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Five Faves
Ever on the lookout for the next classic, Adventure delivers five notable newcomers published since "Extreme Classics" in 2001. By Anthony Brandt

To Conquer the Air, by James Tobin
James Tobin, a journalist twice nominated for a Pulitzer, is also a historian, and it's criminal a writer should be so good in two fields. In this book, the most critically acclaimed of all the books to celebrate the Wright Brothers' 100-year anniversary, Tobin jumps smoothly between the Wrights and their competition—Smithsonian Secretary Samuel Pierpont Langley, Alexander Graham Bell in Canada, a collection of assorted Frenchmen—and back to the Wrights. He explains the technology of flying without losing the reader, dramatizes but does not overdramatize, and breathes life into the dead. Tobin has written a history of flight that ought to become the standard for his generation.
Simon and Schuster, 2003.

The Darkest Jungle, by Todd Balf
U.S. Navy Lt. Isaac Strain's 1854 expedition into the Darién Gap was one of the first to explore the remote, seductive jungle and, without question, one of the unluckiest. They were unable to obtain native guides. They didn't carry enough provisions. Existing maps were a joke. Vampire bats drank their blood when they were sleeping. Worms hatched under their skin and starting eating their flesh. And so on. To read about their ordeal is horrendous and thrilling and all the other things you want a book like this to be.
Crown 2003.

Sea of Glory, by Nathaniel Philbrick
The Wilkes Expedition spent four years at sea during the 1830s exploring the coastline of Antarctica, mapping the Fiji Islands, and, most importantly, collecting the ethnographic material that eventually became the original inventory of the Smithsonian Institute. In this daring author's follow up to Revenge of the Whale and In the Heart of the Sea, he recounts the many challenges the expedition faced—ships lost to storms, men lost to flesh-eating Fiji Islanders—and, especially, he brings to life the challenge that was Captain Charles Wilkes himself. Philbrick has done with him what Dickens did with Fagin in Oliver Twist: He has made a character as fascinating as a nest of vipers.
Viking 2003.

Where the Mountain Casts Its Shadow, by Maria Coffey
Twenty years after her boyfriend Joe Tasker's death on Everest's Northeast Ridge, Coffey writes this sad yet somehow ecstatic book about what such tragedies mean to the loved ones of mountaineers. She traveled widely and spoke to a great many people—wives, husbands, children, parents, and the climbers themselves. It's very moving stuff, and the book raises basic issues about extreme adventure and the risks it entails. Do these risk takers have a right? Wisely, Coffey doesn't try to answer the question. She just goes on telling stories, filling the book with them—tragic, heroic, compelling, exalting.
St. Martin's Press, 2003.

At the Tomb of the Inflatable Pig, by John Gilmette
Reading this book is like watching a Komodo dragon eat a tethered goat. Paraguay, the book's subject, is isolated, ignorant, and completely bizarre. Bleak thoughts and observations thread through the book, but this is part of its charm. And so it goes, tale after tale, conquistadores and Nazis, whores and cannibals, all of them rather awful, all of them splendidly rendered.
Knopf, 2004.

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Related Web Site

National Geographic Online Store
Got books? Go online to buy the Journals of Lewis and Clark, or one of the other Extreme Classics published by National Geographic Books as part of their Adventure Classics Series.


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May 2004



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