Skip to content

20 Best Books About The Arctic & Antarctic

This is a selection of 20 of the best books about the Arctic and Antarctic. I have read all of these myself after spending a lot of time in the Arctic and can highly recommend them.

They are in no particular order of preference and I have split them evenly between the Arctic and Antarctic. Get ready for some cold reading and tales of adventure and human life in polar regions.

10 Best Books About The Arctic 

In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette

On July 8, 1879, Captain George Washington De Long and his team of thirty-two men set sail from San Francisco on the USS Jeanette.

Heading deep into uncharted Arctic waters, they carried the aspirations of a young country burning to be the first nation to reach the North Pole.

Two years into the harrowing voyage, Jeannette’s hull was breached by an impassable stretch of pack ice, forcing the crew to abandon the ship amid torrents of rushing water.

Hours later, the ship had sunk below the surface, marooning the men a thousand miles north of Siberia, where they faced a terrifying march with minimal supplies across the endless ice pack.

Enduring everything from snow blindness and polar bears to ferocious storms and labyrinths of ice, the crew battled madness and starvation as they struggled desperately to survive.

With thrilling twists and turns, In The Kingdom of Ice is a spellbinding tale of heroism and determination in the most brutal place on Earth.

Buy on

Erebus: The Story of a Ship

Erebus: The Story of a Ship is a book written by Michael Palin, the renowned British comedian, actor, and travel documentarian and delves into the history of HMS Erebus, a ship with a fascinating and tumultuous history and the ill-fated Franklin Expedition (1845–1848), led by Sir John Franklin, aimed at discovering the Northwest Passage.

The Franklin Expedition, during which both HMS Erebus and HMS Terror were lost, became one of the greatest mysteries in Arctic exploration. The ships disappeared without a trace, and the fate of the crew remained unknown for many years. The mystery gradually unfolded through a series of expeditions and the discovery of various artefacts.

Michael Palin’s book explores the life of HMS Erebus, from its early Antarctic voyages to its role in Arctic exploration. It also delves into the tragic events surrounding the Franklin Expedition and the subsequent efforts to unravel the mystery.

Palin combines historical research, personal narratives, and his own travels to bring the story of HMS Erebus to life. Michael Palin is one of my favourite travel presenters and this is easily one of the best books about the Arctic to read.

Arctic Dreams

Barry Lopez’s National Book Award-winning classic study of the Far North is widely considered his masterpiece and one of the best books about the Arctic.

Lopez offers a thorough examination of this obscure world-its terrain, its wildlife, its history of Eskimo natives and intrepid explorers who have arrived on their icy shores.

But what turns this marvellous work of natural history into a breathtaking study of profound originality is his unique meditation on how the landscape can shape our imagination, desires, and dreams.

Its prose as hauntingly pure as the land it describes, Arctic Dreams is nothing less than an indelible classic of modern literature.

This is one of my favourite books about the Arctic.

Buy on

Labyrinth of Ice: The Triumphant and Tragic Greely Polar Expedition

In July 1881, Lt. A.W. Greely and his crew of 24 scientists and explorers were bound for the last region unmarked on global maps. Their goal: Farthest North. What would follow was one of the most extraordinary and terrible voyages ever made.

Greely and his men confronted every possible challenge―vicious wolves, sub-zero temperatures, and months of total darkness―as they set about exploring one of the most remote, unrelenting environments on the planet. In May 1882, they broke the 300-year-old record, and returned to camp to eagerly await the resupply ship scheduled to return at the end of the year. Only nothing came.

250 miles south, a wall of ice prevented any rescue from reaching them. Provisions thinned and a second winter descended. Back home, Greely’s wife worked tirelessly against government resistance to rally a rescue mission.

Months passed, and Greely made a drastic choice: he and his men loaded the remaining provisions and tools onto their five small boats, and pushed off into the treacherous waters.

After just two weeks, dangerous floes surrounded them. Now new dangers awaited: insanity, threats of mutiny, and cannibalism. As food dwindled and the men weakened, Greely’s expedition clung desperately to life.

Buy on

In the Land of White Death: An Epic Story of Survival in the Siberian Arctic

In 1912, six months after Robert Falcon Scott and four of his men came to grief in Antarctica, a thirty-two-year-old Russian navigator named Valerian Albanov embarked on an expedition that would prove even more disastrous.

In search of new Arctic hunting grounds, Albanov’s ship, the Saint Anna, was frozen fast in the pack ice of the treacherous Kara Sea-a misfortune grievously compounded by an incompetent commander, the absence of crucial nautical charts, insufficient fuel, and inadequate provisions that left the crew weak and debilitated by scurvy.

For nearly a year and a half, the twenty-five men and one woman aboard the Saint Anna endured terrible hardships and danger as the icebound ship drifted helplessly north.

