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Alone Against the North: An Expedition into the Unknown

3.90  ·  Rating details ·  1,673 ratings  ·  192 reviews
WINNER 2016 - Legislative Assembly of Ontario - Young Authors Award
WINNER 2017 - Louise de Kiriline Lawrence Award for English Non-Fiction

Canada's real-life Indiana Jones reminds us that the age of exploration is not over
      When Adam Shoalts ventured into the largest unexplored wilderness on the planet, he hoped to set foot where no one had ever gone before. What he dis
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published October 6th 2015 by Viking
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Average rating 3.90  · 
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Bri Grove-white
Dec 21, 2015 rated it it was ok
A one-man dominates nature against all odds attitude is far more evident than the love of stewardship and conservation the author professes within these pages. While no doubt the author has made an exciting foray into the Canadian wilderness and a great contribution to exploration, what could have made for a gripping story was overshadowed by 1) sloppy story-telling, and 2) the narrator's ego-- which is roughly the size of the great white north. To his credit, the author does well reporting the ...more
Apr 28, 2016 rated it it was ok
Loved the subject, loved the story. Shoalts' account of it, however, comes across as immature and narcissistic. His main literary device seems to be building himself up by making everyone else in the book appear as bumbling, less skilled, less courageous, less determined, less knowledgeable....you get the picture. He even manages to make his own father seem inferior. I thought perhaps that I was reading too much into his narrative but then I saw him on TV and heard him speak at an event. There's ...more
Sep 02, 2016 rated it really liked it
There have been some complaints from readers about this author's ego; complaints that the book is about him, more than it is about the Canadian Wilderness. But, perhaps, all great adventurers are somewhat self-centred; what could possibly make them risk their lives the way they do if not for some deep inner ego-driven force. They clearly do it, not so much for the knowledge gained but out of a compulsion for adventure; their thirst for seeing what's around the next corner; their thrill in riskin ...more
Jul 16, 2017 rated it it was ok
The other 2-star reviews hit the nail on the head so I won't repeat them.

What I will add is that as a hiker I enjoy setting up artificial challenges for myself that might lead me to hike a couple of extra miles or hit some arbitrary deadline. For all the talk of the necessity of exploration and survival at all costs, I see this type of artificially inflated challenge figure prominently in Adam's adventures. There is nothing wrong with this but for two things: A) he's outsourcing risk to his woul
Oct 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: first-reads, memoirs
I received an advance copy of this book through Goodreads Giveaways. When I first received the book, I figured it would be a bit of a slog for me. I vastly prefer fiction over non, am not even remotely an outdoorsy type, and thought the premise was perhaps a bit too thin to build a book upon. A whole book about some guy canoeing in the Canadian wilderness? It turned out to be a fabulous read. The book was entertaining, at times humorous, intelligent, and educational. The author and explorer is v ...more
Stephanie Nelson
Dec 26, 2015 rated it really liked it
I've only recently started to enjoy non-fiction and they've mostly been stories of outdoor expeditions, excursions, and life altering and enriching experiences. This book I enjoyed all the more because of its Canadian content. I've actually been to some of the northern Ontario cities referenced in the book and ridden the Polar Bear Express. Enough of me! This book was well written and I enjoyed learning some history I was unaware of. Adam Shoalts has a love of adventure, the land, and a level of ...more
Sarah Boon
Nov 14, 2017 rated it did not like it
This is the most selfish and self-absorbed book I've ever read. Especially when it starts with: "I think I always knew I was destined to be an explorer."

