If you’re a fan of outdoor adventures, the indomitable human spirit, and tales of survival against all odds, then you’ve come to the right place. In this reading list, we’ve curated the best survival books that will take you on a long walk through some of the most harrowing and inspiring true stories of survival in the United States and around the world. From plane crashes to lifetime struggles, these stories give us a thrilling peek into the incredible human spirit and the important survival skills.
In this reading list, we’ve combed through lots of books to find the most exciting true survival stories. Get ready to be inspired, thrilled, and moved as we dive into the pages of these amazing survival books. You’ll see how people’s strength and survival skills shine through, even after plane crashes and in the face of difficult situations. So, fasten your seatbelt, pack your bags, and join us on this unforgettable literary adventure into the world of true survival stories.
Looking for more book recommendations? See our previous reading lists:
Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors, Piers Paul Read, 2002
You’ll like this book if you want to read: survival books about plane crashes
“A classic in the literature of survival.” —Newsweek
On October 12, 1972, a Uruguayan Air Force plane carrying a team of rugby players crashed in the remote, snow-peaked Andes Mountains. Ten weeks later, only 16 of the 45 passengers were found alive. This is the story of those ten weeks spent in the shelter of the plane’s fuselage without food and scarcely any hope of a rescue. They survived by protecting and helping one another, and coming to the difficult conclusion that to live meant doing the unimaginable. Confronting nature at its most furious, two brave young men risked their lives to hike through the mountains looking for help—and ultimately found it.
Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster, Jon Krakauer, 1999
You’ll like this book if you want to read: controversial survival stories or close calls
#1 NATIONAL BESTSELLER • The epic account of the storm on the summit of Mt. Everest that claimed five lives and left countless more—including Krakauer’s—in guilt-ridden disarray.
“A harrowing tale of the perils of high-altitude climbing, a story of bad luck and worse judgement and of heartbreaking heroism.” —PEOPLE
A bank of clouds was assembling on the not-so-distant horizon, but journalist-mountaineer Jon Krakauer, standing on the summit of Mt. Everest, saw nothing that “suggested that a murderous storm was bearing down.” He was wrong.
By writing Into Thin Air, Krakauer may have hoped to exorcise some of his own demons and lay to rest some of the painful questions that still surround the event. He takes great pains to provide a balanced picture of the people and events he witnessed and gives due credit to the tireless and dedicated Sherpas. He also avoids blasting easy targets such as Sandy Pittman, the wealthy socialite who brought an espresso maker along on the expedition. Krakauer’s highly personal inquiry into the catastrophe provides a great deal of insight into what went wrong. But for Krakauer himself, further interviews and investigations only lead him to the conclusion that his perceived failures were directly responsible for a fellow climber’s death. Clearly, Krakauer remains haunted by the disaster, and although he relates a number of incidents in which he acted selflessly and even heroically, he seems unable to view those instances objectively. In the end, despite his evenhanded and even generous assessment of others’ actions, he reserves a full measure of vitriol for himself.
Touching the Void: The True Story of One Man’s Miraculous Survival, Joe Simpson, 2004
You’ll like this book if you want to read: a story of someone with incredible survival skills
Joe Simpson and his climbing partner, Simon Yates, had just reached the top of a 21,000-foot peak in the Andes when disaster struck. Simpson plunged off the vertical face of an ice ledge, breaking his leg. In the hours that followed, darkness fell and a blizzard raged as Yates tried to lower his friend to safety. Finally, Yates was forced to cut the rope, moments before he would have been pulled to his own death.
The next three days were an impossibly gruelling ordeal for both men. Yates, certain that Simpson was dead, returned to base camp consumed with grief and guilt over abandoning him. Miraculously, Simpson had survived the fall, but crippled, starving, and severely frostbitten was trapped in a deep crevasse. Summoning vast reserves of physical and spiritual strength, Simpson crawled over the cliffs and canyons of the Andes, reaching base camp hours before Yates had planned to leave.
How both men overcame the torments of those harrowing days is an epic tale of fear, suffering, and survival, and a poignant testament to unshakable courage and friendship.
Between a Rock and a Hard Place, Aron Ralston, 2005
You’ll like this book if you want to read: a survival story set in the great outdoors
The New York Times Bestseller, and basis for the major motion picture 127 Hours.
Between a Rock and a Hard Place is one of the most extraordinary survival stories ever told—Aron Ralston’s searing account of his six days trapped in one of the most remote spots in America, and how one inspired act of bravery brought him home.
