Into the Wild, by Jon Krakauer
It’s hard to write about Into the Wild without discussing its ending. Many of us would like to give up everything and disappear on a sabbatical into the wild – or at least we think we would. In 2007, college graduate Christopher McCandless actually did it. And you needn’t read till the end of Into the Wild to learn it ended badly. But Jon Krakauer’s book is not only a cautionary tale, it is one of optimism and spirit. This is man going back to basics, like in Thoreau’s Walden; except the story of McCandless’s survival is fascinating because it’s so utterly unusual. Imagine actually doing this in the twenty-first century! We’re fortunate to be at home, perhaps. Safe with our loved ones. But within us is always a little bit of the McCandless spirit, and this book helps us access it when most needed.
Moby Dick, by Herman Melville
Moby Dick is a story about a whale. OK, that’s a pretty simplified summary, because, as one of the most famous adventure novels of all time (and yes, a whale is involved. A big one) this is a tale about an obsessive hunter called Ahab, who risks everything for the big catch. You see, Moby Dick bit off Ahab’s leg at the knee, and so he has vowed revenge – bringing with him a memorable team of sailors who fill their voyage with humor, wisdom, and insanity. If you’ve persevered through an expedition or difficult trip, you’ll understand the darkness and fear that creeps from within Ahab’s redemption story. The answer to life is out there. It might be a big whale, or it might be a virus. Whatever it is, we just have to endure a little bit longer.
Seven Pillars of Wisdom (or a Revolt in the Desert), by T.E. Lawrence
Was T.E. Lawrence telling the complete truth? After his escapades as the mysterious Lawrence of Arabia – in which he helped the Sharif of Mecca depose Ottoman rule – people were shocked to discover how daring and colorful his Arabian adventures had been. Shoot-outs, prisons, politics, explosives, and tribes – the kind of things people had read about in fiction was being lived by one man. Better yet, Lawrence writes in the manner of a great essayist, strategist, and poet (he always brought a copy of the Arthurian legend with him). And whether you pick the abridged Revolt in the Desert, or his epic six-hundred-word tome, Seven Pillars of Wisdom, his journey from everyday office clerk to Arab general, and later disillusioned veteran, will inspire you to spend the afternoon daydreaming about long treks in the simmering Wadi Rum desert, or sleeping beneath the stars by a lush oasis. By scholarly accounts, it’s half-fiction, half-autobiography. Either way, it still makes for a damn majestic read! - and to this day, desert explorers can’t help but feel Lawrence’s shadow hovering over them as they trek through Rum or the Sahara. (You ought to check out David Lean’s sweeping screen adaption, too!)
King Solomon’s Mines, by Sir H. Rider Haggard