free time

22 books about obsessive searches

All travel to some extent is about searching. It may be a deep and yearning search for fulfilment, a soul-wrenching quest for absolution, or something far more base (Thailand, anyone?).

For some, travel is a way to silence an echoing need, be it for knowledge, enlightenment, glory or revenge. These obsessive searches take travellers on great journeys across the wild, usually giving rise to incredible tales of incredible lands. At times, these tales are humbling; at others, they are exasperating but never are they boring.

Below, we list the most intriguing books about obsessive searches – perfect reading for your own journeys abroad.

1 Two Years Before the Mast
by Richard Henry Dana (1840)
As an undergraduate at Harvard, Dana has an attack of the measles which affects his vision. Thinking it might help his sight, Dana leaves Harvard to enlist as a common sailor on a voyage around Cape Horn.
2 Moby Dick
by Herman Melville (1851)
The story of Captain Ahab’s quest to avenge the whale that ‘reaped’ his leg. The quest becomes an obsession and the novel, a diabolical study of how a man becomes a fanatic.
3 Journal of the Discovery of the Source of the Nile
by John Hanning Speke (1863)
Speke discovered the source of the Nile on 3rd August 1858. This is his account of the challenging expedition through present-day Zanzibar, Tanzania and Uganda to the great Lake Victoria.
4 Exploration of the Colorado River and Its Canyons
by John Wesley Powell (1875)
In 1869, Powell led a team of 10 men down the Green, into the Colorado River and through the Grand Canyon. No one had ever made the trip before.
5 Farthest North
by Fridtjof Nansen (1897)
In 1893, Nansen purposely froze his ship into the Arctic ice and set out for the North Pole by dogsled. He and his companion survived a winter in a moss-hut eating walruses and polar bears. The public assumed they were dead.
6 Sailing Alone Around the World
by Joshua Slocum (1900)
A memoir by Slocum about his single-handed global circumnavigation aboard the sloop, Spray. His journey took three years and covered 46,000 miles (74,00km) and saw him chased by pirates and blighted by storms and hallucinations.
7 Kon-Tiki: Across the Pacific by Raft
by Thor Heyerdahl (1948)
Travelling across the Pacific for 4,340 miles (6,985km) for 101 days on a wooden raft built using skills and materials only available to the pre-conquest Peruvians, Heyerdahl set out to prove that Polynesians could have sailed from the Americas.
8 A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush
by Eric Newby (1958)
Newby quits his London job and heads to the Nuristan mountains of Afghanistan where he hopes to make the first mountaineering ascent of Mir Samir.
9 Arabian Sands
by Wilfred Thesiger (1959)
Repulsed by the rigidity of western life, Thesiger spends years exploring the vast, waterless desert that is the ‘Empty Quarter’ of Arabia in search of something more.
10 The Man Who Walked Through Time
by Colin Fletcher (1968)
A chronicle of the first person to walk a continuous route through the 200-mile (322km) length of the Grand Canyon.
11 The Fearful Void
by Geoffrey Moorhouse (1974)
Moorhouse set out to become the first man to cross the Sahara, west to east, over 3,000 miles (4,830km) of sand. In doing so, he sought to face his fears of loneliness and annihilation.
12 The Snow Leopard
by Peter Matthiessen (1978)
The author’s account of a 250-mile (400km) journey through the Himalayas to study the wild blue sheep but also in hope of seeing the snow leopard, a creature so rarely spotted as to be nearly mythical.
13 Old Glory: An American Voyage
by Jonathan Raban (1981)
A cynical Englishman sails down the Mississippi River in search of the meaning of America. As he observes the lives of those who live along its banks, he begins to understand the American psyche.
14 In Trouble Again: A Journey Between the Orinoco and the Amazon
by Redmond O’Hanlon (1989)
An intrepid but underprepared ornithologist and his sidekick set out to meet the fearsome Yanomami tribe in the Amazon. This account of the the four-month trip is both gripping and hilarious.
15 Running the Amazon
by Joe Kane (1990)
Joe Kane’s personal account of the first expedition to travel the entirety of the world’s longest river is a riveting adventure in the tradition of Joseph Conrad.
16 Into the Wild
by Jon Krakauer (1996)
This is the now infamous story of Chris McCandless, a college graduate who rejects the west’s relentless pursuit of success, gives away $24,000 and sets off for the Alaskan wilderness in search of enlightenment.
17 Chasing Che
by Patrick Symmes (2000)
Half a century after Motorcycle Diaries, Symmes embarks on an adventure through modern-day South America to rediscover the revolutionary’s past and enduring influence.
18 Swimming to Antarctica: Tales of a Long-Distance Swimmer
by Lynne Cox (2005)
Cox was the first person to swim the Strait of Magellan, the most treacherous three-mile stretch of water in the world. After a string of record-breaking feats, she went on to become the first person to swim a mile in 0-degree water. This is her story.
19 My Journey to Lhasa
by Alexandra David-Neel (2005)
At the age of 55, David-Neel crossed the Himalaya in midwinter and entered forbidden Tibet disguised as a native. She faced starvation, bandits and treacherous weather to become the first western woman to be received by any Dalai Lama.
20 The Lost City of Z
by David Grann (2009)
In 1925, Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett ventured into a ‘blank spot’ on the map of the Amazon in search of a secret civilisation – never to return again. Eighty years later, David Grann sets out to solve the mystery of Fawcett’s death and to answer the Colonel’s most pertinent question: was the city of Z real?
21 Wild: A Journey from Lost to Found
by Cheryl Strayed (2012)
At 26, Cheryl Strayed’s marriage crumbles and her mother dies from cancer. With nothing to lose, she makes the most impulsive decision of her life: to walk 1,100 miles (1,770km) of the west coast of America alone. The journey holds the distant promise of a life pieced back together.
22 Tracks: A Woman’s Solo Trek Across 1700 Miles of Australian Outback
by Robyn Davidson (2013)
A memoir of the author’s perilous odyssey of discovery across 1,700 miles (2,735km) of hostile Australian desert to the sea with only four camels and a dog for company.

(Lead image: Dreamstime)

You might also like: