Roger Cox: My top 40 books about the outdoors (part two)

Roger Cox PIC: Neil Hanna Photography,
Roger Cox PIC: Neil Hanna Photography,
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Welcome to part two of my Top 40 outdoors books list.

For those of you who missed part one, here’s a quick recap.

This winter I’ve signed up to be a Bookfella for the Scottish Book Trust, which means 1) raising some money for the SBT and 2) trying to encourage more men to read for pleasure (because apparently this is something we’re rubbish at compared to women).

The fundraising bit involves some silliness up a hill, and isn’t really relevant here. What is relevant here is the trying-to-encourage-more-men-to-read-for-pleasure bit, as I’ve been using this column to count down my Top 40 outdoors books. Last week I ran through numbers 21-40.

This week it’s my top 20, and hopefully a few male readers will get inspired to seek some of them out. I’ve also been counting down the whole list on Twitter, with links to reviews I’ve written over the years, or in some cases author interviews. It’s all there under the hashtag #40ODbks.

Just to be clear, these are my personal favourites. I’m not making any claims for the books on this list as the greatest works of outdoor literature ever written. Also, to avoid repetition, I’ve limited myself to one book per author. Many of the people featured in this list have written many wonderful books – if you find an author you like, I hope you have fun tracking down their complete works.

No. 20: Two Planks and a Passion, by Roland Huntford. Exhaustively researched history of skiing which suggests that skis might have decided the outcome of the Second World War.

No. 19: Tears of the Dawn, by Jules Lines. Compelling account of the trials, tribulations and cactus injuries of one of the unsung heroes of Scottish climbing.

No. 18: Riding the Magic Carpet, by Tom Anderson. A surfer’s obsessive journey to prepare mentally and physically for the wave of his dreams: Jeffries Bay, South Africa.

No. 17: Walden, by Henry David Thoreau. Timeless account of a simple life lived close to nature.

No. 16: Wind, Sand and Stars, by Antoine Saint Exupéry. Nobody has done a better job of describing the sensation of flying a tiny plane through giant canyons of clouds.

No. 15: Letters From Everest, by George Lowe. Hillary and Tenzing may have been the ones to summit Everest in 1953, but they couldn’t have done it without Lowe. This is his vivid first-hand account, in letters home.

No. 14: My First Summer in the Sierra, by John Muir. The Yosemite journals of the young, awestruck John Muir, skilfully edited by the elderly Muir to preserve all the intoxicating joie de vivre of the originals.

No. 13: Floating Stones, by Lotte Glob. The artist’s magical account, in words and pictures, of her Floating Stones project, which saw her launch hollow ceramic “stones” onto remote lochans all over Scotland.

No. 12: The Snow Tourist, by Charlie English. Snow – what it means to different cultures and what it comes to mean to the author.

No. 11: High Country by Angus Dunn. Gentle, humanist poems inspired by Scotland’s wild places, by a writer who deserves to be more widely read.

No. 10: The Living Mountain, by Nan Shepherd. Perhaps the best antidote to the Munro-bagging mentality ever written – a book about walking “into” the mountains, rather than simply walking up them.

No. 9: Sightlines, by Kathleen Jamie. Nature writing so intense it’s like having an IMAX screen bolted to the inside of your head.

No. 8: Everest: The First Ascent, by Harriet Tuckey. A razor-sharp shard of revisionist history, in which the author shows how her father, the scientist Griffith Pugh – a figure of fun of in the official accounts of the Everest expedition – was actually one of the keys to its success.

No. 7: Found At Sea, by Andrew Greig. Richly-textured poems about a “micro-odyssey” in a small open boat from Stromness in Orkney to the abandoned island of Cava.

No. 6: Caught Inside, by Dan Duane. The essential California surfing experience, as seen through the eyes of one of our greatest surf scribes.

No. 5: The Old Ways, by Robert Macfarlane. A series of journeys following ancient pathways, dazzlingly described.

No. 4: Land’s Edge, by Tim Winton. The author’s formative experiences of living in a remote beach hut in Western Australia, recounted in diamond-tipped prose.

No. 3: Barbarian Days, by William Finnegan. Searingly honest autobiography by a man who devoted his life to surfing and lived to tell the tale. Just.

No. 2: South, by Ernest Shackleton. Perhaps the most remarkable story of human endurance, bravery and ingenuity ever told – and brilliantly told, too.

No. 1: The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway. Man goes fishing, permanently changes the literary landscape. The book that spawned a thousand imitations, none of them a patch on the original. n