What Free-Solo Climber Alex Honnold Is Reading

Alex Honnold
Alex Honnold Photograph by Ian Allen

One thing that is quite clear from Alex Honnold’s memoir, Alone on the Wall, out now, is that he is one thoughtful athlete. Whether Honnold is discussing free-soloing the 1,200-foot Moonlight Buttress in Zion or setting new speed records on the 3,000-foot Nose route up El Capitan, he’s careful with his words, a bit cerebral at times, and, well, bookish. It turns out Honnold is an avid reader — mostly of non-fiction — and at a signing in Berkeley, he discussed books with us, giving a glimpse into some of the works that have most influenced him. Here are seven that made a difference for one of the world’s top climbers.

A People’s History of the United States
by Howard Zinn

“This book totally changed the way I look at politics and history,” says Honnold. “It is paradigm-shifting in a way that I don’t think any other book has ever been.”

♦ The Energy of Nations: Risk Blindness and the Road to Renaissance
by Jeremy Leggett

“This is a fun look at current climate and energy issues. I’m partial to it because Jeremy Leggett founded Solarcentury, a British solar company that in turn founded SolarAid, which is one of the main nonprofits that I’ve supported through my foundation.

♦ The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance
by Steven Kotler

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“It’s fun to see ‘flow’ state described through the lens of extreme sports. In a way, this book helps make sense of a lot of the things that my friends and I are doing.”

♦ The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power
by Daniel Yergin

“This tome does a good job of explaining, in laborious detail, why oil is the biggest industry in the world. It’s heavy reading, but perfect expedition reading.”

♦ Why We Run: A Natural History
by Bernd Heinrich

“This is an interesting look at running. The author took a really curious and open-minded approach to human running performance. It’s surprisingly good.”

♦ The World Without Us
by Alan Weisman

“I think about this book all the time — it totally changes the way you look at the world. I frequently imagine the world without us [humans] now.” 

♦ Sacred Economics: Money, Gift, and Society in the Age of Transition
by Charles Eisenstein

Sacred Economics was similar to A People’s History of the United States in that it totally changed how I look at economics. The book presented a very optimistic view of the future, one that I hope comes to pass.”