Harold Robbins was an American author whose novels often covered the journeys protagonists would take from poverty to riches, typically interweaving betrayal, murder, arrogance, passion, and luxury.
His books were often racy, which reflected his own lifestyle. British journalist Donald Zec called him “the Onassis of supermarket literature” and he was known for star-studded parties in Beverly Hills, many wives, affairs, vulgarity, and his lies about almost every aspect of his life. If you can imagine what Jay Gatsby’s lifestyle looked like, it was pretty similar!
He was famous for lying. He would fabricate stories of his time in the military, of his wives, fortunes, affairs, and luxuries. He was a man that often blurred fantasy with his own truth, which coincidentally aided him in becoming a successful fictional writer.
Yet, following his death in 1997, he and his work have been largely forgotten, and instead of going down in history as a great adventure writer, Robbins, when he was remembered, was known predominantly for blowing his fortune on drugs, gambling, sex, and the ‘luxurious’ life.
Having said all this, his books were still highly popular, frequently featuring wealth, power, influence, and sex – his biographer claimed that Mad Men was a Robbins-esque story. Writing soon after the war, Robbins recalled back to the lifestyle of the roaring twenties, when so many of his fellow writers began to look forward to drearier post-war times.
His novels harked back to the life many missed and he became a bestselling author, selling over 750 million copies in 32 different languages. His classics include The Carpetbaggers (1961), The Adventurers (1966), and The Lonely Lady (1976), all of which became popular movies.
Many adventure writers have been inspired by Harold Robbins or have written similar adventure stories. These adventure novels typically include a geographical, psychological, or spiritual journey. Let’s take a look at the top 20 authors in this genre.
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Possibly the most similar to Robbins in terms of genre, F. Scott Fitzgerald was one of the most influential and famous writers of his time. Writing the adored novel The Great Gatsby is arguably why he’s gone down in history, but Fitzgerald also wrote The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Beautiful and Damned, and Tender is the Night.
His novels frequently feature the glamorous lifestyle and luxury of the roaring twenties, but with a mysterious twist. Often a lying, scheming protagonist or a crime that takes everyone off guard – either way, his plots are undeniably enjoyable and worth the hype.
An innovative thinker, fantastic writer, and iconic feature of American literary history, this American author popularized the Jazz Age and was almost certainly an influence on Harold Robbins and his subsequent work.
Born in Romania, this Russian-German novelist was the recipient of the 2009 Nobel Prize for Literature. Her work is inspired by her experiences in Romania as a German-speaking minority. Growing up during a dictatorship, Müller experienced fear and isolation that have worked their way into her writing and character portrayals.
She wrote with a poetic countenance and although did not write in the crime/mystery genre that these other authors did, her depictions of real-life despair and discrimination certainly qualify as an individual adventure, hence her place on this list.
Known predominantly for her award-winning novel The Towers of Trebizond, Rose Macaulay was an English writer that integrated spirituality with adventure. Although older and certainly more conservative than the work of Robbins, Macaulay’s work is an example of classic adventure, merging both geographical and spiritual journeys.
Her most famous novel named above told the story of a small Anglo-Catholic group journeying across Turkey by camel. During their adventure, the group’s spiritual beliefs waver, which has often been seen as an autobiographical element reflecting her changing and conflicting views.
This Brazilian author and lyricist is one of the most celebrated Latin American literary figures. His most popular novel, The Alchemist follows a shepherd on a journey to find his destiny. The story is about never losing faith and details his trip across the Sahara desert. This book is similar to Rose Macaulay’s most famous novel, in that spirituality and faith are embedded within a physical adventure, albeit within different areas.
The Alchemist has been highly rated and recommended among many readers worldwide and Coelho has since written 28 additional books.
Robert Louis Stevenson
Famous for writing Treasure Island, Kidnapped, and Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Stevenson was a Scottish author, known for his versatility and captivation. His writing encompassed adventure, mystery, and horror, and targeted both children and adults.
