Reading lists

5 of the best real-life adventure books

Ed Caesar, author of celebrated narrative nonfiction The Moth and the Mountain, shares his pick of books that capture humanity's insatiable spirit for adventure.

Ed Caesar
Image: Penguin
Image: Penguin

New Yorker writer Ed Caesar's latest book, The Moth and The Mountain, tells, for the first time, the incredible story of Maurice Wilson and his jaw-dropping attempt to become the first person to reach the summit of Mount Everest in 1933.

'Ruttledge was not a great alpinist, but he was a keen watcher, and his descriptions of the landscape are indelible'

Everest 1933 by Hugh Ruttledge (1936)

In researching The Moth and the Mountain, I absorbed the accounts of members of the 1920s and 1930s Everest expeditions. Hugh Ruttledge’s book, from the almost-triumphant 1933 mission, is rarely mentioned by aficionados of Everest literature. I love it. Ruttledge was not a great alpinist, but he was a keen watcher, and his descriptions of the landscape are indelible. “The least imaginative of mountaineers must feel… that he is in an enchanted land where things undreamt of in his philosophy may occur at any moment.”

The White Darkness by David Grann (2018)

David Grann is a nonpareil writer of narrative nonfiction, and The White Darkness may be his masterpiece. This slim book—in truth, a long New Yorker article bound in a hardback—tells the story of Henry Worsley, who was obsessed with Ernest Shackleton, the redoubtable British Antarctic explorer of the early twentieth century. Worsley’s attempts to follow in Shackleton’s footsteps in the Antarctic are described in gorgeous and heartbreaking detail.

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