Convinced that Saint Anna would never free herself from the ice, Albanov and thirteen crewmen left the ship in January 1914, hauling makeshift sledges and kayaks behind them across the frozen sea, hoping to reach the distant coast of Franz Josef Land.

With only a shockingly inaccurate map to guide him, Albanov led his men on a 235-mile journey of continuous peril, enduring blizzards, disintegrating ice floes, attacks by polar bears and walrus, starvation, sickness, snowblindness, and mutiny. That any of the team survived is a wonder.

That Albanov kept a diary of his ninety-day ordeal-a story that Jon Krakauer calls an “astounding, utterly compelling book,” and David Roberts calls “as lean and taut as a good thriller”-is nearly miraculous.

Buy on

Against the Ice: The Classic Arctic Survival Story

The harrowing, amazing, and often amusing personal account of two mismatched Arctic explorers who banded together to keep themselves sane on a historic expedition gone horribly wrong.

Ejnar Mikkelsen was devoted to Arctic exploration. In 1910 he decided to search for the diaries of the ill-fated Mylius-Erichsen expedition, which had set out to prove that Robert Peary’s outline of the East Greenland coast was a myth, erroneous and presumably self-serving. Iver Iversen was a mechanic who joined Mikkelsen in Iceland when the expedition’s boat needed repair.

Several months later, Mikkelsen and Iversen embarked on an incredible journey during which they would suffer every imaginable Arctic travail: implacable cold, scurvy, starvation, frostbite, snow blindness, plunges into icy seawater, impossible sledding conditions, Vitamin A poisoning, debilitated dogs, apocalyptic storms, gaping crevasses, and assorted mortifications of the flesh. Mikkelsen’s diary was even eaten by a bear.

Three years of this, coupled with seemingly no hope of rescue, would drive most crazy, yet the two retained both their sanity as well as their humour.

Buy on

Icebound: Shipwrecked at the Edge of the World 

A dramatic and compelling account of survival against the odds from the golden Age of Exploration. The human story has always been one of perseverance — often against remarkable odds. 

The most astonishing survival tale of all might be that of sixteenth-century Dutch explorer William Barents and his crew, who ventured further North than any Europeans before and, on their third polar expedition, lost their ship off the frozen coast of Nova Zembla to unforgiving ice.

The men would spend the next year fighting off ravenous polar bears, gnawing hunger and endless winter. 

Buy on

Empire of Ice and Stone: The Disastrous and Heroic Voyage of the Karluk 

The true, harrowing story of the ill-fated 1913 Canadian Arctic Expedition and the two men who came to define it. In the summer of 1913, the wooden-hulled brigantine Karluk departed Canada for the Arctic Ocean.

At the helm was Captain Bob Bartlett, considered the world’s greatest living ice navigator. The expedition’s visionary leader was a flamboyant impresario named Vilhjalmur Stefansson hungry for fame. Just six weeks after the Karluk departed, giant ice floes closed in around her.

As the ship became icebound, Stefansson disembarked with five companions and struck out on what he claimed was a 10-day caribou hunting trip. Most on board would never see him again. Twenty-two men and an Inuit woman with two small daughters now stood on a mile-square ice floe, their ship and their original leader gone.

Under Bartlett’s leadership, they built make-shift shelters, surviving the freezing darkness of Polar night. Captain Bartlett now made a difficult and courageous decision. He would take one of the young Inuit hunters and attempt a 1000-mile journey to save the shipwrecked survivors. It was their only hope.

Buy on

Never Cry Wolf: Amazing True Story of Life Among Arctic Wolves

More than a half-century ago the naturalist Farley Mowat was sent to investigate why wolves were killing arctic caribou.

Mowat’s account of the summer he lived in the frozen tundra alone — studying the wolf population and developing a deep affection for the wolves (who were of no threat to caribou or man) — is today celebrated as a classic of nature writing, at once a tale of remarkable adventures and indelible record of myths and magic of wolves.

Buy on

The Voyage of the Narwhal

Capturing a crucial moment in the history of exploration—the mid-nineteenth-century romance with the Arctic—Andrea Barrett’s compelling novel tells the story of a fateful expedition.

Through the eyes of the ship’s scholar-naturalist, Erasmus Darwin Wells, we encounter the Narwhal‘s crew, its commander, and the far-north culture of the Esquimaux. In counterpoint, we meet the women left behind in Philadelphia, explorers only in imagination.

Together, those who travel and those who stay weave a web of myth and mystery, finally discovering what they had not sought, the secrets of their own hearts.

10 Best Books About Antarctica 

Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage

The astonishing saga of polar explorer Ernest Shackleton’s survival for over a year on the ice-bound Antarctic seas, as Time magazine put it, “defined heroism.”