It started out as a simple hike in the Utah canyonlands on a warm Saturday afternoon. For Aron Ralston, a twenty-seven-year-old mountaineer and outdoorsman, a walk into the remote Blue John Canyon was a chance to get a break from a winter of solo climbing Colorado’s highest and toughest peaks. He’d earned this weekend vacation, and though he met two charming women along the way, by early afternoon he finally found himself in his element: alone, with just the beauty of the natural world all around him.
It was 2:41 P.M. Eight miles from his truck, in a deep and narrow slot canyon, Aron was climbing down off a wedged boulder when the rock suddenly, and terrifyingly, came loose. Before he could get out of the way, the falling stone pinned his right hand and wrist against the canyon wall…
Between a Rock and a Hard Place – a brilliantly written, funny, honest, inspiring, and downright astonishing report from the line where death meets life – will surely take its place in the annals of classic adventure stories.
In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex, Nathaniel Philbrick, 2001
You’ll like this book if you want to read: adventure books set at sea
In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex was a winner of the National Book Award. Nathaniel Philbrick’s book is a fantastic saga of survival and adventure, steeped in the lore of whaling, with deep resonance in American literature and history.
In 1820, the whaleship Essex was rammed and sunk by an angry sperm whale, leaving the desperate crew to drift for more than ninety days in three tiny boats. Nathaniel Philbrick uses little-known documents and vivid details about the Nantucket whaling tradition to reveal the chilling facts of this infamous maritime disaster. In the Heart of the Sea, recently adapted into a major feature film starring Chris Hemsworth, is a book for the ages.
Shackleton: How the Captain of the newly discovered Endurance saved his crew in the Antarctic, Ranulph Fiennes, 2022
You’ll like this book if you want to read: an extraordinary true story of survival
Discover the exhilarating true story of Ernest Shackleton’s legendary Antarctic expedition, amongst the best survival books around.
Told through the words of the world’s greatest living explorer, Sir Ranulph Fiennes – one of the only men to understand his experience first-hand . . .
In 1915, Sir Ernest Shackleton’s attempt to be the first to traverse the Antarctic was cut short when his ship, Endurance, became trapped in ice.
He and his crew should have died.
Instead, through a long, dark winter, Shackleton fought back: enduring sub-zero temperatures, a perilous lifeboat journey across icy seas, and a murderous march over glaciers to seek help.
Shackleton’s incredible voyage is one of history’s most enthralling adventures. But who was he? How did previous Antarctic expeditions and his rivalry with Captain Scott forge him? And what happened afterwards to the man many believed was invincible?
In this astonishing account, Fiennes brings the story vividly to life in a book that is part celebration, part vindication and all adventure.
Gone to the Woods: A True Story of Growing Up in the Wild, Gary Paulsen, 2021
You’ll like this book if you want to read: wilderness survival books
From the author of the bestselling Hatchet comes a true story of high-stakes wilderness survival!
If not for his six-hundred-mile journey from the busy Chicago city to a captivating Minnesotan farm aged five, there never would have been a Hatchet. Without the encouragement of the librarian who handed him his first book aged thirteen, he may never have become a reader. And without his daring teenage enlistment in the army, he might not have discovered his true calling as a storyteller.
Gone to the Woods: A True Story of Growing Up in the Wild is the entrancing true story of Gary Paulsen’s childhood, of grit and growing up, and is the acclaimed author at his rawest and most real.
The Kon-Tiki expedition: By raft across the Pacific, Thor Heyerdahl, 1950
This is a documentary describing a science adventure. The author finds some clues which indicate that the first residents on the islands floating across South America in the 5th century, according to historical remains, folk tales, wind directions and tides when he did research on Polynesia in The Pacific. But the civilization of South America in those days was the Stone Age, rafts were the only marine vehicle, no boats.
So many scientists disagreed for the simplest reason: human beings cannot cross The Pacific Ocean on rafts safely. Heyerdahl believed he was right, an inflatable raft can help you cross The Pacific. In order to confirm his theory, he smoothed away many difficulties, with five companions, made a raft totally according to ancient Indian style and went to sea from Peru in April, 1947. They went through various hardships in life, won terrifying waves, encountered many horrible dangers, also interesting places.
Three months later, after crossing more than four thousand nautical miles of the Pacific Ocean, they arrived in Polynesia. As to Kon-Tiki, it is a human name, also the name of a God, who is the leader of the first group arriving in Polynesia according to the legends. Heyerdahl named their raft after it as well.
If you have any other recommendations for the best books about true survival stories, leave them below!