Suffering is a well-trodden topic. From Hollywood movies to tall tales, oral histories to family anecdotes, even in song (especially if you’re listening to country), suffering is one of the most integral parts of any good conflict. And conflict is what always drives a great story.
Scroll through pages on Amazon or browse the shelves at your local bookstore and you’ll find tons of books about suffering. These tales have driven me to push myself into a lot of suffering, like that time I lost my finger tips on a Nepalese mountain.
There’s a variety of reasons for the enduring popularity of stories about other people’s trials and their journies through suffering.
Sometimes these types of stories allow us to feel the pain of their characters, to place us in otherwise unthinkable circumstances, or to explore the depths of human hopelessness.
What these stories can also imbue us with is hope. Through tales of awesome and often unbelievable survival, we can learn that no matter how hard our own lives get, we can endure. We know others before us have suffered and come out on the other side. Most importantly, these stories give us an appreciation for life.
Here is a list of some of my favorite examples of books that tell tales of embracing the suck.
Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage to the Antarctic by Alfred Lansing
In 1914, Ernest Shackleton took a crew of twenty-seven men to the South Atlantic on a ship called ‘Endurance.’ Their goal? Cross the Antarctic over land. By October of 1915, the ‘Endurance’ was trapped by ice and the men were castaways in one of the planet’s most remote and unforgiving regions. This book tells an unbelievable tale about men who leaned on each other in the face of certain death and how, despite all the odds, they survived.
Skeletons on the Zahara by Dean King
Chronicling the horrors of twelve American sailors who were shipwrecked in West Africa in 1815, captured by desert nomads, sold in slavery and marched across the unforgiving Sahara for two months, Skeletons on the Zahara is an often horrifying and always harrowing tale of human suffering. It’s also an amazing and unbelievable read.
Minus 148 Degrees: The First Winter Ascent of Mount McKinley by Art Davidson
Climbing a mountain as tough as Denali is hard enough. Doing it in the middle of winter can only be described as hellacious. Davidson’s account of history’s first winter ascent of the hulking peak is painfully detailed and beautifully described, often leaving the reader shocked by its brutal honesty and no-holds-barred retelling of this intrepid climb.
River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey by Candace Millard
Theodore Roosevelt is known as being one of the baddest asses that ever lived. Always in search of adventure, of danger and of challenge, Roosevelt was no stranger to suffering. Though through all his adventures, his journey down the then-unknown Amazon in the wake of a crushing political defeat was arguably the most perilous and important he ever undertook. “A dazzling debut,” according to Amazon.com, Millard’s tale reveals the darkness of the jungle and, through stories of murder, betrayal, and Roosevelt’s near-suicide, the darkness that exists at the core of the human spirit.
We’ll always be fascinated by what lies beneath our oceans, especially when it comes to shipwrecks. In the early nineties, two recreational divers came across an unknown German U-Boat mere miles off the coast of New Jersey. No historian, no government, no books or records could identify exactly which ship the men had found. It was as if they were exploring a ghost. Over the next six years, the divers, along with a team of elite sea-searchers, sought to uncover the mystery of the phantom U-Boat. Some divers wouldn’t live to see the conclusion of the expedition. Others would see their rivalries turn into great friendships. All would be changed by what lay beneath the frigid waves off of New Jersey.Jeff Scace is out there somewhere, flirting with the ragged edge. You can follow his endurance journey on Strava or his IG @jeffscace