The Remarkable and Unsolved Disappearance of a Legendary Wilderness Explorer

By David Roberts

Broadway. 394 pp. $25

In 1930, Everett Ruess, age 16, began a series of solitary wanderings across the Southwest, hiking throughout the mesas and canyons, a landscape that left him, as he himself wrote, “roaring drunk with the lust of life and adventure and unbearable beauty.” And then, during a 1934 trek, he simply vanished. Following his disappearance, a cult of Everett flourished, nurtured by environmentalists, explorers and others who admire his “ecstatic vision of the wilderness.”

Growing up in a “compulsively literary” family, Ruess was a lifelong diarist and sent home hundreds of letters: lovely, wise, immature and selfish by turns. His poetry, treasured by some for its rapturous nature worship, was also marked by adolescent solipsism. In 1942 Wallace Stegner remarked that Ruess was “not a good writer” but added, “he knew it, and he was learning.” “Finding Everett Ruess,” David Roberts’s compelling, humane book about the young adventurer, seeks to replace hagiography with explanation, pondering “a riddle that has no parallel in the history of the American West.” As he explores the Ruess myth and reality, Roberts leaves us with great sympathy for this lost boy and especially for his family, who never stopped believing he might someday return.

Kate Tuttle