It’s truly incredible what human beings can do when they are pushed to their limits.
And no other genre of literature proves this quite like non-fiction survival books.
The following eight stories are all true accounts from survivors of natural disasters and tragic accidents that illustrate just how enduring the human spirit can be.
“Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors” by Piers Paul Read
On October 13, 1972, an Uruguayan Air Force plane carrying a team of rugby players and their families crashed in the Andes. For 10 weeks, the 45 people on the plane lived in the shelter of the wreckage without food and waiting to be rescued.
Eventually, after an avalanche and with more than half of their party dead, two of the young men hiked for 10 days across the mountains to alert authorities. Author Piers Paul Read interviewed the 16 survivors for this harrowing tale.
This is the story of Joe Simpson and Simon Yates, two climbing partners who had just reached the top of a 21,000-foot peak in the Andes when disaster struck. Simpson plunged off the vertical face of an ice ledge, breaking his leg. A blizzard began, and Yates was forced to cut the rope that bound him and Simpson so that he would not be pulled to his own death.
Yet Simpson survived, and managed to crawl his way back to base camp to Yates before he climbed down the mountain. The book follows both men’s feelings of abandonment, guilt, and ultimately their enduring friendship.
Nick Ward set off on the 600-mile course of the UK’s Fastnet sailboat race in August 1979 with perfect weather. But within 48 hours, the deadliest storm in the history of modern sailing had thrown the race into chaos and claimed the lives of fifteen sailors.
Ward was left for dead by his crewmates after he was injured and fell unconscious. After awaking to find the life raft gone and his crew either dead or deserted, Ward was forced to survive the night on the boat alone as the storm raged on until his legendary rescue.
“10 Degrees of Reckoning: The True Story of a Family’s Love and the Will to Survive” by Hester Rumberg
In 1993, Judith and Michael Sleavin and their two children set out to sail around the world. But a freighter off the coast of New Zealand altered its course by 10 degrees and collided with the family’s boat, killing everyone but Judith.
Somehow, after 40-four hours in the water with a broken back and paralysed below the waist, Judith survived. This book follows the painful and gripping true story of the night of the fatal crash, as well as the aftermath as Judith confronts her PTSD and the tragedy of losing her family.
“The Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expedition” by Caroline Alexander
In August 1914, explorer Ernest Shackleton and a crew of 27 men set sail for the South Atlantic to try to set foot on the Antarctic continent. They had come within 85 miles of their destination when their ship, Endurance, was trapped in an ice pack and crushed, leaving them stranded on the ice floes.
For 20 months they were marooned, and would attempt two near-fatal escape plans before their final rescue.
“Into Thin Air” by Jon Krakauer
Writer Jon Krakauer describes his own experience of climbing Mount Everest during the 1996 Mount Everest disaster, when eight climbers were killed and several others were stranded by a “rogue storm.”
In the book, Krakauer recounts the events that lead up to his decision to participate in the Everest expedition, as well as the actual expedition where eight climbers died, including Krakauer’s own guides Rob Hall and Andy Harris.
“Jungle: A Harrowing True Story of Survival” by Yossi Ghinsberg
Author Yossi Ghinsberg met three other backpackers in Bolivia, and they journeyed into the Amazon rainforest together.
But after a freak rafting accident, Ghinsberg was separated from his travel buddies, and forced to survive with only a knife, a map, and his survival training. With his feet rotting due to the intense storms and insects and animals to contend with, this is his personal account of how he stayed alive in the rainforest.
“Adrift: 70-Six Days Lost at Sea” by Steven Callahan
Steven Callahan endured a staggering 76 days alone at sea. He was living on an inflatable raft after his sloop capsized, somehow managing to stay hydrated, spear fish, and keep his deteriorating raft afloat.
“Adrift” was on The New York Times bestseller list for more than 30-six weeks, and still remains one of the best survival books of all time.
Disclosure: Jeff Bezos is an investor in Business Insider through his personal investment company Bezos Expeditions.
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