The 12 Funniest Exploration Books

Editor’s note: This personal list by author Lawrence Millman diplomatically omits Millman’s own masterpiece, Last Places, which many would include in this company.

The Ascent of Rum Doodle, by E.W. Bowman.  A novel that parodies particularly robust mountaineering expeditions.

Ninety-Two Days, by Evelyn Waugh.   A mordantly comic (and sometimes nasty) narrative of traveling through British Guinea in the early 1930s.

Salt Water Taffy, or 20,000 Leagues Away From the Sea, by June Triplett (actually, Corey Ford).  A hilarious parody of seafaring tales, putatively written by the daughter of a sea captain.

Arctic Solitaire: A Boat, A Bay, and the Quest for a Perfect Bear, by Paul Souders.   A harrowingly funny book about traveling up the west coast of Hudson Bay in a small boat by a fellow who has almost no knowledge of how to handle a boat.

Map of My Dead Pilots, by Colleen Mondor.  This oft-tragic account of bush piloting in Alaska contains a surprising number of humorous moments.

The Sex Lives of Cannibals, by J. Maarten Troost.   A funny, although sometimes too funny, narrative of hanging out with former cannibals in the South Pacific.

The Innocents Abroad, by Mark Twain.   American’s greatest humorist describes what it’s like to travel to Europe and the Holy Land on a chartered cruise ship named Quaker City.

Thirty Years in the Golden North, by Jan Welzl.   An Arctic pseudo-memoir that describes (among other things) its author’s being elected the first ever Czech “Eskimo chieftain” in the New Siberia Islands.

Beauty Tips from Moose Jaw, by Will Ferguson.   A travel narrative that takes on the question of Canadian identity altogether unseriously.

Letters from a Lost Uncle, by Mervyn Peake.  Written in the form of letters from an uncle lost in the Arctic, this absolutely hilarious illustrated parody describes a search for (among other things) a rare arctic lion.

Big Dead Place, by Nicholas Johnson.   A cynical, informative, biting and humorous book about what it’s like to spend a year at various stations in Antarctica.

Vagrant Viking, by Peter Freuchen.   An off-the-wall memoir that includes Freuchen’s classic description of using pieces of his frozen shit as pitons to climb out of an ice crevice.

Lawrence Millman is a man who wears a variety of hats. As an explorer, he has journeyed to the Arctic 35 times, but not once to Rome; as a mycologist, he has a fungal species named after him (Inonotus millmanii); and as a former prisoner of war in academia, he has taught at Harvard, the University of New Hampshire, and — best of all — the University of Iceland. His 18 books include such titles as Last Places, Our Like Will Not Be There Again, Lost in the Arctic, A Kayak Full of Ghosts, Northern Latitudes, Hiking to Siberia, At the End of the World, and Fungipedia. Bruce Chatwin called him “the master of the remote,” and environmentalist Paul Kingsnorth describes him as “a true original who takes no prisoners. He keeps a post office in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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Gary Goldenberg
2 years ago

You must add “The Burgess Book of Lies.”

Jose Mijares
2 years ago

Agreed with editor’s note


[…] occupied at the moment, and Explorers Web is here to help. The site recently posted a list of the 12 Funniest Adventure Books, with some real classics to add to your library. Options include The Ascent of the Rum Doodle, The […]