Shoalts talks about no one other than himself. His dad makes a cameo because he helps Shoalts fix/build equipment, the guys who fly/boat him in and out of places are mentioned, and he bad mouths the friends who go with him. He just can't fathom why one of his friends wouldn't want to do a random canoe trip instead of being home while his wife is
Colleen Foster
Jul 17, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: ontario, 2015
This is an incredible account of a real-life adventure story. Adam writes with intelligence and humour, drawing the reader into a world of unbelievable isolation and formidable challenges. "Alone Against the North" is impressive, engaging, and completely unique. It would make a great documentary. ...more
Sep 24, 2017 rated it it was ok
The story may have been interesting but the ego of the author and his constant running down of those around him really put me off. It overshadowed the storyline for me and I wouldn't recommend it for that reason. ...more
Nov 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This book definitely grips you from the start, I found that I couldn't put the book down until I finished it. I've never read this type of book before, but I saw the author speak at Toronto's Word on the Street literary festival, and was intrigued. Reading the book, I felt like I was walking right beside the author through every swamp and forest, his descriptions of Canada's vast wilderness are so clear. The way he describes his encounters with wildlife such as bears, eagles and moose as well as ...more
Jan 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
A little biography mixed with adventure and a dash of Canadian geography. Adam Shoalts has been called the "Canadian Indiana Jones", and it is clear why he earned such a moniker after reading "Alone Against The North."

The book follows Adam as he plans and executes a solo expedition to map an unexplored river, The Again River, in the Hudson Bay Lowlands of Northern Ontario. Adam does a wonderful job of describing the scenery and painting a clear picture of both the beauty and harshness of the lan
Dee Gorz
Sep 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I received this book through good reads first reads.
Definitely recommend this book. Well written. You feel that you are right along side the author on his travels on foot and on the water, along the uncharted waterways of the north.
Adam keeps you engaged. The short additions of history when he gets to certain locations is a nice touch.
Could not have imagined an adventure like this on his own, my fear for him when encountering bears , or mishaps on the water felt like being there.
As a parent I c
Anthony Meaney
Sep 15, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you are at all interested in wilderness camping and canoeing this book is for you. Shoalts' idea of a canoe trip would make most people shudder.

He drags a battered canoe and some paltry equipment through some of the most difficult conditions imaginable in Northern Canada in order to explore a previously unknown river.

Not only does he have to drag his canoe up rivers to get to the headwaters he has to portage through the thickest spruce forests and boot sucking muskeg. All the while hounded
Mar 09, 2020 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
DNF at 75%

This was the most god awful book about outdoor adventuring I have ever read. The entire book is one long, pretentious ego boosting ramble. Roughly 2 chapters are actually about paddling, the rest is the author self-aggrandizing about being an “explorer” and roasting his friends for not being as experienced in the backcountry or outdoors.

It was awful. Don’t read it.
Huguette Larochelle
Feb 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
wow what a courage , to go alone in the wild , with all danger it take gut and determination.
that a fascinating adventure .
Mar 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"What a blessing to be born in a land of almost limitless wilderness". Incredible story and wonderfully written. ...more
Apr 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
Warning: Reading this book may cause you to want to quit your job, leave your family and head off alone into the mosquito and black fly infested northern wilderness. The siren's call is strong and I say that as someone who has experienced first hand the awfulness of the black flies as a tree planter in Northern Ontario during my university days.
I feel that this book has been unduly harshly reviewed by a few critics. Yes, Shoalts does come off as a bit of a jerk in the beginning. He seems to me
Doriana Bisegna
Jul 03, 2016 rated it really liked it
An adventure story from one of Canada's great explorers. I am now convinced that passion and determination will allow you to do just about anything. Adam Shoalts always wanted to canoe the Again river in the Hudson Bay Lowlands and his wish came true. Hired by the Canadian Geographical Society to map and chart out the river, he embarks alone against this true wilderness and then enthrals us with the details of his adventure. Personally, I wouldn't have lasted 10 minutes but Shoalts goes the dist ...more
Emma Giles (byo.book)
Jan 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2020-books
This book makes my bear story less exciting but I loved it anyway. Also, local author making it to the big time!
Graeme Hogg
Dec 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I read this book in a single day. As an avid backcountry tripper where my trips are in mostly heavily populated Algonquin lasting 4-6 days in length, I truly appreciate the detail in this book. Blazing trails, triple portaging, the bugs and remoteness of what he has done is truly remarkable. The book is a great mix of nature storytelling, Canadian exploration history and facts about our landscape. It has to be next to impossible to truly depict what the Lowlands are like, and now I feel like I h ...more
Jul 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
Another excellent, true adventure story (my favourite thing right now!).

