The Emerald Mile

Rafting Books – good reads

At this time of year many of you may be looking for presents to give to loved ones, or finding a good book to snuggle down with in your winter, or read on the beach in your summer – why not some good rafting books!

There are plenty of “how to” rafting books, but we’re focussing here on the more entertaining books – books about epic trips, or first descents, or great adventures, or just a river guides’ musings, or all of the above!

Rafting Books – good reads:

  • Lost in Mongolia – Colin Angus
    “From the Yenisey’s headwaters in the wild heart of central Asia to its mouth on the Arctic Ocean, Colin Angus and his fellow adventurers travel 5,500 kilometres of one of the world’s most dangerous rivers through remotest Mongolia and Siberia, and live to tell about it.” “A great read that draws you in and amazes you.”
  • Pushing Rubber Downhill – Adam Piggott
    “From the tropical rainforests of Northern Australia, to the mountain rivers of British Columbia, the mighty Ugandan White Nile, and finally the cultural wonderland of the Italian Alps, Pushing Rubber Downhill explores one young man’s desire to make something of his life by doing the unbelievable.”
  • Run Guts Pull Cones – Adam Piggott
    “Returning home broke after six years of adventure abroad, Adam Piggott finds himself cast adrift. Until a chance encounter and a frank talk from a good friend help him realise it’s about living for adventure – and growing as a man. Hijinks and mayhem ensue as the gentleman adventurer sets off for new horizons, and a new challenge – forging bonds of brotherhood on the rivers of the Italian Alps.”
  • Rafting BooksRivergods: Exploring the World’s Great Wild Rivers – Richard Bangs
    “This book traces the adventures of explorers Richard Bangs and Christian Kallen as they raft down rivers in North and South America, Africa, Asia and Australia, selecting rivers with gradients that ensured white water. Along the way they combined physical challenge with anthropological and ecological investigation.”
  • The Lost River – Richard Bangs
    “A memoir of the author’s rafting adventures.”
  • Brothers on the Bashkaus: A Siberian paddling adventure – Eugene Buchanan
    Brothers on the Bashkaus follows the exploits of one of the first groups of Westerners to experience the very different Russian style of rafting on a white-knuckled, 26-day trip down the Bashkaus River, one of the hardest whitewater runs in all Siberia.”

Amazon River

  • Running the Amazon – Joe Kane
    “The voyage began in the lunar terrain of the Peruvian Andes, where coca leaf is the only remedy against altitude sickness. It continued down rapids so fierce they could swallow a raft in a split second. It ended six months and 4,200 miles later, where the Amazon runs gently into the Atlantic. Joe Kane’s personal account of the first expedition to travel the entirety of the world’s longest river is a riveting adventure in the tradition of Joseph Conrad, filled with death-defying encounters: with narco-traffickers and Sendero Luminoso guerrillas and nature at its most unforgiving.”
  • Rafting the Amazon – Francois Odendaal
    “This book traces Francois Odendaal’s three expeditions to raft this extraordinary river. It is a story of adventure, courage and personal experience, as well as a geographical, environmental and historical celebration of the continent of South America. Using balsa raft, local river boats and a sailing boat convinced him that his three journeys were less about conquering the Amazon than about learning to understand it.”


  • Riding the Dragon’s Back: The Great Race to Run the Wild Yangtze – Richard Bangs
    “Subtitled “The Great Race to Raft the Wild Yangtze River,” this exciting account follows several expeditions to be the first to descend China’s longest river, from its headwaters in Tibet to the Three Gorges region and eventually to the East China Sea. Among the players are a megalomaniac American fishing guide, patriotic members of China’s youth movement, novice boaters and experienced rafters, thrown together to challenge one of the world’s most dangerous rivers.”
  • When Dreams and Fear Collide: The true story of the 1986 Sino-USA Upper Yangtze River Expedition – Jan Warren
    “This is the true firsthand account of the 1986 Sino-USA Upper Yangtze River Expedition. The 1986 Sino-USA Upper Yangtze River Expedition was not Ken and Jan Warren’s first attempt to raft the Yangtze. Jan Warren’s account rivals “Riding the Dragon’s Back: The Race to Raft the Upper Yangtze” by Richard Bangs. After 25 years of silence, Jan Warren went on record with the only firsthand account of the risks taken in pursuit of this dream. Thi is a story about dreamers. People who think large, whose imaginations are not limited by normal expectations.”

