We are so excited to kick off the year’s Book Voyage reading challenge! Of all the regions on our planned armchair travel journey, this is likely the one you’ve read the least about.
Grab a comfy blanket and hot drink, and join us as we read some of the best books set in Antarctica and the Arctic Circle.
If you stumbled on this post just looking for something like an Antarctica book or Arctic fiction, we hope you’ll love the choices. While you’re here, you can read all about our Book Voyage: Read Around the World challenge, download your free printable map book tracker, and find book lists for the other 11 regions here.
For the challenge, you can read any book set in the Arctic or Antarctica, but we’ve compiled a great list of options to get you started. Our curated recommendations strike a good balance between male and female perspectives, and between serious and light-hearted examinations of the coldest places on Earth. From arctic novels and fiction books set in Antarctica to non-fiction accounts and memoirs, these books each paint vivid images of life at extremes.
Books Set in the Arctic & Antarctic
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In 1925, the remote town of Nome, Alaska, suffered a severe diphtheria outbreak. While scientists had created a lifesaving serum, it was located 1000 miles away, and there was no clear transport route. Roads didn’t exist, and planes couldn’t fly in the harsh blizzard conditions. But without the serum, death was inevitable for those affected.
Inspired by the annual Iditarod race, sled dog teams were called upon to make the long treacherous journey. While you may know about one of the dogs, Balto, this is a deeper look at the whole event and journey.
The Books Girls Say…This non-fiction account of The 1925 Serum Run to Nome reads like an adventure tale in some portions but can feel more like a textbook in others. However, you’ll get new insight into native cultures in Alaska, sled dogs, and the history of the diphtheria epidemic.
This historical mystery is based on the true story of Lady Jane Franklin's quest to find her husband, who went missing during an arctic expedition in the 1850s. She convinces adventurer Virginia Reeve to lead 12 women on a secret quest through impossible terrain and conditions.
A year later, only 5 of the original 12 women are back home, and Virginia has been charged with murder. This compelling novel covers both the expedition and the court case, combining a tale of adventure with a legal drama. We can't wait to read this arctic novel to see how it plays out!
The Book Girls Say... This book begins with quite a bit of backstory before the Arctic adventure begins, but it's well worth it, and the importance of the long introduction becomes apparent as the story comes together.
Book Girls' Readers Rate This Book ⭐⭐⭐⭐ 95% Would Recommend to a Friend
When a Vietnam POW returns home, he carries new anger and impulsively. Determined to stand by her husband, his wife agrees with his plan to move his family to Alaska to live off the grid. Soon after arriving, the harsh reality of rural Alaska sets in for 13-year-old Leni and her mom. For a while, things are better with her dad as they prepare for their first Alaskan winter, but she fears his more balanced-self is only temporary.
The Book Girls Say... While only northern Alaska is officially part of the Arctic circle, we think this book deserves a place on our list of arctic fiction because it provides an intimate look at life for families who live in extreme environments. They have to be very intentional with preparations to survive long winters. It was a five-star read for both of us!
WARNING: This book includes descriptions of domestic abuse.
Book Girls' Readers Rate This Book ⭐⭐⭐⭐½ 97% Would Recommend to a Friend
While Split Tooth is a work of fiction and even uses magical realism and fantasy, it does pull from the author’s journals and experiences in her Intuit village. The book tells of a girl growing up in the far north Nunavut territory in the Canadian Arctic. Set in the 1970s, the lyrical book explores all the good, bad, beauty, and violence surrounding her. Then, she becomes pregnant and must learn to navigate all the opposing aspects of hard life in her small arctic town.
The Book Girls Say…This book will not be for everyone. However, if you love lyrical poetry or want something really far outside your comfort zone, readers say this Indigenous work is completely memorizing. Consider picking up the audio version, which is read by the author and contains her Intuit throat singing between chapters. WARNING: This book contains scenes of sexual abuse along with other graphic sexual and brutal situations. It's a very tough, but powerful read highlighting what really happens in very remote Arctic towns.
