This could be esoteric, but … looking at the following four titles somehow sparked the memory of the voiceover at the start of the 1982 movie “Conan the Barbarian”: “Let me tell you of the days of high adventure …” FYI, Conan was the creation of Robert E. Howard, a prolific pulp-fiction fantasist in the 1930s. Of course, these titles explore the lives of real adventure-seekers.
In “The Last Volcano,” scientist and author John Dvorak chronicles the life of vulcanologist Thomas Jagger (1871-1953) and his global quest (some would say obsession) to research and understand the power and science of the world’s most deadly volcanoes (Pegasus, $29, 356 pages). Jagger founded the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (January will be Hawaii Island’s seventh annual “Volcano Awareness Month”). Dvorak is the author of “Earthquake Storms,” which explores the history and future of California’s San Andreas Fault.
Another adventurer from the past was Greenland-born Knud Rasmussen, the iconoclastic anthropologist who was of Inuit and Danish ancestry (1879-1933). “White Eskimo” tells the remarkable story of an explorer who is credited as being the “father of Eskimo-ology” for his work in “discovering” remote tribes of Inuits in the Arctic and bringing their cultures to the public consciousness (Da Capo, $28, 384 pages). At one point, Rasmussen spent three years on the ice in one of the longest dogsled expeditions in history.
For 16 years, Jason A. Ramos has been a “smokejumper” in the Cascades Mountains of Washington, among the elite firefighters who “parachute into the most rugged and remote wild areas to battle nature’s blazes.” In his memoir “Smokejumper,” he invites readers along for wild and dangerous flights, leaps out of planes and onto mountains, and hikes in flaming forests (William Morrow, $25, 256 pages; with Julian Smith).
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Adventures of a different kind are recalled by Lt. Col. T. Mark McCurley in “Hunter Killer: Inside America’s Unmanned Air War” (Dutton, $28, 368 pages; with Kevin Maurer). Former Air Force pilot McCurley was part of the Remotely Piloted Aircraft program, waging drone warfare from the sky against terrorists in Afghanistan, Iraq and “other locations.” His well-told behind-the-scenes memoir is at once chilling and fascinating.
In a calmer vein ...
Here’s a concept: A-list fiction writers telling their best first-person global travel adventures. Contributors to “Better Than Fiction 2” include Dave Eggers, Karen Joy Fowler, Alexander McCall Smith, Jane Smiley and 26 others (Lonely Planet, $16, 317 pages; edited by Don George).
Peter Mayle charmed readers worldwide with the best-selling “A Year In Provence,” his 1990 memoir of moving into a 200-year-old fixer-upper in rural France. He continues his witty four-title “Caper” series with “The Diamond Caper,” a novel starring “bon vivant” and amateur sleuth Sam Levitt and his love-interest partner, Elena Morales (Knopf, $25, 224 pages). As the two eat and drink their way through Provence, there’s also the matter of solving a string of jewelry heists, which poses more danger than they expect.
By anyone’s reckoning, actor, director, producer and writer Orson Welles was an audacious genius (1915-85). In “Young Orson,” veteran biographer Patrick McGilligan details Welles’ early life and career, the result of years of research and interviews with many of Welles’ surviving friends and family (the “Sources,” “Notes” and “Index” are a combined 70 pages; Harper, $40, 832 pages). As longtime friend and fellow actor Joseph Cotton once said, “No one has ever engaged in a dull conversation with Orson Welles.”
During her long singing career, Carly Simon has been a woman of some mystery, keeping her private life and her past to herself. For instance, more than 40 years passed before she revealed that her 1972 signature song “You’re So Vain” was about three men in her life, but named only one – Warren Beatty. She has much more to say in her long-anticipated memoir “Boys In the Trees,” the same title as her 1978 album, which included the mega-hit “You Belong To Me” (Flatiron, $29, 384 pages).