Colorado River

  • The Exploration of the Colorado River and Its Canyons – John Wesley Powell
    “This is legendary pioneer John Wesley Powell’s first-person account of his crew’s unprecedented odyssey along the Green and Colorado Rivers and through the Grand Canyon. It is an  account of a scientific expedition surviving some of the most dangerous rapids known to man and remains as fresh and exciting today as it was in 1874.” Skip to Chapter “The start from Green River Station” to get straight to the river action.
  • The Emerald Mile: The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History Through the Heart of the Grand Canyon – Kevin Fedarko
    “The thrilling true tale of the fastest boat ride ever, down the entire length of the Colorado River and through the Grand Canyon, during the legendary flood of 1983.”
  • There’s This River… Grand Canyon Boatman Stories – Christa Sadler
    “An anthology of stories and artwork produced entirely by the river guiding community of Grand Canyon. Often hilarious, sometimes bittersweet and always entertaining, these true tales tell the stories of a landscape, a lifestyle and a unique community.”
  • Sunk without a sound – Brad Dimock
    “This adventure/mystery/biography details the true story of Glen and Bessie Hyde, who vanished on their 1928 honeymoon river trip through Grand Canyon. When they did not appear at journey’s end, Glen’s father launched an exhaustive search of Grand Canyon. Although the boat was soon found upright and fully loaded, no trace of the honeymooners was ever found, … or was there …?”
  • The Very Hard Way: Bert Loper and the Colorado River – Brad Dimock
    “Bert Loper, the Grand Old Man of the Colorado, was born the day Major Powell discovered the confluence of the San Juan and Colorado in 1869. He died just days after the first motorboat had passed through Grand Canyon. He knew every river runner in between, and by the time of his death at 80 years old, had run more of the Colorado than anyone.”
  • Woman Of The River: Georgie White Clark, Whitewater Pioneer – Richard Westwood
    “Georgie White Clark-adventurer, raconteur, eccentric–first came to know the canyons of the Colorado River by swimming portions of them with a single companion. She subsequently hiked and rafted portions of the canyons, increasingly sharing her love of the Colorado River with friends and acquaintances. At first establishing a part-time guide service as a way to support her own river trips, she went on to become perhaps the canyons’ best-known river guide, introducing their rapids to many others-on the river, via her large-capacity rubber rafts, and across the nation, via magazine articles and movies.”
  • Breaking Into the Current: Boatwomen of the Grand Canyon – Louise Teal
    “In 1973, Marilyn Sayre gave up her job as a computer programmer and became the first woman in twenty years to run a commercial boat through the Grand Canyon. Georgie White had been the first, back in the 1950s, but it took time before other women broke into guiding passengers down the Colorado River. This book profiles eleven of the first full-season Grand Canyon boatwomen, weaving together their various experiences in their own words.”
  • From Powell to Power: A Recounting of the First 100 River Runners through the Grand Canyon – Otis Reed Dock Marston (Author), Tom Martin (Editor)
    “Dock began his history of river running on the Colorado River in Grand Canyon at a time when many of the pioneering river runners from the late 1800s and early 1900s were still alive. Over the next thirty years, Dock amassed a huge collection of first-person accounts of these river runners, from James White on a log raft in 1867 to the first powerboat runs of 1949 through 1951.”
  • Down the Great Unknown: John Wesley Powell’s 1869 Journey of Discovery and Tragedy Through the Grand Canyon – Edward Dolnic
    “On May 24, 1869, a one-armed Civil War veteran named John Wesley Powell and a ragtag band of nine mountain men embarked on the last great quest in the American West. No one had ever explored the fabled Grand Canyon; to adventurers of that era it was a region almost as mysterious as Atlantis – and as perilous. The ten men set out down the mighty Colorado River in wooden rowboats. Six survived.”
  • Canyon Solitude: A Woman’s Solo River Journey Through the Grand Canyon – Patricia McCairen
    “It’s well known that Mother River doesn’t like a smart aleck,” says Patricia McCairen. Accordingly, she plies her oars with reverence and skill on a sometimes hair-raising solo rafting trip along the Colorado River that winds though the stupendous stone valleys of the American Grand Canyon
  • The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey – Candice Millard
    “The River of Doubt is the true story of Theodore Roosevelt’s harrowing exploration of one of the most dangerous rivers on earth, a river in the jungles of South America.”


