Survival books don't have to be comprehensive tactical manuals to provide life-saving information, just as adventure books don't have to be strictly great yarns.

Books such as "The Travels of Marco Polo," "Alive: The Story of The Andes Survivors" by Piers Paul Read and "Into the Wild" by Jon Krakauer blur the line between story and practical advice.

The list of books that follows is likely different than any other you've seen because it covers the magical importance of thought and contemplation — inward survival — as well as the physical actions necessary to manage your way through life-threatening circumstances.

The Travels of Marco Polo1. "The Travels of Marco Polo" (2008 edition/Everyman's Library)

No one ever knows what is true and what isn't in Marco Polo's travels. The adventurer journeyed in the 13th century from Venice to China, meeting Kublai Khan along the way. The book inspired Christopher Columbus, among other world travelers and writers, and helped foster the idea of global trade and commerce. But step back from the actuality of Marco Polo's trips along the Silk Road and just plain learn how to make your way through foreign lands on your wits (and witticisms) alone.

The takeaway: Communication and people skills matter.

2. "The Snow Leopard" by Peter Matthiessen

The Snow LeopardThis book is ostensibly about hiking through the Himalayan mountains in search of the snow leopard, one of the rarest animals on Earth. But it is about so much more. Matthiessen manages to write about climbing while not seeming to write about climbing at all. As Pico Iyer put it in the introduction to the Penguin Classics edition: "The author, setting out, feels constantly the presence of some 'inner garden' to which he's lost the key." The journey becomes one of finding that key, not finding it, and/or realizing that there never was a key to begin with.  

The takeaway: How to make the best of things if you get lost on a mountain hike.

In Patagonia3. "In Patagonia" by Bruce Chatwin

Widely praised as one of the best travel books ever written when it was first published in 1977, and at the same time criticized for being labeled a travel book at all, Chatwin, an itinerant traveler, makes the most of his peregrinations and sets both the mind and the spirit free. Ever wonder what it might be like to chuck it all, head somewhere and roam? Chatwin does just that and takes us along for the journey. "In Patagonia" is his "travel diary," weaving together history and adventures (and more) from his trek through that rough South American patch of land.

The takeaway: Humbleness and the recognition of human frailty are important when nature forces us astray.

Alive4. "Alive" by Piers Paul Read

"Alive" is one of those books that gets an immediate visceral reaction from people who have read it or seen the movie based on it. When their plane crashes high in the Andes mountains, survivors, including members of a Uruguayan rugby team, do what they feel they must do to survive. The climax is highly controversial — and it makes you think about the lengths we humans will go to live.

The takeaway: What is morality in the face of death? Plus lesser charged tips like how to survive hypothermia.

Into the Wild

5. "Into The Wild" by Jon Krakauer

This book tells the story of Christopher McCandless and the inward journey of a young man struggling with purpose, as well as his physical journey into the Alaskan wild country. Krakauer gives us a story for the ages (alongside his book "Into Thin Air") in which you'll delve into the psyche of a true wanderer who prepares and studies how to live off the land.

The takeaway: Know what wild foods are safe — and not safe— to consume.

Thomas M. Kostigen is the founder of The Climate and a New York Times bestselling author and journalist. He is the National Geographic author of "The Extreme Weather Survival Guide: Understand, Prepare, Survive, Recover" and the NG Kids book, "Extreme Weather: Surviving Tornadoes, Tsunamis, Hailstorms, Thundersnow, Hurricanes and More!" Follow him @weathersurvival, or email

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