This is the true story of Anne Hobbs who arrived in harsh and beautiful Alaska in 1927, at the young age of nineteen. She quickly discovered that running a ramshackle schoolhouse would expose her to more than just the elements.
After she allowed Native American children into her class and fell in love with a half-Inuit man, she learned the meanings of prejudice and perseverance, irrational hatred and unconditional love.
“People get as mean as the weather,” she discovered, but they were also capable of great good.
The Book Girls Say... Reviewers say that this YA memoir reads like fiction, which is the sign of a great story!
WARNING: The language and attitudes toward indigenous people reflect the racism Anne Hobbs experienced.
Book Girls' Readers Rate This Book ⭐⭐⭐⭐½ 100% Would Recommend to a Friend
First published in 1903, The Call of the Wild is perhaps the most classic arctic book, and it remains an entertaining novel more than 100 years later. When a domesticated dog living the good life in California is dog-napped, he's brought to the harsh land of the Alaskan Gold Rush to become a working sled dog. He faces constant challenges and lessons, eventually deciding if he wants to return to the comfortable domestic life or respond to the call of his ancestor to live in the wild.
The Book Girls Say... If you're short on time this month, this timeless classic is a great pick since it's novella-length.
WARNING: This book was written more than a century ago and the language and attitudes toward indigenous people reflect the prevalent racism of the time. Additionally, some sections of the story will be tough for dog lovers.
Book Girls' Readers Rate This Book ⭐⭐⭐⭐ 89% Would Recommend to a Friend
Franny packs up her research gear and talks her way onto a fishing boat in Greenland to follow the Arctic terns on what could be their last migration from the Arctic Circle to Antarctica.
Set in an unspecified date in the future, this novel has dystopian qualities. As the boat travels farther from civilization and safety, it becomes clear that Franny's journey is as much about running away as it is about following the birds. Franny's tale and journey are equally heartbreaking and breathtaking.
The Book Girls Say... Reviewers warn that this story may make you uncomfortable and that you might need some Kleenex, but that you won't regret being consumed by Franny's story and the beautiful writing.
Book Girls' Readers Rate This Book ⭐⭐⭐⭐ 100% Would Recommend to a Friend
In the tiny West African nation of Togo, when the author was a teenager in the 1950s, he discovered a book about Greenland. He immediately connected with the Arctic environment, so different than anything he had seen.
For almost a decade, he worked his way north, never changing his goal of making it to Greenland. When he arrived in Greenland in the 1960s, the native population was so welcoming that he just had to knock on a door, tell the owners he was a traveler, and he’d be welcomed in for days or even weeks.
At each home, Kpomassie tried to embrace the lives of his hosts, giving him, and in turn us as readers, a deep view into daily life in different villages and Intuit culture.
Set in medieval times at the edge of the Russian arctic wilderness, this magical fantasy tale draws on the history of Russian fairytales.
Vasilisa spends the long, cold winter nights around the fire with her siblings, listing to her nurse's fairy tales, and her favorite is that of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon. The nurse teaches them to honor the spirits of the house and yard and forest to protect their homes from evil.
When Vasilisa's mom dies, her husband remarries a woman from Moscow who forbids the children from honoring the household spirits. Soon signs of evil are all around - crops are failing, and misfortune strikes the village. Vasilisa must defy the people she loves and call on her hidden and dangerous gifts to protect her family from a threat as frightening as any in her nurse's fairytales.
The Book Girls Say... This book particularly appeals to those who enjoy the fantasy genre. Be sure to take note of the glossary at the back of the book, which will make the story much easier to follow.
Book Girls' Readers Rate This Book ⭐⭐⭐⭐ 82% Would Recommend to a Friend
Nate Burke needs a change after watching his partner die on duty as a Baltimore police officer. When the remote town of Lunacy, Alaska needs a police chief, Nate packs up his life and heads to the tiny frontier town.