Alfred Lansing’s scrupulously researched and brilliantly narrated book — with over 200,000 copies sold — has long been acknowledged as the definitive account of the Endurance’s fateful trip.

To write their authoritative story, Lansing consulted with ten of the surviving members and gained access to the diaries and personal accounts of eight others.

The resulting book has all the immediacy of a first-hand account, expanded with maps and illustrations, especially for this edition.

Buy on

Alone on the Ice: The Greatest Survival Story in the History of Exploration

On January 17, 1913, alone and near starvation, Douglas Mawson, leader of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition, was hauling a sledge to get back to base camp. The dogs were gone.

Now Mawson himself plunged through a snow bridge, dangling over an abyss by the sledge harness. A line of poetry gave him the will to haul himself back to the surface.

Mawson was sometimes reduced to crawling, and one night he discovered that the soles of his feet had completely detached from the flesh beneath. On February 8, when he staggered back to base, his features unrecognizably skeletal, the first teammate to reach him blurted out, “Which one are you?”

This thrilling and almost unbelievable account establishes Mawson in his rightful place as one of the greatest polar explorers and expedition leaders.

It is illustrated by a trove of Frank Hurley’s famous Antarctic photographs, many never before published in the United States.

Buy on

The Worst Journey in the World

The Worst Journey in the World recounts Robert Falcon Scott’s ill-fated expedition to the South Pole. Apsley Cherry-Garrard, the youngest member of Scott’s team and one of three men to make and survive the notorious Winter Journey, draws on his firsthand experiences as well as the diaries of his compatriots to create a stirring and detailed account of Scott’s legendary expedition.

Cherry himself would be among the search party that discovered the corpses of Scott and his men, who had long since perished from starvation and brutal cold.

It is through Cherry’s insightful narrative and keen descriptions that Scott and the other members of the expedition are fully memorialized.

Buy on

Madhouse at the End of the Earth: The Belgica’s Journey into the Dark Antarctic Night 

Madhouse at the End of the Earth: The Belgica’s Journey into the Dark Antarctic Night is the story about the harrowing expedition led by Belgian explorer Adrien de Gerlache aboard the Belgica during the Belgian Antarctic Expedition (1897-1899).

This historic voyage was one of the earliest scientific expeditions to Antarctica and is known for its numerous challenges and triumphs.

The Belgica set sail from Antwerp on August 16, 1897, with a crew of 19 men, including notable individuals such as Roald Amundsen and Frederick Cook. The expedition aimed to explore and conduct scientific research in the uncharted regions of Antarctica, contributing to the understanding of the continent’s geology, biology, and meteorology.

However, the journey quickly turned into a nightmare as the crew faced extreme weather conditions, treacherous ice, and isolation. The ship became trapped in the ice of the Bellingshausen Sea, forcing the crew to endure the harsh Antarctic winter in complete darkness.

The perpetual night and the confinement led to psychological strain, and the crew suffered from conditions like scurvy. Amundsen, who later became famous for reaching the South Pole, played a crucial role during this expedition. Despite the challenging circumstances, the crew conducted scientific observations, making valuable contributions to Antarctic knowledge

Buy on

An Unsung Hero: Tom Crean – Antarctic Survivor

The story of the remarkable Tom Crean who ran away to sea aged 15 and played a memorable role in Antarctic exploration.

He spent more time in the unexplored Antarctic than Scott or Shackleton and outlived both. Among the last to see Scott alive, Crean was in the search party that found the frozen body.

An unforgettable story of triumph over unparalleled hardship and deprivation.

Buy on

The Last Place on Earth: Scott and Amundsen’s Race to the South Pole

At the beginning of the twentieth century, the South Pole was the most coveted prize in the fiercely nationalistic modern age of exploration.

In the brilliant dual biography, the award-winning writer Roland Huntford re-examines every detail of the great race to the South Pole between Britain’s Robert Scott and Norway’s Roald Amundsen. Scott, who dies along with four of his men only eleven miles from his next cache of supplies, became Britain’s beloved failure, while Amundsen, who not only beat Scott to the Pole but returned alive, was largely forgotten.

This account of their race is a gripping, highly readable history that captures the driving ambitions of the era and the complex, often deeply flawed men who were charged with carrying them out.

Buy on

The Last Viking: The Life of Roald Amundsen, Conqueror of the South Pole

The Last Viking: The Life of Roald Amundsen, Conqueror of the South Pole delves into the life and adventures of Roald Amundsen, a Norwegian explorer who is best known for being the first person to reach the South Pole in 1911.

Amundsen was a skilled navigator and explorer who undertook several significant expeditions during the “Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration.” In addition to reaching the South Pole, he also led the first successful expedition to traverse the Northwest Passage and made important contributions to polar exploration.

