other psychological challenges. It is both a thrilling journey of discovery and an intimate tale of self-development, as she overcomes obstacles while at the same time learning to appreciate life’s little surprises. Robyn Davidson’s personal account is inspiring, captivating, and an amazing story of survival and independence.
Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster by Jon Krakauer
In “Into Thin Air,” Jon Krakauer documents his ascent of Mt. Everest in the 1996 disaster when eight climbers died. The book starts at the base camp, revealing the motivations and personalities of climbers on a quest for glory. Krakauer then recounts each step of the climb as he clashes with a rival climbing group, faces grueling physical and emotional challenges, and struggles against nature as temperatures plunge dangerously low. When tragedy strikes near the summit, Krakauer watches “the terrifying battle to save [his] friends” with gripping detail until his descent to base camp. He concludes by reflecting on how his years of serious mountaineering prepared him for an experience that ultimately “transcended any that I previously imagined possible.”
Touching the Void: The True Story of One Man’s Miraculous Survival by Joe Simpson
Originally published in 1988, Touching the Void is a remarkable true story of adventure and courage. Written by renowned explorer Joe Simpson, it follows his thrilling tale of mountaineering and survival after a painful accident during an expedition to the Andes range in 1985. The harrowing events left Simpson stranded and injured on a remote mountain peak above 20,000 feet, forcing him to make an incredible effort to survive against all odds.
Simpson’s story is told through vivid detail as he recalls his frustration at abandoning climbing partner Simon Yates and his struggle for survival under extreme desperation. In addition to recounting Simpson’s fight for survival, Touching the Void also explores human will, determination in the face of impossible danger, teamwork on the mountain, and the importance of friendship in desperate times. With gripping suspense throughout its pages and a terrifying conclusion that will leave readers breathless, this incredible memoir of resilience is hard to put down. Touching the Void remains one of the most acclaimed books on mountaineering ever written and has been adapted into an Academy Award-nominated documentary film and dramatized as a BBC television film.
The Summit: How Triumph Turned To Tragedy On K2’s Deadliest Days by Pat Falvey and Pemba Gyalje Sherpa
The Summit is the true story of Pat Falvey and Pemba Gyalje Sherpa, who, in August 2008, undertook a doomed attempt to climb K2, the world’s second-highest mountain. Set against the backdrop of twenty-four hours on one of the world’s most treacherous peaks and amidst the spiraling chaos of a deadly weather system, this gripping narrative brings to life ten heroic climbers — including two Sherpas — who were determined to battle adverse circumstances beyond their control.
In August 2008, thirteen men set out to ascend the second-highest mountain in the world: K2. Against seemingly insurmountable odds, Pat Falvey and his climbing partner Pemba Gyalje Sherpa made it as far as Camp 4 above 8000m before tragedy struck. This book is an intensely personal account of success and failure on one of mountaineering’s greatest challenges.
Falvey gives us an evocative glimpse into altitude acclimatization that goes wrong; with raw storytelling power, he describes physical exhaustion and mental anguish on top of any mountain – let alone K2. You experience heartache with him as his team decides to press forward despite serious warning signs that things are not right physically/mentally. It is an inspiring example against all odds – until a single misplaced step turns potential glory into tragedy with far-reaching consequences that you will never forget once you read!
Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Ralston
Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Ralston is an inspiring account of extraordinary determination, risk, and courage, all bundled into one story. In April 2003, Ralston was forced to amputate his own right arm after it was pinned by a boulder while he was canyoneering alone in the Utah wilderness. After being stranded for almost five days without food or water, Ralston needed to employ blind courage to turn his seemingly hopeless situation around and save himself from certain death. He would become the second-known person to ever perform such a drastic act under similar historical circumstances. This story has inspired many with its raw emotion and harrowing narrative, as well as its lessons about survival and strength of will.
Skeletons on the Zahara: A True Story of Survival by Dean King
Skeletons on the Zahara: A True Story of Survival is an inspiring account of survival from author Dean King. This true story recounts a tale of the dangers of sea travel and intense human relationships in the face of a difficult environment.
