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Top River Reads Epic Tales of Adventure, History, and Grit.

Updated: Jan 23, 2022

We rounded up a list of favorite river-inspired books from mentors, partners, and friends in the river community. They are unique, diverse in nature, and all will deepen your love for rivers.

Anything Worth Doing by Jo Deurbrouck

"This is a great story about friendship and the power of rivers.”
- Sam Carter, Host of The River Radius Podcast

Anything Worth Doing tells the true story of 2 larger-than-life whitewater raft guides who share a love for wild rivers and live by the motto, "anything worth doing is worth overdoing."

This motto leads them into a decade of incredible river adventures and one that tests their limits on the Salmon River at the peak flood of an extreme high water year. This novel is easy-to-read, full of insight and adventure, and was the 2012 National Outdoor Book Award Winner.

The River of Doubt by Candice Millard

"A fascinating account of adventure, unimaginable hardship, loss, and suffering. If you are a fan of history and adventure you will find this one hard to put down.”
- Molly Wolff, Creative Director, Rocky Mountain Rafts

This National Best Seller tells the story of Theodore Roosevelt’s first descent of an unmapped, rapids-choked tributary of the Amazon, of the world’s most treacherous jungles.

Along the way, Roosevelt and his men faced an unbelievable series of hardships, losing their canoes and supplies to punishing whitewater rapids, and enduring starvation and disease, Indian attack, disease and murder within their own ranks. Despite the hardship, loss and suffering that came the journey, he changed the map of the western hemisphere forever.

Brothers on the Bashkaus by Eugene Buchanan

"An amazing story that highlights perseverance, camaraderie, and river ingenuity."
- Zach Svoboda, Owner at Downriver Equipment

Brothers on the Bashkaus follows 4 Americans with a group of 10 Latvians on their 26-day river trip down the Bashkaus River, one of the hardest, most technical whitewater runs in all of Siberia.

It’s a great adventure story that combines culture and history with a fascinating play-by-play of the paddling maneuvers and survival skills needed to meet the day-to-day challenges in the canyon. It also sheds light on the bonding capabilities of the river and how rivers can bring people together regardless of race, religion, or nationality.

Confluence, Into the Future of the West by Zak Podmore

"Fierce, smart, and full of heart. Zak's stories explore the intersection of rivers and our western culture.”
- Cody Perry, Creator, Rig to Flip

Award-winning journalist and film producer, Zak Podmore has been riding rivers since his mother attached his car seat to a raft when he was a toddler. When he looses her to cancer, it's no surprise that he looks to the healing power of wild places through a lens of grief and generation.

His intuitive, first-person narratives include a canoe crossing of the Colorado River delta during a rare release of water, a kayak sprint down a flash–flooding Little Colorado River, and a pack raft trip on the Elwha River in Washington through the largest dam removal project in history.

Where the Water Goes by David Owen

“Not a page turner, but a great resource for building your river knowledge. It’s a captivating journey that provides deeper insight into the vitality and history of the Colorado River and the water problems we face today."
- Sarah Nelson, Executive Director, Protect Our Rivers

The Colorado River is an essential resource for the western part of the U.S., and every gallon that flows down it is owned or claimed by someone. Owen takes his readers on an adventure downriver, tracing water from the Colorado River’s headwaters to the spot near the U.S.-Mexico border where the river runs dry.

Through this journey, Owen reveals truths, myths, and startling facts about the Colorado River, reinforcing its vitality while shedding light on the water problems we’re facing today.

Never Turn Back by Walt Blackadar

"One of my long-time favorites is Never Turn Back. it’s a great book about a very interesting river runner back when kayaks were all fiberglass and rafts were still army surplus."
- Phil Walczynski, Owner, Downriver Equipment

This is a gripping life story of Dr. Blackdar, who at the age of 49, shocked the outdoor world when he made a solo kayak journey down the treacherous rapids of Turnback Canyon on the remote and wild Alsek River - the river equivalent of the first ascent of Mount Everest.

His spectacular rise veered wildly off course when a young woman tragically died on one of his kayaking expeditions. Heartbroken and plagued with mounting physical problems, his kayaking technique deteriorated. Yet he had an irrepressible spirit, and pitting himself in a race against his body's clock, he sought out and faced off against the world's most formidable whitewater.

One River by Wade David

"An amazing account of adventure, history, ecology, and colonial overreach."
- Sam Cater, Host of The River Radius Podcast

In 1941, Professor Richard Evan Schultes took a leave from Harvard and disappeared into the Amazon, where he spent the next 12 years mapping uncharted rivers and living among dozens of Indian tribes. In the 1970s, he sent two prize students to follow in his footsteps and unveil the botanical secrets of coca, the notorious source of cocaine, a sacred plant known to the Inca as the divine leaf of immortality.

This is a story of two generations of explorers drawn together by the transcendent knowledge of Indian peoples, the visionary realms of the shaman, and the extraordinary plants that sustain all life in a forest that once stood immense.

Breaking into the Current: Boatwomen of the Grand Canyon by Louis Teal

“Some of the best Grand Canyon river running storytelling available."
- Cody Perry, Creator, Rig to Flip

In 1973, Marilyn Sayre gave up her job as a computer programmer and became the first woman to run a commercial boat through the Grand Canyon in twenty years. Georgie White had been the first, back in the 1950s, when resistance from a male-dominated society slowed other women from breaking into guiding passengers down the Colorado River.

This book profiles eleven of the first full-season Grand Canyon boat-women, weaving together their various experiences in their own words. Each tells how all were involved in the same romance with the river.

The River's Song by Wayne Johnson

"This is one of my favorite river readings that I send to GOALS kids after their expedition is over. It can be found in a book I've only ever seen for sale at Buckskin Bill's on the Main Salmon, and it's called "The River's Song."
- Brett Hochmuth, Executive Director, GOALS Youth River Expeditions

You can read and download this reading below.

The River's Song, by N. Wayne Johnson
Download PDF • 56KB

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