I loved that this one took place in the Ontario north, with references throughout to places that I know - Cochrane, Hearst, the Missinaibi River!

This guy is hardcore. To do those gruelling portages alone, and even to deal with the bugs he would have encountered, makes me exhausted just thinking about it! Although he discussed quite frankly the dangers and risks associated with doing something like this alone, I really hope
Kristen Lesperance
Adam Shoalts is a man of my heart, his adventures are ones I would love to do. I had the opportunity to meet him when he released his second book. He does not disappoint. I hope he continuea to explore and write about it. Hey maybe he will take me with him.
Oct 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is a great read for anyone interested in wilderness, adventure, and folklore.
Angelo Santacroce
Sep 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
It's sometimes hard to understand why someone does something you would never do, even when they themselves tell you exactly why they do it. Adam Shoalts makes his motivation for unnecessarily risking his life abundantly clear, in great detail, on every vividly evocative page.

History of course is full of explorers (and Shoalts mentions many of them in this book), but their motivation was perhaps more practical, or at least more understandable. They did it for fame, love of country, fortune, or ou
Aug 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
The book ends with a lament.
"When forests and wetlands are converted into farms, shopping malls, highways, or cities, we lose more than just the world's biodiversity - that bewildering blend of animals and plants that makes our world such a fascinating place. We also lose something that's deep in our collective psyches - the vast, forbidding, but enchanting world of untrammelled wildness, those critical "hunting-grounds for the poetic imagination."
Shoalts is an engaging and likeable author. Th
Grace McDougald
Jun 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
Loved this book but I enjoyed his "Beyond the Trees" a little more. ...more
Mar 15, 2022 rated it it was ok
What should be a fascinating overview of the exploration of North America and the rigours of movement and surveying in the remote wilderness is instead dominated by Shoalts' insufferable character and enormous satisfaction with his survival skills. The narrative jumps around frustratingly, from a flash-forward prologue (the cardinal sin of novel writing) to meditations on other explorers' efforts and from ruminations on Shoalts' work assisting archaeologists and scientists in other parts of Cana ...more
Adam Cormier
Dec 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: popsugar2021
Great, engaging read about Adam's desire and commitment to explore Canada's Hudson Bay Lowlands. He has several close calls while canoeing, incolving rapids and animal encounters. I would highly recommend, his writing style is very descriptive, almost making it feel like you accompanied him on his adventures. ...more
Evan G
Sep 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I received this book for free through Goodreads First Reads.
This an excellent book that followed the attempts and ultimately successful attempts of Adam Shoalts to canoe and document the Again River in Northern Ontario. Not only did he do this, but he did whilst alone.
Not only was this book a great adventure story, I also learned a lot. I learned of many expeditions and famous explorers and the great difficulties that they had to endure. But the biggest thing I gathered from reading this book w
Sep 21, 2016 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed the author's writing style and his descriptive talent. The recounting of is explorations in the Hudson's Bay rivershed are very interesting to me and I certainly learned much that I didn't know before. However, although I understand Mr. Shoalts' desire to be a modern day explorer, recording and mapping areas were no human known to us has been before, I do question his sanity at times. He took many reckless chances which could have brought himself and his companion to their deaths. He w ...more
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ADAM SHOALTS is a historian, archaeologist, geographer, and Westaway Explorer-in-Residence at the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. Shoalts holds a PhD from McMaster University where his research examined the influence Indigenous oral traditions had on fur traders in the subarctic and Pacific Northwest. He is also the author of Alone Against the North, A History of Canada in Ten Maps, and Beyon ...more

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