The latest summer releases will provide entertainment no matter how far off the grid you're headed—and who you're traveling with.
The latest summer releases will provide entertainment no matter how far off the grid you're headed—and who you're traveling with. (Photo: Georgijevic/iStock)

The Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Summer Reading List

You worry about your vacation—we’ll handle the reading list. We'll even help you decide which book to take with you (just in case you're a little too busy on the trail to read all of our picks).

Cute dog looking through the car window.

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This summer’s catalog of new travel, adventure, and natural history titles is deep. But why waste valuable trip-planning time surfing book reviews? Use our simple flowchart to match your summer adventure plans with the (let’s face it) one new book you’ll actually get around to reading this summer. 

The Decision:

The Books

1. 'Buffalo Jump Blues' by Keith McCafferty 

On the high plains of Montana, a femme fatale is looking for her old flame, whose disappearance might be tied to a herd of bison that was mysteriously slaughtered. Who better to investigate than Sean Stranahan—the dilettante private eye who stars in this mystery series and who’d rather be throwing loops into trout streams. Think Raymond Chandler in hip waders. $26; Viking. Available June 28.

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2. 'What a Fish Knows: The Inner Lives of Our Underwater Cousins' by Jonathan Balcombe 

The Humane Society Institute’s director of animal sentience (real job title!) tells a pop-sci audience what anglers already know: Fish are way the hell smarter than we think. For anyone who’s ever had a brown trout stare directly into their soul. $27; Macmillan. 

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3. 'Color Your Park' by hitRECord

Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s hipster crowdsourced-media cult made a 96-page coloring book for the National Parks Service. We'll admit: it’s kind of amazing. Keep the kids busy in transit—or find your zen while they’re off doing the ranger program. $20; National Park Foundation.

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4. 'The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America’s National Parks' by Terry Tempest Williams

Lyrical essays and micro-histories about 12 marquee public lands, brought to you by the high literary priestess who once famously pontificated for 100 pages on the day-to-day lives of prairie dogs. This turn is more urgent, as Williams gives us a tour of all the perils our public lands face. $27; Macmillan.

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5. 'Engineering Eden: The True Story of a Violent Death, a Trial, and the Fight over Controlling Nature' by Jordan Fisher Smith

How do you sex up a detailed, hundred-year history of public-lands management philosophy? Wrap it around the tale of a vicious bear attack and the courtroom drama that followed. Great tent reading for wilderness wonks. $28; Crown.

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6. 'And Soon I Heard a Roaring Wind: A Natural History of Moving Air' by Bill Streever 

Biologist and amateur skipper Streever sails from Texas to Guatemala. Along the way, he digs deep on the science of barometry and weather prediction. All the thrills of Kon-Tiki, but with the added fun of obscure historical meteorologists (not being sarcastic). $26; Little, Brown. Available July 26.

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7. 'Real Food, Fake Food' by Larry Olmsted 

Olmsted, a Forbes and USA Today food columnist (and perhaps Outside’s only record-holding contributor), is a globe-trotting gourmand out to expose the scams and shams in the unregulated global food industry. It’s Bourdain Lite, with some eyebrow-raising revelations about what’s on your plate. Hint: don’t order the Kobe beef sliders. $27.95; Algonquin. Available July 12. 

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8. 'On Trails: An Exploration' by Robert Moor

“It is impossible to fully appreciate the value of a trail until you’ve been forced to walk through wilderness without one.” So begins hiker and journalist Moor’s surprisingly approachable treatise on how trails—the ones we plan and the ones we accidentally leave behind—shape our culture. The rare thru-hiker whose philosophical ramblings you’ll actually want to read. $25; Simon & Schuster. Available July 12.

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9. 'This Road I Ride' by Juliana Buhring

The first woman to circle the globe on a bike did it unsupported, unsponsored, and mourning the loss of a lover, South African whitewater kayaker Hendrik Coetzee. Her easy-reading memoir gets at what makes hard-charging adventure folk tick. $26.95; Norton.

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10. 'Trespassing Across America: One Man's Epic, Never-Done-Before (and Sort of Illegal) Hike Across the Heartland' by Ken Ilgunas

Earnest and free-spirited Ilgunas walked 1,700 miles along the proposed route of the now-nixed Keystone XL pipeline. Your summer trip may be less ambitious, but his travel memoir offers plenty to chew on regarding property rights, climate change, and the merits of batshit crazy undertakings. $27; Blue Rider Press.

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11. 'Braving It: A Father, a Daughter, and an Unforgettable Journey into the Alaskan Wild' by James Campbell

What Wild did for being alone, Campbell does for being with your progeny. It’s a sweet father-daughter story, wrapped in a Last Frontier adventure tale of hunting caribou and hiking the Brooks Range. $27; Crown.

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12. 'To the Bright Edge of the World' by Eowyn Ivey

A dashing Army lieutenant leads a mapping mission through 19th-century Alaska while his wife pushes Victorian social boundaries at home. Oh, and there are tree-babies and sea monsters! Highbrow historical fiction, tinged with magical realism, from the Pulitzer-nominated author of The Snow Child. $26. Little, Brown. Available August 2. 

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13. 'Pinpoint: How GPS Is Changing Technology, Culture, And Our Minds' by Greg Milner

Premise: You haven’t begun to realize how fundamentally the Global Positioning System has recalibrated human civilization. Punctuated with chilling tales of overly reliant travelers’ “death by GPS,” this one belongs in your pack (next to the paper map and compass that for the love of god you should be bringing with you). $27.95; Norton.

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