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 Travel and Adventure


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To the top of the world;
Charles Kuralt
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The Journals of Lewis and Clark

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National Geographic's Extreme Classics: The 100 Greatest Adventure Books of All Time:  http://www.nationalgeographic.com/adventure/0404/adventure_books_1-19.html




The section on travel and adventure has quite a few selections. I hope you will peruse through the choices. When I was growing up I was fascinated by science and tales of exploration. I had dog-eared copies of various Golden Guides to trees, flowers, rocks, etc. all coauthored by Herbert Zim. I watched television filled with stories of "The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau" and Marlin Perkins and Mutual of Omaha's "Wild Kingdom." The space program was in full swing and we had the feeling there was a future for mankind in space.   In second grade or so I had a book on outer space and I had the diameters, distance form the sun, and periods for all the planets memorized. Theseselections reflect my taste for tales of exploration. I favor first hand accounts by the people actually involved in these adventures. I have many of these on my bookshelf, have read others, and some just look really interesting and are ones I want to read.

One book on the list is "Search for a Living Fossil." It is a book aimed for juvenile, but worth including. It is a story of a woman named Lattimer who ran a small museum in South Africa. She was searching through junk fish brought up in fishermen's nets to mount for in the museum when she found an unusual fish gasping for breath... It turns out this was a coelacanth, a type thought extinct for 70 million years. The story continues the the quest to find more specimens. Another book I remember fondly talked about an expedition to the Gobi Desert in Mongolia to search for dinosaur bones, On this trip they found a nest with dinosaur eggs- the first ever found. Some of the eggs contained tiny skeletons. These were of a new species of dinosaur - the protoceratops, an ancestor of the more flashy triceratops. I could not locate a title that sounded familiar, but the book Dragon Hunter recounts these explorations by researcher Roy Chapman Andrews.

I have selected four books dealing with exploration of the poles. Of the major figures I have books by Roald Amundsen - the first man to reach the south pole, Ernest Shackelton and his remarkable tale of endurance after his ship became frozen in the antarctic ice, and of course I included the Journals of Robert Falcon Scott. "The Worst Journey in the World" is another account of explorations with Scott. The north pole expeditions are not entirely ignored, but are represented by an unusual character Ralph Plaisted. Mr. Plaisted organized in the 1970's a snowmobile expedition to the north pole. The story is told by Charles Kuralt - To the Top of the World - an on and off member of these expeditions. One amusing point is that Plaisted wrote to various companies looking for sponsors. One of the few that signed on was Knorr Soup - he comments they ate plenty of soup in the expedition preparations.

The world under the ocean is included. First is the major icon of undersea exploration - Jacques Cousteau in his book "The Silent World." This is an account of the development and early explorations with his SCUBA (Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus) or aqualung (not the Jethro Tull album). Other accounts are of the early explorations of the deep sea by William Beebe using a bathysphere. Think of a riding small heavy steel sphere with tiny glass portals as it was lowered by a thin steel cable a half mile down into crushing depths, in total blackness, and ice cold water. These were the first views ever of deep sea creatures in their own environment. These accounts were featured in National Geographic Magazine - there are two books retelling this, first is "Descent" and the second in "Adventuring with Beebe" by Beebe himself. "Eternal Darkness" talks of explorations by Robert Ballard in the bathyscaphe - essentially a bathysphere with a superstructure that allowed it to be a self contained submarine capable of going up and down and some lateral movement. "Seven Miles Down" recounts the exploration of the Mariana's Trench the deepest point in the sea by the bathyscape.

At the other extreme of the earth are tales of mountain climbing. First and foremost is "View from the Summit" by Edmund Hillary. "The crystal Horizon" by Reinhold Messner recounts his solo ascent of Everest. Messner was an iconic and controversial figure in the world of climbing. He was a brilliant rock climber and mountain climber admired for his daring and skill. He was part of the first group to ever ascend Everest without oxygen. On the other hand he was viewed by many as selfish, reckless, and difficult. "Into Thin Air" is an account of disaster on Mount Everest. "Where the Mountain Casts It Shadow" is subtitled the dark side of extreme adventure. Maria Coffey examines the psychological and emotional side of extreme adventurers and that of their family members. The final mountain climbing book on the list is "Touching the Void" a tale of exploration in the Andes. Two climbers high in the Andes - one breaks his leg. Working together they manage to descend to 3,000 feet. Then the injured climber falls over a lip. He can't climb back up his partner can't pull him back up the lip. As the second is slowly being pulled off the ledge, he makes a unthinkable decision. He cuts the rope. I did not read this book, but I saw both of the men appear on Oprah.

Cave exploration is represented by three books. The Cave beyond- story of the 1956 Floyd Collins Crystal Cave Expedition - then the longest cave in the world in the ridge north of Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. The second continues this story with "The Longest Cave" the story of finding the long sought connection between the Mammoth Cave System and the Floyd Collins System. These books are the best stories of cave exploration ever written - National Geographic is wrong. I have been in these cave exploring with the authors Red Watson and Roger Brucker. The third is a tale of the exploration of "The Jewel Cave Adventure" a National   Monument in the Black Hills - over 70 miles of maze passage
mapped by husband and wife team Herb and Jan Conn.