Treasure Island is about a boy who embarks on a dangerous adventure to retrieve lost treasure. He encounters pirates, castaways, creatures, death, and tales of ghosts. It is known as one of the greatest adventure novels of all time.
Following William Shakespeare, Jules Verne is the second most-translated author globally. He was a prolific French writer, often known as “the father of science fiction”.
He wrote a 54-book series of ‘Voyages Extraordinaires’, including Around the World in Eighty Days. Despite common belief, this book is entirely fictional and follows London local, Phileas Fogg who attempts to journey around the world in eighty days using only £20,000.
Edgar Rice Burroughs
Probably most well-known for his book Tarzan of the Apes, which has been made into a successful Disney film, Edgar Rice Burroughs was a popular writer during the 19th and early 20th centuries. His books typically centered around space, mythology, or animals and featured strong protagonists forced to battle against ferocious creatures or face physical challenges.
The American writer wrote Tarzan in 1912, which tells of the ape-man Tarzan who was raised by apes in the jungle. He can talk to the animals, swing from the trees, and fight the fiercest predators in the area.
We’ll move on from the old classic authors soon, but they’re just too good! Rudyard Kipling was an English novelist born in Mumbai. His childhood in British India inspired many of his books including his most famous adventure novel, The Jungle Book.
He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1907 and his adventure books, such as Seven Seas, Captains Courageous, and Soldiers Three were all written during international conflict or political turmoil. Kipling tackles these themes directly or offers his readers an escape through fictional and adventurous stories.
Canadian author Yann Martel is most famous for writing Life of Pi, the philosophical adventure novel featuring an Indian boy who explores metaphysics and philosophy at a young age and winds up stranded in the ocean with a tiger.
Made even more successful after the creation of the film adaptation in 2012, this story is an epic journey of discovery that teaches core life lessons whilst simultaneously gripping the reader with the tense interactions between the boy and the tiger.
Known as the writer of the Dune series, Herbert merges science fiction with adventure as his story tells of the battle over the desert island Arrakis.
The series is a 6-book set and has been made into an award-winning film series, starring Zendaya and Timothée Chalamet.
This American writer first worked on Broadway plays, before moving on to film and then writing crime fiction novels.
His famous works include If Tomorrow Comes, Master of the Game, and The Other Side of Midnight. He blends adventure with mystery, crime, glamour, and psychology, and his novels, alongside the films for which he wrote the screenplays, remain highly recommended.
Originally a magazine editor and fashion writer, Judith Krantz turned to fiction writing later in life and quickly rose to fame through her publications. Princess Daisy, Scruples, and Mistral’s Daughter all center around fashion and glamorous life but contain an element of mystery and secrecy – so her novels have that in common with Robbins’.
This American novelist used her real-life charm, beauty, and wit to capture her readers. She was the first author to have three consecutive New York Times best-sellers and her popular works include Valley of the Dolls, Once Is Not Enough, and The Love Machine.
Writing during the early to mid-20th century, Jacqueline Susann had supposedly taken inspiration from iconic female figures of that time, writing characters that resembled Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland, and Grace Kelly. She too had a love for glamour and luxury, which shines through in her literary work.
Frank de Felitta
Frank de Felitta made a name for himself in both the literary and theatrical worlds as a writer, producer, and director.
After working as a pilot in World War II, Felitta wrote fascinating and compelling books based on real events. His most famous novel Audrey Rose exposed the horror and details of reincarnation.
Barbara Taylor Bradford
This American-British author has sold over 30 million copies of her best-selling novel, A Woman of Substance. It tackles high-profile female identities, power struggles, and secrecy.
This novel, which now has a sequel, was made into a mini-series in 1984, which further increased book sales.
This British-Canadian novelist wrote a handful of books about various industries. Hotel, Airport, and Wheels are less character-driven and instead focus on the suspense and police procedures of certain events that happen in these respective industries.