In 1815, 12 US sailors set sail for West Africa on a trading ship captained by James Riley, only to be severely off course, shipwrecked, and stranded in the Saharan Desert. Without basic supplies, no knowledge of geography, or even how to communicate with local people, they must rely on courage and sheer willpower to stay alive. What transpires is an incredible ordeal that only two out of twelve will eventually survive.
Through heightened tensions between crew members, encounters with nomadic desert tribes who raid their camp for commodities—including one sailor who was sold into slavery—and long treks through barren land searching for any clue that might lead them closer to safety, King reveals a gripping adventure and sobering reminder about the realities of survival during extreme circumstances. The intensity grows as readers are taken along this journey, proving that astonishing things can be achieved if you never give up hope.
In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette by Hampton Sides
In Hampton Sides’ book, In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette, readers are taken on an adventure through the icy waters of the Arctic Ocean. The USS Jeannette, an American steamer with a crew of 33 men led by Navy Lt. George Washington De Long, embarked upon its voyage in 1879 in search of the famed “open Polar sea” said to be located beyond the southern shoreline of Siberia. Despite their best efforts and optimism, this would prove to be their downfall as their ship was eventually crushed by relentless ice masses, leaving them stranded and isolated in one of Earth’s harshest environments. As time passed and supplies dwindled, morale steadily declined as they resorted to desperate measures to survive. In his book, Hampton Sides brings this epic story vividly to life through exhilarating accounts from diaries and journals that detail every moment from their fascinating trip leading up to their eventual rescue two years later. Readers will be captivated page after page as they take part in this crucial part of history that has enabled polar exploration ever since.
Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why by Laurence Gonzales
In Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why, author Laurence Gonzales examines the fundamental elements that govern survival in various scenarios ranging from wilderness expedition accidents to extreme sports injury to shipwrecks and airplane disasters. Drawing on stories from unexpected places — tales of Buddhist monks, history books, scientists, and adventurers — and based upon an innovative examination of instinctive decision-making processes, the book explores why some people can survive what seems like dire events while others perish.
Gonzales looks at how survivors’ psychology affects their ability to stay alive before, during, and after a disaster occurs. Through his analysis of these psychological aspects, including planning for emergencies instead of relying solely upon luck or good fortune; recognizing danger cues; managing fear; understanding how groups behave; avoiding paralysis due to shock or hopelessness; as well as developing a clear purpose for survival; Gonzales explains what contributes to successful survival outcomes. He also explores the role of chance in survival outcomes and how taking control can be advantageous in certain situations.
Overall, Deep Survival offers readers insight into why people choose either life or death when faced with adversity and shares invaluable wisdom on how anyone can increase their odds for success in an unexpected crisis.
Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala
Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala is an epic book about survival. It began on December 26, 2004, when a tsunami struck Sri Lanka. Deraniyagala was on holiday with her parents and two young sons in Yala National Park and miraculously survived the disaster even though her entire family succumbed to the catastrophic wave. In this memoir, Deraniyagala chronicles her journey of grief as she confronts overwhelming emotions in the wake of the losses that left her alone in a world changed beyond recognition.
Not unlike other survivors of the tragedy, Wave tells a story of unthinkable suffering and devastating loss, but what sets it apart is its deeply honest exploration of the author’s enduring struggle to find hope amid grief. Throughout it all, Deraniyagala pays tribute to those she loved while offering valuable insight into life’s preciousness and hope for anyone who’s ever experienced tragedy or personal loss. Wave is an emotionally stirring book that embraces its heart-wrenching subject with grace and resilience.
The Twenty-Ninth Day by Alex Messenger
The Twenty-Ninth Day by Alex Messenger is a gripping tale of survival and resilience. When an amateur yachtsman and his crew are lost at sea, they must rely on their ingenuity and courage to face the dangers of death and despair to survive.
The novel tells the story of Jonathan MacKenzie, an average man with a passion for sailing. On a sailboat expedition across the world’s oceans, Jonathan’s crew became shipwrecked in the tropical waters of Papua New Guinea. With no means of communication or escape, they must fight against hunger, dehydration, disease, and nature to survive until they can be rescued – if they can be rescued.
One by one, Jonathan’s crewmembers succumb to their debilitating situation as hope fades away. But Jonathan remains determined to make it back home alive – no matter what it takes. With vivid descriptions and thrilling action sequences detailing every step along his journey toward safety and salvation, The Twenty-Ninth Day is an unforgettable story about the power of human will in the face of adversity.