  • The Doing of the Thing: The Brief, Brilliant Whitewater Career of Buzz Holmstrom – Vince Welch, Cort Conley, Brad Dimock
    “Biography of America’s great river runner, Buzz Holmstrom: the first to run the Green and Colorado Rivers alone in 1937. Born in the coastal logging communities of coastal Oregon, Holmstrom built his own wooden boats and soloed several of the country’s great whitewater rivers. He died mysteriously on the Grande Ronde River at age 37.”
  • Big Water, Little Boats – Tom Martin
    “Moulty Fulmar was bitten by the river running bug during a San Juan River trip in 1942. After a chance meeting with a McKenzie River dory builder, Fulmar constructed his first dory and rowed the San Juan in 1947. Traveling through Grand Canyon in 1948 on a Norm Nevills expedition, Fulmar met Colorado River historian Dock Marston and they went on to run rivers together and correspond for the next thirty years.”
  • Riverman: The Story of Bus Hatch – Roy Webb
    “Bus Hatch, a hard-drinking, hard-fighting carpenter from Vernal, Utah, became one of the seminal figures in Western river running. Together with his inlaws (and a few outlaws) they began boating the Green and Colorado Rivers around 1930. It was they that introduced having a riotously good time to an occupation formerly considered very serious business.”
  • Anything Worth Doing: A True Story of Adventure, Friendship and Tragedy on the Last of the West’s Great Rivers – Jo Deurbrouck06
    “Anything Worth Doing tells the unforgettable true story of larger-than-life whitewater raft guides Clancy Reece and Jon Barker, two men who share a love of wild rivers and an unbending will to live life on their terms, no matter the cost. Clancy’s motto, ‘Anything worth doing is worth overdoing,’ leads them into a decade of beautiful–and beautifully strange–river adventures.”
  • Halfway to Halfway & Other River Stories – Bob Volpert (Author), Dick Linford (Author), Mike Burke (Contributor), & 7 more
    “This is a collection of stories by, and usually about, river guides and outfitters. The tales focus on river related events that usually have little to do with whitewater. Many don’t even take place on a river. All say a lot about the culture of guiding and the people attracted to wild places and the odd things that happen once they get there. These are the stories shared around a campfire after a day on the water. Some are funny, some sad, some quirky, but they all come from personal river experiences and lifelong friendships.”
  • Whitewater Rafting on West Virginia’s New & Gauley Rivers: Come on In, the Water’s Weird – Jay Young
    “A certain mixture of whimsy and derring-do is required to shove off down (or up) the New or Gauley River with scant protection aside from a helmet, life vest and one’s compatriots. It’s a choice that could be so easily avoided, but that wouldn’t make sense to the proud and colorful characters who have long been shooting these rapids, some of the most popular and treacherous in the country. Here, Jay Young, a raft guide turned writer, leads readers through the local lore and history of the rivers, where–much to the delight of those brave enough to face these rapids–the ordinary almost never occurs.”

Build this list of great rafting books to read

If you think there are some good rafting books we’ve left off this list, or have some you recommend in your own language – send the details on to us! Book name, Author, summary of the book.