• Riverman

  • An American Odyssey
  • By: Ben McGrath
  • Narrated by: Adam Verner
  • Length: 8 hrs and 36 mins
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars (94 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

“This quietly profound book belongs on the shelf next to Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild.” —The New York Times

The riveting true story of Dick Conant, an American folk hero who, over the course of more than twenty years, canoed solo thousands of miles of American rivers—and then disappeared near the Outer Banks of North Carolina. This book “contains everything: adventure, mystery, travelogue, and unforgettable characters” (David Grann, best-selling author of Killers of the Flower Moon).

For decades, Dick Conant paddled the rivers of America, covering the Mississippi, Yellowstone, Ohio, Hudson, as well as innumerable smaller tributaries. These solo excursions were epic feats of planning, perseverance, and physical courage. At the same time, Conant collected people wherever he went, creating a vast network of friends and acquaintances who would forever remember this brilliant and charming man even after a single meeting. 

Ben McGrath, a staff writer at The New Yorker, was one of those people. In 2014 he met Conant by chance just north of New York City as Conant paddled down the Hudson, headed for Florida. McGrath wrote a widely read article about their encounter, and when Conant's canoe washed up a few months later, without any sign of his body, McGrath set out to find the people whose lives Conant had touched—to capture a remarkable life lived far outside the staid confines of modern existence.

Riverman is a moving portrait of a complex and fascinating man who was as troubled as he was charismatic, who struggled with mental illness and self-doubt, and was ultimately unable to fashion a stable life for himself; who traveled alone and yet thrived on connection and brought countless people together in his wake. It is also a portrait of an America we rarely see: a nation of unconventional characters, small river towns, and long-forgotten waterways.

©2022 Ben McGrath (P)2022 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

“This is a beautifully told and near-mythical tale of one man’s quest to find peace through communion with nature, and through perpetual motion. My heart was deeply stirred by Riverman, and by Ben McGrath’s brilliant, clear, and humane storytelling. This one will stay with me for a long time.” (Elizabeth Gilbert)

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What listeners say about Riverman

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  • Overall
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Superb on every count

The book is a gentle, brilliant, incisive portrait of a vivid and memorable iconoclast, and of the many — almost equally colorful — people he encountered during his quixotic journeys. Adam Verner's narration is the best I've yet heard in any Audible book,

1 person found this helpful

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from the river and the road

I've hitchhiked three times across the continent and lived under overpasses, in tents and shelters so this guy's story is not new to me.It is a wonder he was able to stay afloat without becoming bitter or strange like the creeps who tried to get into the author's hotel room that night.
Weirdness is good, and friendliness is such an endearing quality that ''Dicky'' must have had a dancing spirit deep down to maintain the childlike wonder he seemed to inspire in others.
Wandering makes us vulnerable to angry, violent people and we are at their mercy and their whims sometimes.
In Gallup I met a Japanese woman who had hitchhiked from Cape Town to Cairo and she told me trying to thumb a ride out of Baghdad was tough, but she went on from Paris to Beijing overland in a three year hitch. Some people just need to see the earth at ground level.
My experiences were made safer by having a Marine Corps two sided rain fly that looked either like a shrub or a sand dune so I could just roll up in a ditch and disappear. NOT letting anyone know where you are camping is critical for safety. I have walked miles out into pecan fields to hide from curious ranchers who seemed ready to invite themselves into my tent and life.
I'm glad we have no definite answer as to Dicky's fate. He must have been a grand fellow.

1 person found this helpful

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Brilliant first book from impeccable author.

A strange and fascinating man brought to life by a perceptive and unobtrusive new author. You are left with two stories. That of the riverman and the young author in search of his truth. In a time in our country when almost everyone seems to be intolerant of the different or the strange, our riverman finds friendship and understanding while changing peoples' lives in subtle ways. Like a modern de Tocqueville, the author helps us discover river life and its acceptance of the different . I was just sad that it ended and can't wait for Mr. McGrath's next book.

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Tedious

it is more like a very long magazine article than a book. Subject not interesting enough to sustain attentio.

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Interesting Story of a Wanderer

Ben McGrath profiles Dick Conant, a man he met along the Hudson. Conant made several long journeys by river. Despite starting life with great promise, Conant never quite seemed to fit in to ordinary society, although he was clearly an intelligent man. To many (perhaps most), he would have been dismissed as a homeless vagabond.

Something--it's hard to say what--drew the author to Conant and led him to profile his life, particularly his life on the river. The story meanders, much as a river flows, which seems appropriate. Along the way we meet many interesting characters who met Conant. Many were affected by Conant, even though he drifted in an out of their lives only briefly.

This is an interesting book that provided a nice diversion as I listened to it off and on over a week or so. The narration is quite good.

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Great to listen to

Haven't we all wanted to ditch it all and see what is out there.

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Enjoyed the book

Very well written and entertaining. Excellent narrator. Great epilogue. I would highly recommend the book

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terrific book, highly recommended

This book is great, one of the best that I have listened to. It's the story of this jolly vagabond misfit who spends most of his time canoeing all over the United States. He goes missing and the author retraces many of his routes, meeting up with people who the paddler had met along the way.

It made me want to follow in his footsteps, at least for a bit.