North to Paradise by Ousman Umar
North to Paradise by Ousman Umar is a heartwarming tale of a refugee family that crosses the desert to escape civil war and find a new home. On their journey across the harsh terrain, they must trust in themselves, remain hopeful, and rely on each other to survive the extreme conditions. They must face hardship and loss but ultimately are guided by their faith on the path to paradise. This novel is an invigorating story of strength and courage, as well as an intricate look into a very human struggle for survival. Umar’s vivid descriptions paint an incredible picture of resilience and strength in facing danger, fear, hunger, and despair. By following this family’s challenging journey of self-discovery, readers can learn about life under extreme circumstances and gain insight into what it takes to overcome times of great adversity.
Kon-Tiki is a 1950 book by Norwegian anthropologist, writer, and researcher Thor Heyerdahl. The book relates Heyerdahl’s journey across the Pacific Ocean on a raft called Kon-Tiki, which was constructed using materials available during the time of ancient South Americans. This daring expedition went from South America to the Polynesian islands, demonstrating that Post-Ice Age people in South America could have crossed the Pacific and settled on these islands.
Kon-Tiki tells an exciting true story of an incredible journey – full of danger and adventure. It details how the crew braved storms; encountered sharks and whales; battled starvation; encountered inhabited islands; escaped from natives who wanted their supplies, and eventually drifted onto their destination. Along with describing events in a clear yet dramatic style, it also draws attention to interesting ideas about human exploration, migration, and colonization.
In 2012, a movie based on this book won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2013. It’s available in book form and a documentary detailing Heyerdahl’s incredible achievement – making this survival tale accessible to everyone!
Lost in the Jungle: A Harrowing True Story of Adventure and Survival
Lost in the Jungle: A Harrowing True Story of Adventure and Survival is an incredible account of four young men who endured a painful 33-day journey to freedom after they were stranded in northern Colombia’s deadly jungle. Yossi Ghinsberg, Kevin Gale, Marcus Stamm, and Martin Passwaters were all looking for adventure when they took up traveling together, but what started as a backpacking trip quickly turned into a nightmare.
This true story follows the four men’s perilous odyssey through uncharted forests and treacherous rapids with little food or water, their journey from life-threatening predicaments to struggles for survival, and their courage against insurmountable odds. It is a vivid description of an amazing journey that also delivers an empowering message about the strength of the human spirit.
Filled with thrilling moments of courage and compassion, Lost in the Jungle: A Harrowing True Story of Adventure and Survival will inspire readers and make them never take nature for granted again.
After the Wind: Tragedy on Everest: One Survivor’s Story
Many people consider mountaineering a serious and sometimes deadly activity, but one example illustrates the actual dangers of climbing mountains: After the Wind: Tragedy on Everest – One Survivor’s Story. This gripping book was written by survivor and mountaineer Lou Kasischke to recount the tragedy that occurred when a fierce windstorm struck Mount Everest in 1996, leaving him as one of the few survivors.
On May 10th, 1996, Lou Kasischke became part of a catastrophic Everest expedition that killed five climbers in just two hours. After trekking across Nepal for four weeks, they eventually reached 28,000 feet on the mountain and were just fifty meters short of their summit goal. A fierce windstorm suddenly enveloped them, and as rapidly as it appeared, it also disappeared – leaving an uneven number of survivors due to extreme weather conditions.
In this intimate autobiography filled with vivid descriptions and insight into the psychology of a survivor’s ordeal with an unexpected disaster, Lou Kasischke recounts his intense struggle for survival on one of the highest altitudes ever reached by man. He amazingly managed to outsmart mother nature even under its most extreme circumstances at such heights. This epic book is an excellent read for anyone looking for inspiration or lessons in overcoming obstacles.
The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom
The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom is a harrowing and captivating memoir by Slavomir Rawicz. In 1941, Slavomir was arrested by the Soviet Secret Police and sent to a work camp in Siberia alongside other political prisoners. Determined to escape this gruesome fate, Slavomir and six other prisoners journey thousands of miles across the Gobi Desert, Tibet, the Himalayas, and eventually India—all without proper supplies or resources.
