2021 Holiday Gift Guide - Books
Updated: Mar 4
When I can't actually be outdoors exploring, hiking, camping, fishing or hunting I like to read about it. In fact, my Christmas list typically consists primarily of books, and I spend a good many winter evenings by the fire reading.
From tantalizing real-life accounts of exploration and adventure to philosophical ponderings about wild places, incredible prose about life, love, food and dogs and lighthearted accounts of the torments of chasing trout, this list of 16 promises a little something for everyone.
As usual, I had a really hard time whittling down the titles to include. You'll find a few staples from last year's list that I consider "must-read" material (found here if you scroll to the end) but also many new titles to round out the reading. If you are looking for additional ideas, drop me a note, I have plenty.
1. Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing - The ultimate Type-3 adventure story. If it was fiction it would be unbelievable. It's not. This is typically the first book I recommend to anyone when they ask.
2. Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey - Abbey unleashed in his natural element. An autobiography full of raw, often rough but beautiful, funny, philosophical and poetic prose about the wilderness he loved.
3. A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold - Perhaps Leopold's seminal work, A Sand County Almanac outlines his "Land Ethic" in thoughtful, philosophical yet profoundly powerful prose and should be required reading for anyone who cares about conservation or the natural world.
4. A Tough Trip Through Paradise by Andrew Garcia - This book grew out of a manuscript left by Andrew Garcia on his death in 1942. Ben Stein acquired the manuscript and edited it to tell Garcia's story of the 1877 war between the U.S. government and the Nez Perce people, the end of the buffalo herds and other historic events in western life.
5. Jim Bridger: Mountain Man by Stanley Vestal - One of the greatest explorers and pathfinders in American history. At eighteen he had braved the fury of the Missouri, when he was only twenty he had discovered the Great Salt Lake and later he was to open the Overland Route. One of the foremost trappers in the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, he remains one of the most important scouts and guides in the history of the West.
6. River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey by Candice Millard - After his humiliating election defeat in 1912, Roosevelt set his sights on the most punishing physical challenge he could find, the first descent of an unmapped tributary of the Amazon. An incredible adventure narrative and a penetrating biographical portrait, The River of Doubt is the true story of Theodore Roosevelt’s harrowing exploration of one of the most dangerous rivers on earth.
7. Last Stand: George Bird Grinnell, the Battle to Save the Buffalo, and the Birth of the New West by Michael Punke - The story of George Bird Grinnell who would lead the battle to save the buffalo from extinction. Grinnell shared his adventures with some of the greatest and most infamous characters of the American West—from John James Audubon and Buffalo Bill to George Armstrong Custer and Theodore Roosevelt. Last Stand is a strikingly contemporary story: the saga of Grinnell and the buffalo was the first national battle over the environment.
8. Travels in the Greater Yellowstone by Jack Turner - A mixture of adventure, nostalgia, and Americana, Turner's rare experiences and evocative writing transform the sights and sounds of Greater Yellowstone into an intimate narrative of travel through America's most beloved lands.
9. That Wild Country by Mark Kenyon - If you care about the outdoors, wild places, public land, road trips with family and friends, hunting, hiking, fishing, camping, history or a good old fashioned yarn, my friend, Mark, covers it all as he winds his way through the tangled and often tenuous 150-year history of the 640 million acres of land owned by the American public. Read the review and interview here.
10. The Last Wild Road: Adventures and Essays from a Sporting Life by T. Edward Nickens - A raucous, gripping, sometimes terrifying, often hilarious, and deeply meditative journey through the heart of the outdoors in the modern world. Collected from more than 20 years of hunting and fishing cover stories, columns, and adventure tales written by T. Edward Nickens for Field & Stream, this book is a road trip that takes in a huge sweep of the North American landscape.
11. Trout Madness by Robert Traver (AKA John Voelker) - Robert Traver's fifth and possibly most popular book. Featuring twenty-one stories gleaned from a lifetime of glorious fishing - as true as can be expected of a fisherman. From hilarious to deeply emotional, each story carries that special kind of oblique humor and canniness that were Traver's special mark.
12. Dumb Luck and the Kindness of Strangers by John Gierach with illustrations by Bob White - In his latest original collection, Gierach shows us why fly-fishing is the perfect antidote to everything that is wrong with the world. Arguably the best fishing writer working, he offers witty, trenchant observations not just about fly-fishing itself but also about how one’s love of fly-fishing shapes the world that we choose to make for ourselves.
13. The Nick Adams Stories by Ernest Hemingway - A classic volume of 24 short stories following the adventures and mishaps of the central character, Nick Adams, conveyed in the iconic, sparse but gripping prose only Papa can deliver.
14. Off to the Side: A Memoir by Jim Harrison - Harrison traces his upbringing in Michigan amid the austerities of the Depression and the Second World War, and the seemingly greater austerities of his starchy Swedish forebears. He chronicles his coming-of-age, from a boy drunk with books to a young man making his way among fellow writers he deeply admires and gives free rein to his "seven obsessions" — alcohol, food, stripping, hunting and fishing (and the dogs who have accompanied him in both), religion, the road, and our place in the natural world
15. The Road by Cormac McCarthy - Delivering prose like this: “Once there were brook trout in the streams in the mountains. You could see them standing in the amber current where the white edges of their fins wimpled softly in the flow. They smelled of moss in your hand. Polished and muscular and torsional. On their backs were vermiculate patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming. Maps and mazes. Of a thing which could not be put back. Not be made right again. In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery.” The Road is the profoundly moving story of a journey, imagining a future in which no hope remains, but in which the father and his son, "each the other's world entire," are sustained by love. It is an unflinching meditation on the worst and the best that we are capable of: ultimate destructiveness, desperate tenacity, and the tenderness that keeps two people alive in the face of total devastation.
16. Bonus for the Michigander on your list: Flyfisher's Guide to Michigan by Jon Osborn - The inside scoop on Michigan's fly waters written by my good friend, Ozzy. This book covers hot spots and lesser known fisheries with personal experiences, historical overviews, effective techniques, stocking data, appropriate gear and flies, nearby fly shops, approximate float times and GPS coordinates for all access points, boat ramps, and parking areas, along with access roads, public land and more. Order it here.