Exploration history books usually go beyond the mere description of a trip. They are also an exploration of the inner human condition. They explore the aims, fears, prejudices, and heroic fantasies of a particular era, and how unexpectedly humans can behave when the plan goes wrong.
Each century has its own trends of exploration. The times of delving into terra ignota, moving into the depths of the oceans, and wandering around far away freezing regions have eventually led to more modern interplanetary space missions.
If you are an adventure lover yourself, we have curated a selection of books about exploration history that is sure to inspire! Read on:
Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration: Ernest Shackleton and the Endurance Odyssey
Explorer Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton has fostered quite a number of pieces of literature about his expeditions. His first experiences were alongside another notable traveler Captain Robert Falcon Scott, whose legendary last Antarctic expedition has been told in Max Jones’ The Last Great Quest: Captain Scott’s Antarctic Sacrifice.
When the race to reach the South Pole ended, Shackleton planned to cross the Antarctica continent from sea to sea, via the pole. Unfortunately, his ship, Endurance, became locked in an island of ice while navigating the Weddell Sea at the beginning of 1915.
The explorer himself narrated the odyssey they took to reach safety in South: The Endurance Expedition. Another fascinating account is Alfred Lansing’s Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage. It is an astonishing tale of survival amongst the unknown in extreme climate conditions.
The Endurace legend is so, well, enduring, that one of the most expensive items sold in 2021 in Biblio was a small brass-colored metal box of matches from Shackleton’s hut in the Antarctic.
The Exploration of America
In 2005, Charles C. Mann published a transformative new look at the rich and fascinating world of South America and Latin America before colonization, the bestseller 1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus. One of its highlights is its multidisciplinary approach, using science, history, and archaeology to light up our knowledge of pre-Columbian cultures.
A contemporary non-fiction tale of the genre is Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild. The author examines the true story of survivalist Chris McCandless. In 1992 he walked deep into the Alaskan wilderness and his corpse was found four months later.
More than a travel or exploration history book, Krakauer’s goal was to depict the desire that some people have to immerse themselves in wild areas. Senn Pean adapted this book into a film. Krakauer, a writer and mountaineer himself, has another well-known work – Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster.
Stephen E. Ambrose (also known for Band of Brothers) offers a view of the expedition of the American West with his book Undaunted Courage. This non-fiction book focuses on the Lewis & Clark Expedition, a westward journey taken by Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, and their guide Sacagawea. Ambrose details their route, the interactions with Native American tribes, the wildlife, plant life and geography of their journey.
If One Destination is Not Enough, Travel Around the World!
Nellie Bly was an American journalist and investigator who wrote some the first examples of what later became known as gonzo journalism. In 1889 she challenged Jules Verne’s fictional character Phileas Fogg from his 1873 tale Around the World in Eighty Days and beat his record. She chronicled her trip in Around the World in Seventy-Two Days.
British journalist and travel writer Rebecca West published one of the most interesting books ever written about the former Yugoslavia, Black Lamb & Grey Falcon, in 1941. This travel work is an account of Balkan history and ethnography during the writer’s trip to the region in 1937. It was printed by Macmillan in the UK and by The Viking Press in the US. On Biblio, you can find several first editions and signed copies.
The greatest explorer among explorers is the naturalist and biologist Charles Darwin. Inspired by his travel to Tierra del Fuego with young naval officer Robert FitzRoy, Harry Thompson wrote the novel This Thing of Darkness.
If there is a foundational work of travel books, The Travels of Sir John Mandeville is it. It began to circulate in Europe around the 1360s – in fact, it is the earliest-surviving text in French – and the fantastical nature of the travels it describes helped in its sudden popularity.
Sir John Mandeville – a fictional character – was supposed to have visited Turkey, Tartary, Persia, Syria, Ethiopia, Chaldea, Amazonia, and India, among other regions. He met marvelous monsters, giant griffons, and other unnatural creatures. Despite the touch of surrealism that contemporary readers appreciate, Christopher Columbus and Marco Polo were heavily influenced by this work.
Next Stop? Preregister for Biblio.live!
If you are a book collector – or want to start one focused on this theme – Biblio has a large collection of rare and antique travel and exploration books available in the Biblio Rare Book Room, including multi-volume tomes with magnificently binding and illustration works. You can also find another Rare Book Room pointing to maps, atlases, and travel guides.
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