His literary works have sold over 170 million copies worldwide and have been translated into 38 different languages.
American novelist Norman Mailer was versatile, working as a journalist, essayist, playwright, poet, screenwriter, and film director throughout his life.
He wrote 11 best-selling books, including The Naked and the Dead, The Armies of the Night, and The Execution Song. His novels were highly influenced by fact and real-life wartime events but still captivated the dramatized, action-packed nature of fictional thrillers.
Morris L. West
His literary work has often been categorized as ‘religious thrillers’, including religious, spiritual, and political intrigue.
Janet Miriam Caldwell who used the pseudonym Taylor Caldwell was an American author who used real historical events as the foundation for her fictional writing.
She has dramatized and reimagined many famous historical events, bringing the often ancient or biblical times to life through her captivating writing and engaging characters.
Tucker Max is an American author and public figure. He often gets involved in public speaking events and is a New York Times bestseller.
Although his work is predominantly autobiographical, he details his journey from reckless partier to husband and father. He chronicles his drinking habits and sexual activities and is an inspirational author to many.
Although perhaps not receiving the same questionable reputation as Robbins, these authors all produced similar adventure books, all of which are worth the read.
While some of these novels may be a little outdated for the contemporary reader, they all explore themes of journeying, romance, action, or murder, which should appeal to the majority of readers.
The ability for the adventure genre to blend with others means it is one of the most versatile genres out there – you’re bound to find something you like!
Frequently Asked Questions
What defines an adventure novel?
A book during which a character goes on a journey, either geographically or personally, and explores new things about the place or themselves. Crimes and plot twists are typically included to make the novel more gripping.
He was an American author, whose novels often centered around a crime or mystery. However, he is most popular for his interpolation of Hollywood luxury and frivolous lifestyles.
Who is the most famous adventure writer of all time?
Adventure is often mixed with other genres, so it’s difficult to identify the best when they’re all so different. Jonathan Swift is a famous writer who merged adventure with fantasy, and Miguel de Cervantes with his classic Don Quixote are two favorites.
What was Harold Robbins known for?
Apart from his successful novels, he has been dubbed “the Thrill Peddler” and “the man who invented sex”, known largely for being a ‘lady’s man’ and a liar.
What’s the most popular adventure book?
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, The Call of the Wild by Jack London, and The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas are among the top adventure books of all time.
What are popular adventure book sub-genres?
1. Action Adventure
2. Survival Adventure
3. Fantasy Adventure
4. Sci-Fi Adventure
5. Historical Adventure
6. Mystery Adventure
7. Detective Adventure
8. Horror Adventure
9. Romance Adventure
10. Steampunk Adventure
11. Dystopian Adventure
12. Thriller Adventure
13. Western Adventure
Bonus: The 20 Most Popular Adventure Books of All Time
1. The Lord of the Rings (J.R.R. Tolkien, 1955)
2. The Hobbit (J.R.R. Tolkien, 1937)
3. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (C.S. Lewis, 1950)
4. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams, 1979)
5. The Alchemist (Paulo Coelho, 1988)
6. Treasure Island (Robert Louis Stevenson, 1883)
7. The Call of the Wild (Jack London, 1903)
8. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (Mark Twain, 1876)
9. To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee, 1960)
10. Jurassic Park (Michael Crichton, 1990)
11. The Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Salinger, 1951)
12. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Mark Twain, 1884)
13. The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins, 2008)
14. The Da Vinci Code (Dan Brown, 2003)
15. Robinson Crusoe (Daniel Defoe, 1719)
16. Gulliver’s Travels (Jonathan Swift, 1726)
17. Around the World in Eighty Days (Jules Verne, 1873)
18. Watership Down (Richard Adams, 1972)
19. The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexandre Dumas, 1844)
20. The Three Musketeers (Alexandre Dumas, 1844)