Jeff Glor talks to David Roberts about "Finding Everett Ruess," the enthralling biography of an American explorer who vanished more than 75 years ago, but still inspires a cult following today.
Jeff Glor: What inspired you to write the book?
David Roberts: I'd known about Everett Ruess for almost two decades, and had written about him for National Geographic Adventure some 10 years ago. What rekindled my interest in that long-lost loner and idealist was the possibility that Denny Belson had discovered his grave on the Comb Ridge on the Navajo Reservation. That, and the fact that by 2008, the Ruess Family Papers were scrupulously archived at the University of Utah. Everett was such a unique and remarkable character that nobody who first learned about him seemed able to forget him. And by 2008, I'd hiked through most of the country Everett explored in the 1930s. Those solo journeys seven decades ago were, I became convinced, Everett's greatest achievement.
JG: What surprised you the most during the writing process?
DR: Discovering, as I perused those papers at the Marriott Library in Salt Lake City, how much more complicated Everett was than I'd first assumed, and how much that he'd written -- especially the passages that hinted at his dark side -- had never been published.
JG: What would you be doing if you weren't a writer?
DR: I'd be a burnt-out English professor, probably retired, wondering what books I might have written if I'd only had the courage to risk going broke in the process.
JG: What else are you reading right now?
DR: Jonathan Franklin's "33 Men"; Patrick White's epic novel, "Voss", about a doomed nineteenth-century expedition into the Australian Outback; Christina Thompson's "Come on Shore and "We Will Kill and Eat You All." Survival!
JG: What's next for you?
DR: Just starting work on a book about Douglas Mawson, the great Australian explorer of the Antarctic, whose 1911-1914 expedition was every bit the equal of Scott's, Shackleton's, or Amundsen's exploits, and whose ordeal of solo survival from December 1912 to February 1913 has no match in polar history.
For more on "Finding Everett Ruess," visit the Random House website.