While he was looking for an escape to a low-crime area, his detective skills are soon needed. The body of someone missing for 15 years is found, and it's clear he has been murdered. Soon, there is another town death, which appears to be a suicide and confession, but Nate isn't buying it.
Along the way, Nate develops a complicated relationship with Meg, the daughter of the murder victim. You'll be drawn into this town's characters, the beautiful scenery, and of course, the mystery!
The Book Girls Say... This book weaves together adventure, romance, and suspense. The descriptions of the cold landscape will have you reach for a blanket as you dig into the story.
Book Girls' Readers Rate This Book ⭐⭐⭐⭐ 96% Would Recommend to a Friend
This National Book Award-winning nonfiction work is described as "stunningly gorgeous" and "extremely readable." This book covers almost every aspect of the arctic, including zoology, botany, anthropology, and archeology. It has been said that Lopez writes with the mind of a scientist, but the heart of a poet.
This book also covers topics not typically covered in a science-based book, like art, culture, and philosophy.
Eighty-five-year-old Veronica is estranged from her family and searching for a cause worthy of inheriting her estate. After seeing a documentary about penguins being studied in Antarctica, she contacts the scientists and tells them she's coming to visit—and she won't take no for an answer.
After traveling from Scotland to Antarctica, she convinces the reluctant team to rescue an orphaned baby penguin. Veronica's curmudgeonly heart can't help but be warmed as the penguin becomes a part of everyday life at the base.
Veronica's grandson, Patrick, travels to Antarctica to make one last attempt to get to know his grandmother. Together, Veronica, Patrick, and even the scientists learn what family, love, and connection are all about.
The Book Girls Say... This book is charming and funny, but it's also more profound than it first appears, thanks to a series of diary entries from WWII. We highly recommend the audiobook because the narration and accents add to the story!
There is an alternate international title for this book - Away with Penguins.
Book Girls' Readers Rate This Book ⭐⭐⭐⭐½ 95% Would Recommend to a Friend
If you enjoy this book, another humourous novel for the region is Where'd You Go, Bernadette. It's not listed separately because much of the book takes place in Seattle before moving on to an Antarctic cruise, but we both enjoyed the book and the movie, which does a great job showing the cruise portion!
In 2015, at age 55, Henry Worsley set off on an adventure that he had been dreaming of almost his entire life - walking across Antarctica alone. The British special forces officer had long idolized Ernest Shackleton and felt a strong connection to his story, perhaps because he was related to one of Shackleton’s men.
In 2008, Worsley visited Antarctica with two other crew descendants. Despite the harsh environment they experienced, he knew he wanted to spend more time in this fascinating region and planned his even more extreme solo trek. This biography is the perfect mix of history, adventure, and geography as the author takes you through each step of Worsley’s journey.
The Book Girls Say…If you’re short on time this month but still want an all-encompassing view of Antarctica, this 160-page pick might be perfect!
This is one of the most highly-rated books about polar expeditions and is considered one of the greatest true-life adventure stories of the modern age.
In 1914, polar explorer Ernest Shackleton boarded the Endurance bound for Antarctica, where he would cross the uncharted continent on foot. Several months later, just a short distance from its final destination, the Endurance became locked in the ice and crushed between two ice flows.
Forced to abandon the ship and ultimately crossing the dangerous Drake Passage in an open boat, their arduous survival journey takes over a year with death-defying odds at every turn.
The Book Girls Say... This is a fast-paced non-fiction that will hold your attention. Many of our readers highly recommend the audiobook version because of the wonderful narrator. It's also a great choice if you're participating in the Decades Challenge because it covers the 1910s.
Book Girls' Readers Rate This Book ⭐⭐⭐⭐½ 94% Would Recommend to a Friend
If you've already read and enjoyed Endurance, consider picking up South, which is Shackleton's memoir of the trip.
At an Antarctic research station, Robert 'Doc' Wright is reminded that even veteran surveyors can have their life changed in an instant by unexpected storms. He’s separated from his trainees, and communication is largely lost. In the first section of the book, Lean, you’ll need to bundle up in a blanket as the team tries to remember how to survive in unthinkable circumstances. Themes of communication will continue as you follow the aftermath of this experience through the Fall and Stand sections.