This riveting tale follows Slavomir’s incredible perseverance as he leads his team through frozen landscapes, hostile territories, hunger pangs, and impenetrable jungles. This remarkable journey demonstrates true courage under immense pressure and proves that when it comes to survival—never give up.
127 Hours: Between A Rock And A Hard Place
127 Hours: Between A Rock And A Hard Place is an autobiographical non-fiction book by mountaineer Aron Ralston. It features the extraordinary story of his survival after being trapped in Blue John Canyon, Utah, for five days with a boulder resting on his arm. These five days offer a unique look into his struggles as he faces the harshness of nature, isolation, and the possibility of death. As he reflects on past life events and confronts his fear of dying alone in the canyon, Ralston’s will to survive grows stronger with each passing day – a testament to human resilience and courage. 127 Hours presents gripping details that illustrate Ralston’s incredible journey and prove how even the most desperate situation can be overcome through strength, determination, and creativity.
Into The Wild
Into The Wild, written by Jon Krakauer and published in 1996, is a stunning story about the adventures of Christopher McCandless. Charting the journey of a reckless young man, McCandless embarks on an epic outdoor adventure as he traverses through the wild. Known to travel and explore places away from technology and by relying only on his wits and determination, McCandless has been widely criticized for what some consider a foolish attempt to attain freedom and solace amidst nature’s beauty. Despite his techniques being questioned, many still admire his bravery and courage in tackling the daunting wilderness completely alone. Into The Wild beautifully exposes the effects of fully engaging with nature – both positive and negative – while ultimately telling an extraordinary story about one man’s journey into discovering himself through experiences outside of everyday life.
Adrift: Seventy-Six Days Lost at Sea
In May 1820, the whaling ship Essex was rammed and sunk by a sperm whale, leaving its twenty crew members stranded in the Pacific Ocean. The men managed to escape on three small boats, but their captain’s decision to head for South America left them adrift for more than seventy days. During that time, they were reduced to eating seaweed, birds, and even one another. In this harrowing account of survival, first published in 1821, first mate Owen Chase tells the story of the Essex’s final voyage.
In Harm’s Way: The Sinking of the USS Indianapolis and the Extraordinary Story of Its Survivors
The sinking of the USS Indianapolis was one of the most catastrophic maritime disasters in history. The ship was on a secret mission to deliver a critical component of the atomic bomb that would later be used on Hiroshima when it was struck by Japanese torpedoes. The explosion and subsequent sinking of the ship resulted in the deaths of nearly 900 crewmen, making it the largest loss of life at sea in the history of the U.S. Navy.
The story of the survivors is one of remarkable courage and resilience. After spending five days afloat in shark-infested waters with no food or water, only 316 men were rescued. Many of those who survived suffered from severe dehydration, malnutrition, and exposure. Several men even resorted to drinking seawater, which only worsened their conditions. Despite the odds, these men persevered and made it through one of the darkest chapters in American history.
Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage
In 1914, Ernest Shackleton set out on what was supposed to be a routine expedition to Antarctica. But when his ship, the Endurance, became trapped in ice and later sank, Shackleton and his 27-man crew were left stranded on a remote island with no hope of rescue.
For nearly two years, they endured brutal conditions, battling hunger, thirst, and extreme cold. But through their resilience and determination, they never gave up hope of making it home alive.
Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage is an epic story of survival against all odds that will inspire readers of all ages.
Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption
In his #1 New York Times bestselling book, Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand tells the incredible true story of Louie Zamperini–a U.S. Olympian who survived a plane crash in WWII and spent 47 days drifting on a raft across the Pacific only to be captured by the Japanese Navy and sent to a POW camp, where he was tortured for two years.
This inspirational story of survival, resilience, and redemption will stay with you long after you finish reading.
There’s something about survival stories that just captivates us. Maybe it’s the suspense of not knowing whether the protagonist will make it out alive, or perhaps it’s the lessons we can learn from their struggle. Whatever the reason, if you’re looking for a good book to get lost in, you can’t go wrong with any of the ones on this list. So curl up with a blanket, pour yourself a cup of tea, and prepare for an epic journey.