Reading List with James Swan


James Swan has been the Installation Manager at the Blanton Museum of Art for the last 20 years. As he nears his retirement from the Blanton this December, Swan will be hitting the Pacific Crest Trail to hike all 2,650 miles. Here he has put together a reading list centered around adventure and survival at sea and on land.














Sailing Alone Around the World by Joshua Slocum

The granddaddy of first person solo seafarer books, listed by everybody. Slocum sailed his boat the Spray single-handedly around the world in the 1890s. He sounds like a nice guy.













Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana, Jr.

Another classic, written around 1840. Dana left Harvard to sail to California as a common sailor, which of course he wasn’t. I enjoyed it for its history of California before the Gold Rush.











Godforsaken Sea: The True Story of a Race Through the World’s Most Dangerous Waters by Derek Lundy

The Vendée Globe is the most amazing race. Competitors sail single-handed from France down the Atlantic then left around Antarctica, then round Cape Horn and back up the Atlantic across the equator to France. NO stopping, No assistance from anyone, NO stopping, NO getting anything you didn’t start with. One boat, one sailor, once around the globe. Incredible. This is the story of a great year, 1996/97.












Fatal Storm: The Inside Story of the Tragic Sydney-Hobart Race by Rob Mundle and Fastnet, Force 10 by John Rousmaniere

Two stories of particularly bad storms hitting two of the best short-ish multi-entrant offshore yacht races, with fatal consequences in both of them.












The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger

A wonderful combination of storytelling, history and science.












A Voyage for Madmen by Peter Nichols

The 1968 precursor to the Vendée Globe, pretty disorganized and only one man of the 9 who started, Robin Knox-Johnson, finished. Famous for the madness and probable suicide of one competitor. People seriously attempting what hadn’t been done before.















Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer

1996 was a great year for adventure – Into Thin Air is the story of the pretty disastrous ‘96 Everest season, when all sorts of elements came together for Krakauer to write a really good book. Early days of commercial climbing, mobile phone technology; National Geographic making an IMAX movie; incredible bravery and amazing cowardice. The season spawned 2 other books by people who were there. Left For Dead by Beck Weathers (a Texan who has lectured in Austin) and The Climb by Anatoli Boukreev (a kind of response to Krakauer.)













Touching the Void: The Harrowing First Person Account Of One Man’s Miraculous Survival by Joe Simpson

2 British guys caught in a dire situation after successfully achieving their climbing goal in the Andes, and having to struggle against huge odds to survive.












Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand

This isn’t really an adventure book, but it is very well written and does have an amazing story of survival at sea.












And then there is fiction posing as fact – The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom by Slavomir Rawicz

A great story, really gripping, about a bunch of men (and a girl they pick up on the way) walking from Siberia to India across the Gobi Desert and the Himalayas (where they see a Yeti couple).  It stretches the bounds of truth.



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