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The Remarkable Life and Unsolved Disappearance of a Legendary Wilderness Explorer

by David Roberts

Pub Date: July 19th, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-307-59176-0
Publisher: Broadway

The absorbing story of wilderness explorer Everett Ruess, who has gained a cult-like following since his disappearance in 1934.

In adventure writer Roberts’ (The Last of His Kind: The Life and Adventures of Bradford Washburn, America’s Boldest Mountaineer, 2010) latest, the author examines the life of Ruess, who was born in 1914 to caring, if over-involved parents. From a young age, he was fascinated with nature. At 16, he set off on the first of his expeditions, hitchhiking from Los Angeles to Carmel, then moving on to Big Sur. Roberts depicts Ruess as intelligent but somewhat naïve, and completely unable to support himself. He became increasingly dependent on his cash-strapped parents to fund his wanderings, and his sense of entitlement deepened over the course of his short life. The author relies on Ruess’ surviving letters and journals to paint a portrait of the explorer, and they reveal a moody, pensive and often troubled young man who had a disdain for sedentary life: “I don’t think I could ever settle down. I have known too much of the depths of life already, and I would prefer anything to an anticlimax.” The second half of the book delves into the possible fate of the explorer, presenting readers with four possible outcomes: suicide, murder, accidental death or withdrawal into hiding. Roberts explores each of these avenues thoroughly, providing both sides of each argument before laying out his own investigation. Though readers may be left with niggling doubts—Roberts chronicles many hoaxes with regards to Ruess’ disappearance—in the end, he makes a convincing case.

A well-researched, readable look at a complex personality in wilderness exploration.