For two weeks each year, Deb and Keller leave the frustrations of their separate lives behind to study the habits of penguins in Antarctica. Set against the landscape of glacial mountains, icebergs, and frigid waters, this is where the two feel at home, and where they share a brief romance each year.
This year, however, Keller doesn't show up on the expedition ferry to their research destination. When the ferry receives a distress signal from a sinking cruise liner in the icy waters of the Southern Ocean, she learns that Keller is aboard.
This novel of love and loss dives deep into the wonders of Antarctica and the human heart.
Book Girls' Readers Rate This Book ⭐⭐⭐⭐ 100% Would Recommend to a Friend
This highly-rated historical fiction novel is based on a little-known story of the first woman ever to set foot on Antarctica.
In the early 1930s, a ship setting sail from Cape Town carries three women, each vying to become the first woman to set foot on the icy continent. Ingrid is the wife of a Norwegian whaling magnate who has dreamed of traveling to Antarctica since she was a young girl. Lillemore tricked her way onto the ship. And Mathilde is a grieving widow brought aboard the ship by her calculating parents-in-law.
This book was published in Australia, and the paperback version appears hard to get your hands on, but it's available for a good deal on Kindle.
The Book Girls Say... This book is the perfect mix of an entertaining character-driven story with historic, fabulous descriptions of what it took to get to Antarctica in the late 1930s, especially as a woman. And really, what it took to be a female adventurer, not content to stay home with children, in this period. It would make a fabulous movie!
There's a great author's note at the end covering the places she took liberties with the story and which parts were fact-based. She definitely did her research, including travel to Antarctica and Norway, and wrote the book as her doctorate project in creative writing.
WARNING: One of the travelers, Ingrid, is married to a wealthy ship-owner and whaler. A large portion of their money came from whale oil, and the ship they traveled on was refueling the whaling factory ships and collecting the oil from them. This process of whale hunting and harvesting is discussed in intense and graphic detail, which is necessary to understand the women's experience and further develop characters, but that section is rough to read. There are also a couple of sex scenes. 95% of the book is PG, with some occasional short R-rated pages.
Thirty-year-old Cooper had a promising career as a painter, but a recent family tragedy has her feeling lost. After answering 500 obscure questions, she's been deemed sufficiently resilient for polar life and accepts a place in the National Science Foundation's Artists & Writers Program in Antarctica.
She joins a group of misfits also deemed capable of surviving at South Pole Station, with an average temperature of -54°F and no sunlight for six months a year.
The arrival of a fringe scientist who doesn't believe in climate change draws Cooper and the other "Polies" into the center of a worldwide controversy.
The Book Girls Say... In addition to providing a realistic look at life at the South Pole research station, this novel also provides a fascinating examination of the interplay between politics and science. Although Cooper is the central character in this novel, numerous chapters are told from other characters' perspectives, providing deeper insights and understanding.
Book Girls' Readers Rate This Book ⭐⭐⭐1/2 100% Would Recommend to a Friend
Catherine was a 34-year-old Chardonnay-loving city girl from London with no previous polar experience, but in January of 2000 she became the first British woman to reach the South Pole by foot. Then, just a year later, she pulled a sled to the even more challenging North Pole.
With little more than her willpower, Catherine was among the first group of amateurs to have the opportunity to attempt such a journey, which previously had been reserved for scientists and experienced explorers. This humorous memoir is a departure from the typical male account of polar adventure.
Antarctica is the only continent on Earth where humans could never survive unaided. Many books have come out of our fascination with the frigid region, but this one strives to truly capture the whole story.
Drawing on her broad travels across the continent, science writer Gabrielle Walker weaves all the significant threads of life on the vast ice sheet into an intricate tapestry, illuminating what it feels like to be there and why it draws so many different kinds of people.
