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The top 10 true-life adventure stories

Colby BermelThe Christian Science Monitor

What’s the best way to enjoy the summer: A cookout in the backyard? A trip to the beach? These are nice, but look no further than reading a non-fiction adventure book. It’s by far the best way to immerse yourself in another world. Check out this list to see some of the best titles in this excellent genre.

#10 A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts, by Andrew Chaikin

Definitely not your typical adventure novel, “Voyages” thoroughly details the successes and failures of NASA’s Apollo space program, including the famous Apollo 11 mission that landed the first humans on the Moon. Author Andrew Chaikin sat down with 23 of the 24 Apollo astronauts to exhaustively chronicle their experiences in the final frontier for this spellbinding read.

#9 Between a Rock and a Hard Place, by Aron Ralston

James Franco’s acting performance in 127 Hours earned the film critical acclaim, but many don’t know that this incredible story was first chronicled by Aron Ralston himself in print form. “Between a Rock and a Hard Place” of course describes Ralston’s life-changing experience in having his arm pinned down by an 800-pound boulder in a canyon, but the mountaineer keeps the reader engaged by recounting his early life and describing his family’s efforts to rescue him. Maps of the area and photos taken by Ralston himself during the ordeal are also included.

#8 Books of the Marvels of the World, by Marco Polo

Sometimes dubbed “the first adventure novel,” “Marvels” is a collection of recorded stories told orally by Marco Polo. The Venetian merchant went virtually everywhere in the Eastern Hemisphere, and a highlight of Polo’s journeys was when he was appointed to an important position in the court of Kublai Khan, leader of the Mongol Empire. Although it might seem aged and distant to modern readers, “Marvels” is truly a classic read for any hardcore adventure enthusiast.

#7 The Darkest Jungle: The True Story of the Darien Expedition and America’s Ill-Fated Race to Connect the Seas, by Todd Balf

Imagine that you are a young and motivated US Navy lieutenant in the mid-1850s. Your task is to lead an expedition to find a route across the isthmus of Panama before rival British and French surveyors do – and they are just days behind your party. This proved to be no easy job for Lt. Isaac Strain, as his team spent 97 grueling days trekking through hellish jungle, facing starvation, disease, and flesh-embedding parasites. Despite the dangers Strain and his men faced, they paved the way – literally and metaphorically – for the construction of the Panama Canal.

#6 Facing the Congo: A Modern-Day Journey into the Heart of Darkness, by Jeffrey Tayler

Another book set in an exotic yet dangerous jungle, “Congo” is written by journalist and veteran traveler Jeffrey Tayler, who decides to abandon his comfortable life and journey down the Congo River in a dugout canoe, inspired by the same voyage of Henry Morton Stanley, the 19th-century journalist and explorer. In addition to describing the plethora of challenges faced along the way, Tayler reflects on how he felt as a white man in a continent scarred by racial conflict.

#5 Into the Wild, by Jon Krakauer

“Into the Wild” tells the story of Chris McCandless, a young man fresh out of college who suddenly rejects his affluent life and seeks out a new experience for himself by hitchhiking all around the United States, soon making his way to the harsh wilderness of Alaska, the place of his eventual death. Author Jon Krakauer uses information gained from interviews with the people McCandless encountered on his journeys, along with his own anecdotes, to paint a tragic yet compelling portrait of a man called to the wild.

#4 Lost in Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II, by Mitchell Zuckoff

“Shangri-La” is the story of three American survivors of a plane crash in Dutch New Guinea and their tense encounters with enemy Japanese soldiers and primitive natives, all while trying to stay alive in the mountainous jungle. The dangerous rescue mission carried out by Filipino-American paratroopers is also included in what Amazon.com has listed as one of the best books of 2011 so far.

#3 The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men Against the Sea, by Sebastian Junger

Initially thought to be conjured up in tall tales, rogue waves do exist – and one struck the Andrea Gail fishing boat during the Perfect Storm of 1991 in the North Atlantic Ocean, resulting in the deaths of all six crew members. Author Sebastian Junger spent years doing research and interviewing locals in Gloucester, Mass., to put together his bestseller that inspired the 2000 movie of the same name starring George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg.

#2 Touching the Void: The True Story of One Man’s Miraculous Survival, by Joe Simpson

There have been many inspiring mountaineering stories over the years, but none more incredible than the story of Joe Simpson (the author) and Simon Yates. After summiting the formidable Siula Grande in Peru, Simpson accidentally falls a far distance down the mountain face and breaks his leg in the process, thus disabling him from climbing. Yates, still tied in with Simpson but much higher up on the mountain, presumes Simpson to be dead and cuts the rope linking them together, causing Simpson to plunge 150 feet into a crevasse. Miraculously, Simpson survives, and the rest of the book describes his arduous journey crawling his way back to base camp to catch Yates just hours before he was about to leave. “Void” is truly a tour-de-force.

#1 The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean, by Susan Casey

Rogue waves aren’t just for big-budget blockbusters like The Perfect Storm and Poseidon anymore. Author Susan Casey takes a two-tiered approach in her exhaustively researched novel “The Wave”: describing the lives of professional surfers who conquer the biggest waves and the work of scientists who study how the ocean works. It’s interesting to read about these seemingly conflicting groups – the surfers and the scientists – all drawn to the same work of Mother Nature: the ocean.