Hiking is represented by "The Man Who Walked Through Time" by Collin Fltecher, the father of backpacking in this country in a story of a hike the length of the Grand Canyon below the rim. John Muir is represented twice in "My First Summer in the Sierra" and "A Thousand Mile Walk to the Gulf." A more recent account is Bill Bryson's "A Walk in the Woods" a brilliantly written tale of Bryson's walk along with an overweight Friend along much of the Appalachian Trail. Strongly recommended.

I have explorations of the American west. "The Journals of Lewis and Clark' from the Mississippi River to the pacific coast through unexplored territory - one of the great tales of all time. This is matched by "Explorations of the Colorado River" by John Wesley Powell.  They took longboats down the Colorado River rapids, before they were tamed by the Hoover Dam. There is George Caitlan's description of the "Manners and Customs Native American Indians." This is the most detailed and best account of these Native American culture written by an outsider. As a counterpoint or perhaps karma I have included a book I am currently reading by a native American William Least Heat-Moon entitled "Blue Highways" He lost his teaching position, went through a divorce and decided to explore the blue highways of America - roads that are not interstates while living in his van "Ghost dancer". It is a tale of an exploration of American culture and an exploration of himself. In the same vein is "On the Road" by Charles Kuralt, a noted reporter and a one time staple on television with his weekly "On the Road" features.

Exploration in Africa - The dark continent are highlighted by Sir Richard Burton's (not the actor) "First Footsteps in East Africa" Burton was the first European to see Victoria Falls and find the source of the Nile. Henry M. Stanley, famed for the movie phrase, "Dr.Livingston I presume" writes of his adventures in "Through the Dark Continent" Not leaving Africa is "Origins Reconsidered" a story of the Leakey family and the finding of the earliest hominid fossils in east Africa. They were the foremost researchers in the field. The original book "Origins" is now out of print and this is the sequel. "Gorillas in The Mist" by Dianne Fossey is a story of the modern versus the wild as they affect the lowland gorillas.

Space, the final frontier is explored in "Carrying the Fire" by Michael Collins, astronaut and the pilot of Apollo 11 moon mission. This story tells of behind the scenes in the early space program. And a tale of thought, time and space  in a "Brief History of Time" by Stephen Hawking.

Thor Heyerdahl is an adventurer who believed in trying things to see how the ancient people did things. I have included his book "Kon Tiki" in which he floats on a Balsa wood raft from South America toward Easter Island. His other books, not on the list Aku-Aku about the giant head shaped statures on Easter Island, and the Ra Expeditions in which he tried several voyages on a reed boat from Africa to America. Some of his ideas are controversial, by the adventures are worth reading.

"The Travels of Marco Polo" is perhaps the first great adventure travel book recounts the tale a 13th century trader and explorer from Italy to the courts of Kublai Khan in China and his 17 years spent in the journey and in China. I doubt that many have actually read this book, although everyone has heard of it. It has been influential in arts, and literature for 700 years. One example is in Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem "Xanadu."

I have included the "Explorations of Captain James Cook" in the Pacific, including the discovery of Hawaii and many of the Polynesian Island by Europeans, before of course he was eaten by cannibals. Charles Darwin "The Voyage of the Beagle" is the Journey that led to his proposal of the theory of evolution. It describes his adventures in South America and the Galapagos Islands. He was hired on to the ship and given a position basically so that the Captain would have a gentlemen to serve as a companion. It would not do that the Captain would dine or socialize with the common sailor. He was a the son of a famous poet
Erasmus Darwin and a born writer.

I have two books dealing with the Maya and Inca civilizations - "The Lost Cities of the Incas" by Bingham talks of the discovery of Machu Pichu, a city above the clouds in the Andes, and Stephens' "incidents of Travel in the Yucatan" is a tale of bushwhacking through the Jungle to find the great Mayan step pyramids.

There are a handful of books yet unmentioned. "The Crocodile Hunter" I am sure Steve Irwin's tragic early death was felt by everyone. He was a conservationist whose enthusiasm and genuine love for wildlife has inspired a new generation of young people.   

"Running the Amazon" is a tale of a modern expedition that floated the Amazon from the Andes to the Atlantic coast.

"Stranger in the Forest: On Foot Across Borneo" which recounts a trip across the island on foot by author Richard Hansen in the early 1980's.

"The Darkest Jungle: The True Story of the Darien Expedition and America's Ill-Fated Race to Connect the Seas" by Todd Bale is a story of an ill-fated expedition across the isthmus of Panama in 1854.

"Wonderful Life" by Stephen Jay Gould is a tale of the varied and fantastic life forms that lived in the end of the pre-Cambrian period 600 million years ago as preserved in the Burgess Shale in western Canada. Virtually all species went extinct at the Precambrian/Cambrian boundary. This is written by Stephen Jay Gould, one of the most important thinkers today in the field of evolutionary biology. It actually is a tale of exploration and adventure - it just took place 600+ million years ago. Among his other books of his I would first recommend "The Pandas Thumb."

"Wild Trees" is a tale by Richard Preston of the climbing of some of the tallest of the worlds trees. Illustrations in the book are by ENTS member Andrew Joslin.  Surely this book is right up our alley.

The final Book on the list s far is "The Double Helix" by James Watson.  This is a tale of the discovery of one of the greatest scientific discoveries of all time- he double helix structure of the DNA molecule by James Watson and Richard Crick. This article is the single most cited reference in scientific literature I could not leave it off the list.

Ed Frank, June 18, 2007