The Last Viking gives you insights into Amundsen’s early life, his passion for exploration, and the challenges he faced during his various expeditions. The book explores Amundsen’s meticulous planning, his ability to adapt to harsh conditions, and his determination to achieve his goals.

The biography not only focuses on Amundsen’s accomplishments but also delves into the complexities of his character, shedding light on the personal and professional challenges he encountered. It paints a vivid portrait of an explorer who was both ambitious and strategic in his pursuit of conquering the world’s polar frontiers.

Buy on

The Lost Men: The Harrowing Saga of Shackleton’s Ross Sea Party

In 1914, Sir Ernest Shackleton set forth to make history with the first-ever crossing of the Antarctic continent. He sailed into the Weddell Sea aboard the Endurance, while a ship called the Aurora sailed into the Ross Sea to create a lifeline of vital food and fuel depots to supply the epic crossing.

Yet all went tragically wrong when the Aurora broke free of her moorings in an Antarctic gale and stranded ten men ashore. Left with little more than the clothing on their backs and scavenged equipment, the men vowed to carry on in the face of impossible odds.

Meanwhile, the rest of the Aurora crew, cast adrift at the mercy of the elements, battled for survival. The lost men struggled to save themselves and carry out their mission with little hope of rescue.

Buy on

Antarctica: An Intimate Portrait of the World’s Most Mysterious Continent

There have been many books about Antarctica in the past, but all have focused on only one aspect of the continent – its science, its wildlife, the heroic age of exploration, personal experiences or the sheer awesome beauty of the landscape, for example – but none has managed to capture the whole story, till now.

Gabrielle Walker, author, consultant to New Scientist and regular broadcaster with the BBC has written a book unlike any that has ever been written about the continent.

Antarctica weaves all the significant threads into an intricate tapestry, made up of science, natural history, poetry, epic history, what it feels like to be there and why it draws so many different kinds of people back there again and again.

It is only when all the parts come together that the underlying truths of the continent emerge.

Antarctica is the most alien place on Earth, the only part of our planet where humans could never survive unaided. It is truly like walking on another planet. And yet, in its silence, its agelessness and its mysteries lie the secrets of our past, and of our future.

Buy on

Terra Incognita: Travels in Antarctica

It is the coldest, windiest, driest place on earth, an icy desert of unearthly beauty and stubborn impenetrability. For centuries, Antarctica has captured the imagination of our greatest scientists and explorers, lingering in the spirit long after their return. Shackleton called it “the last great journey”; for Apsley Cherry-Garrard it was the worst journey in the world.

This is a book about the call of the wild and the response of the spirit to a country that exists perhaps most vividly in the mind. Sara Wheeler spent seven months in Antarctica, living with its scientists and dreamers. No book is more true to the spirit of that continent–beguiling, enchanted and vast beyond the furthest reaches of our imagination.

Buy on

For more on Antarctica have a look at the 11 best documentaries about Antarctica to watch.

Books About The Arctic and Antarctic

Although there are many books about the Arctic and Antarctic that you can read, these are some of the best and will make perfect reading for anyone dreaming of these cold places, like I often do.

If you’re curious about what it’s like to live in the Arctic then check out this post about what it’s like living in the Arctic.

Try Amazon’s Audible free trial for a month to listen to some of these books for free.

Share the best books about the Arctic and Antarctic:

11 thoughts on “20 Best Books About The Arctic & Antarctic”

  1. golden triangle tour with goa

    This looks like a good collection. I’m loving these posts featuring books from around the world. Thank you for bringing them to my attention, I’ll have to check them out!

  2. golden triangle tour with mandawa

    What a great list of books! This is really very inspiring and informative post. I would like to read Icebound. Thank you so much for sharing a nice collection.

  3. Hi, you wrote about Dark Matter by Black Crouch, but meant to include Dark Matter by Michelle Paver. Paver’s book is about a haunted shack in the arctic and a man who has to stay on the ice alone with only a husky to keep him company through the dark months.

  4. Pingback: The 10 Best Travel Documentaries (Epic Travel Adventures)

  5. It’s boiling hot here in Bulgaria this summer so maybe I should just grab one of these books to cool off my mind.

  6. It’s a shame you don’t have a donate button! I’d definitely donate to
    this fantastic blog! I suppose for now i’ll settle for bookmarking and adding your RSS feed to my Google account.
    I look forward to brand new updates and will talk about this site
    with my Facebook group. Talk soon!

  7. Pingback: 20 Books About The Arctic and Antarctic (Must Reads For Cold Weather) - Voyage Love

  8. Pingback: Books About Siberia (7 of The Best To Read)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Pin It on Pinterest