By Adam Drake
Fifteen years ago, my father handed me a copy of Jon Krakauer’s book, Into Thin Air, with the explicit instructions to read it as soon as possible. My father has always had a love of the mountains, an interest in man’s struggle against nature, and a deep appreciation for the human spirit. As with most things my parents tell me to do, I took the book, put it on my bookshelf, and let it sit for months. Due to a lack of options or a guilty conscience, I finally got around to reading it over one weekend. I cancelled dinner plans. I’m not sure I slept. It struck something deep within me, a primal urge to explore despite the dangers, the conquering of challenges, and the eternal fight against mortality.
We’ve taken a look at some of the best books out there for men (and women) — those who push themselves, their bodies, and their souls way past the breaking point. These are books fathers hand down to sons, not to encourage them to read, but to encourage them to become men.
Into Thin Air, Jon Krakauer
Man’s desire to achieve, even in the face of physical exertion and madness is insatiable. This desire pushes us to reach for things out of our grasp, to pursue the impossible. Many times, this attitude results in greatness, while too often, it results in failure. The 1996 Mount Everest disaster was a catastrophic failure. Into Thin Air describes in detail the events that lead up to those two fateful days in May, when Krakauer and several expeditions attempted a summit of the Earth’s highest peak. Commercialization, egos, altitude sickness, and blizzards resulted in the deaths of 8 people on the mountain. Extremely well written, Krakauer captures the pain, the horror, the confusion, and ultimately the psychological toll involved in mountain climbing.
Unbroken, Lauren Hillenbrand
You won’t believe the hardships faced by Louie Zamperini in Unbroken. A college and Olympic runner who broke records in the ‘30s, Zamperini found himself as an airman fighting against the Japanese during World War II. When his plane crashes and he and his fellow airmen are set adrift in the Pacific Ocean, his troubles have only just begun. The book is entirely true, and written by the same author who wrote Seabiscuit. It’s as much about the human spirit as it is about determination and the fight of men not to be broken under pressure.
The Boys in the Boat, Daniel James Brown
Please forgive my love of the sport of rowing; I assure you I’d highly recommend this book even if I’d never set foot in a rowing shell before. The Boys in the Boat has the makings of a Disney film: eight ragtag rowers from the University of Washington aim for the gold medal in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Along the way, they must best the elite East Coast schools, while proving they can take on the world. The story focuses on each of the oarsmen as they work toward becoming a team, fighting the odds and believing in the value of optimism.
Born to Run, Christopher McDougall
We don’t run because we can, we run because it’s what we’re supposed to do. Christopher McDougall’s fascinating book, Born to Run, takes the reader inside the dark and twisted Cooper Canyons of Mexico, and comes face to face with a tribe that devotes its entire existence to running. The book explores the physiology of the human foot, why running barefoot may be better for you, and why we as humans are conditioned to run. Set at a brisk pace, intertwined through the book is the story of a mysterious and legendary runner who aims to bring distance running into the mainstream. You may never look at running or your feet the same way again.
Adam Drake is Creative Director for the Sweat Life, a former four-year varsity rower for the University of Miami, and currently rows for the Maritime Rowing Club. He is the co-founder of Kayak for a Cause, a charity event based in Connecticut. As a writer, Adam has developed television shows for Comedy Central, Bad Boy Worldwide, and Sky, written ad campaigns for clients such as Bacardi, Starbucks, Dove Men+Care, and HBO, and was a contributor to the pop culture site YesButNoButYes. In his spare time, he enjoys skiing, boating, and working on his tremendous collection of unfinished novels.