In her novel Great Circle — an acclaimed best-seller now in paperback — Maggie Shipstead interwove the stories of a missing 1950s female aviator and a film actress hired to play her. Below, Shipstead recommends six other books about the sea or sky.
A Voyage for Madmen by Peter Nichols (2001)
This is a riveting account of a 1968-69 round-the-world solo-sailing race, in which nine yachtsmen set out and only one finished. Nichols expertly tells how the others were picked off by storms, wrecks, illness, loneliness, fatigue, idealism (oddly enough), and, in one case, the impossible, madness-inducing burden of deception. Buy it here.
The Outlaw Sea by William Langewiesche (2004)
I'm a huge admirer of Langewiesche's aviation writing, too, but this book changed the way I understand the world. Without wasting a word, he lays bare the hardships of merchant sailors, the dangers of piracy and of maritime accidents, and the formidable challenges of imposing order on the vast and borderless ocean. Buy it here.
West With the Night by Beryl Markham (1942)
Markham's iconic and exceptionally elegant memoir of growing up as the ultimate free-range child in Kenya culminates in her historic westbound flight across the Atlantic, the first-ever solo and nonstop against the wind. A spare but vivid glimpse of a singular woman. Buy it here.
Maiden Voyage by Tania Aebi (1989)
In 1985, Aebi's father gave her an ultimatum: Go to college or sail solo around the world. She chose sailing. I read this account of her journey when I was a teenager and was enraptured by the glamour (and eventual romance) of her adventure, though she doesn't sugarcoat her struggles, frustrations, and doubts. Buy it here.
Spreading My Wings by Diana Barnato Walker (1994)
A fast-living English society girl and hobbyist pilot, Walker spent World War II ferrying warplanes around the U.K. and to Europe. She chronicles those years in this chatty memoir full of hijinks, close scrapes, and losses. Reading it feels like spending a rainy afternoon at the feet of your favorite great-aunt, regaled with anecdotes from an extremely well-lived life. Buy it here.
Skyfaring by Mark Vanhoenacker (2015)
It's easy to forget what an astonishing, recent thing it is that we can freely traverse this planet's skies. Vanhoenacker, a 747 pilot, has not lost his sense of awe, and his wise, deliberate book offers behind-the-scenes tidbits and philosophical musings on flight, beauty, and our planet. Buy it here.
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