We witness cutting-edge science experiments through Gabrielle, visit the South Pole, lodge with American, Italian, and French researchers, drive snowdozers, drill ice cores, and listen for the message Antarctica is sending us about our future in an age of global warming.
Book Girls' Reader Review: "I love this book! Was exactly what I was hoping for - tells about the land, the people who work there, about their work, about early explorers. Utterly fascinating!"
This novel provides a fictionalized account of Captain Scott's doomed Antarctic expedition in 1912. The Captain and four members of his team - "The Birthday Boys" - each narrate sections of the story. These men despise professional expertise, and "their cocky optimism is both ghastly and dangerous."
As the book progresses, you'll also come to realize that these men may not be reliable reporters...
Environmental scientist Laura is sent to an old whaling station on a remote Antarctic island to study the wildlife and determine if the station should be opened to tourists. But Laura soon discovers that the whaling station has a bloody and violent past.
On a diving expedition, Laura emerges in an ice cave where she sees a figure in the shadows crying for help. There are ghosts everywhere, and she's not sure if her mind is playing tricks on her.
The scientists at the base won't answer her questions. Laura isn't sure who she can trust, so she's left to try to piece the mystery together in this suspenseful tale of twists and turns, intrigue, and downright creepiness.
If you enjoy true survival stories in the vein of Unbroken, then this is the book for you!
In 1913, following a tragic accident, Australian Douglas Mawson found himself alone in the Antarctic 300 miles away from base and with only enough food supplies for ten days. Nevertheless, he endured a nearly two-month journey. Through his survival against all odds, Mawson earns a place as one of the greatest polar explorers and polar expedition leaders.
The Book Girls Say... Readers say this one is a bit slow to start because it's gathered together from different diaries, but it's a page-turner once you get into it. It's also recommended that you might want to keep a map handy for reference while reading.
This classic book recounts Robert Falcon Scott's ill-fated expedition to the South Pole. The author was the youngest member of Scott's team and one of three who survived the notorious Winter Journey. In this book, he draws on his firsthand experiences as well as the diaries of other team members to provide a detailed account of this legendary expedition.
The Book Girls Say... This book gets pretty technical at times, but it's great for readers who appreciate the details.
Artist and writer Sara Wheeler spent seven months in Antarctica living among scientists at the international research stations. She documents both her feelings on the ice, and her feelings upon returning home. Throughout this travel memoir, her vivid descriptions of her experiences are intermixed with extensive research about the landscape and the explorers who came before.
The Book Girls Say... This book is criticized by those hoping for more adventure and praised by those who appreciate its more introspective and humorous travelogue approach. While we haven't read it yet, it was named one of the top ten travel books of the year by the Seattle Times the year it was published, and was recommended by the editors of Entertainment Weekly, so we're looking forward to giving it a shot.
Members of our Facebook group, Read with the Book Girls and our email list have the option of logging their monthly challenge reads with us. If you need help choosing a book, we’ve added an infographic below that shows those readers’ favorite books set in Antarctica and the Arctic last year.
White Heat by M.J. McGrath was a book I had on my shelves that fit the prompt.
Books Set in North America - Book Girls' Guide
Wednesday 20th of October 2021
[…] North: The Arctic and Antarctica were the first stop on the Book Voyage Challenge, and our list of Arctic books cover the northern-most parts of Canada, Greenland, and the US state of […]
Children's Books Set in Antarctica - Book Girls' Guide
Wednesday 26th of May 2021
[…] The list includes 40 books for a range of ages and is divided into sections of best Antarctic story books and children’s picture books about Antarctica, early chapter books for new readers, and middle grade Antarctica books for more advanced readers. You’ll also find a recommended age ranges for every book at the end of each book description.If you want to read a book about Antarctica along with your child, check out our list of Books Set in Antarctica for Adults! […]
Tuesday 16th of February 2021
I hope you'll include my book- "The Polar Adventures of a Rich American Dame A Life of Louise Arner Boyd" (Dundurn Press, 2017) which is the first comprehensive biography of this extraordinary Arctic explorer, geographer and socialite!