Books for the Mountain Life, Part 3

As you probably gathered from my previous posts (Part 1 and Part 2), I’m never at a loss when it comes to recommending a good book. Continuing with my theme of stories that every mountain-loving adventurer should read, below you’ll find more excellent books that I highly recommend.

The Naturalist: Theodore Roosevelt, A Lifetime of Exploration, and the Triumph of American Natural History, Darrin Lunde

Just when I think I’ve maxed out my T.R. knowledge, The Naturalist is published! This book focuses exclusively on T.R.’s work in natural history, starting with his early childhood bird obsession and culminating with his yearlong, post-presidency African hunting/scientific expedition. The book also digs deep into the growth of natural history in the United States, discussing the rise of natural history museums and profiling the era’s pioneering naturalists. The author does a great job explaining how T.R. could be such a devoted conservationist and nature lover, while also being an enthusiastic big game and bird hunter.  I’ve always said that his 7.5 years as President were the least interesting part of T.R.’s life, and this book presents strong evidence for my claim. 

For a sometimes too detailed history of T.R.’s conservation work, check out Douglas Brinkley’s Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America. For a non-T.R. history of America’s naturalist/conservation movement, check out Last Stand: George Bird Grinnell, the Battle to Save the Buffalo, and the Birth of the New West by Michael Punke.

The Emerald Mile: The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History Through the Heart of the Grand Canyon, Kevin Fedarko

This book hits on many of the subjects I love: adventure, history, conservation, the West, water, and crazy people. The title sums up the primary storyline, but the book covers many ancillary topics including Coronado’s 14th-century expedition to the Grand Canyon, John Wesley Powell’s first descent of the Colorado, a history of the US’s river-damming efforts (and ensuing protests from Edward Abbey et. al.), and the culture of river guiding in the West. If you enjoy exciting adventure stories and want an overview of the history of Western water issues, this book is an excellent choice.

If you’re looking for a straight-up river adventure book, check out Hell or High Water: Surviving Tibet’s Tsangpo River by Peter Heller.

Denali’s Howl: The Deadliest Climbing Disaster on America’s Wildest Peak, Andy Hall

I haven’t come across many good books about Denali, but this one seemed promising. It details a 1967 expedition in which 12 climbers started up the mountain, and only five made it down. The cause of disaster was not so much incompetence (although there was a little of that) as it was a massive superstorm that hammered the mountain for days on end. I’ve spent over 45 days on Denali and have experienced firsthand how a storm with just a quarter of the power of this storm can wreck the most high-tech, 21st-century gear and tents (as well as the climbers in those tents!). It is a stern reminder that, in the end, humans and all our fancy gear are simply no match for nature. I’d only recommend this book to people with a specific interest in Denali—it’s a rather meticulous, point-by-point retelling of this particular expedition, and I can see how it might be boring for folks without an interest in the subject.

If you’re looking for a solid collection of mountaineering stories suitable for most audiences, I highly recommend Jon Krakauer’s Eiger Dreams: Ventures Among Men and Mountains.

Braving It: A Father, a Daughter, and an Unforgettable Journey into the Alaskan Wild, James Campbell

Even though my daughter is barely a year old, I already daydream about some of the fun adventures that we’ll have together in wild places. This book presents an excellent blueprint for hardcore father-daughter Alaska expeditions. The author and his teenage daughter take a series of three trips above the Arctic Circle—two of which involve living and working with trappers in their remote Alaskan outpost. The third trip is an unsupported backpacking and canoeing trip down a remote, grizzly-infested valley. The book is very well written, and I could easily relate to both the father and daughter. The book is also heavy on travel and adventure narrative and light on sappy father-daughter emotional nonsense, which I appreciated. A great book, especially for dads of little girls.

If you’re looking for more reading suggestions, check out my bimonthly book recommendation email—one quick email, sent every other month, with a few books that I’ve recently read and highly recommend.