American West •  History and Southwest

$35.00 paperback

Add to Cart

Los Alamos: The Ranch School Years 1917-1943

John D. Wirth
Linda Harvey Aldrich

Twenty-five years before the Manhattan Project created the town of Los Alamos, the Pajarito Plateau was home to an elite prep school for boys, ages twelve to eighteen. The Los Alamos Ranch School combined a robust outdoor life and a carefully cultivated wilderness experience with a rigorous academic program and the structured discipline of a Boy Scout troop, perfectly mirroring the Progressive Era's quest for perfection.
John Wirth's father, Cecil, taught at the school and directed its summer camp. John spent his early childhood at the school along with his brother Tim, later a U.S. Senator from Colorado. Drawing on oral accounts, memoirs, and archival documents, as well as John's firsthand knowledge and family lore, the authors situate the school within the educational trends of the day and New Mexico's cultural milieu.
Wirth and Aldrich examine the influence of the school's controversial director, Albert J. Connell, who was roundly disliked by two of the best-known students, Gore Vidal and William S. Burroughs. Many other students reported their time at the school to be a profoundly positive, often life-changing, experience. Additional chapters recount the growing-up experiences of ranch workers' children and the role the school played in their lives and those of area residents.


The late John D. Wirth was a Latin America scholar and professor emeritus of history at Stanford University. He made his home in Santa Fe.

Linda Harvey Aldrich is a long-time resident of Los Alamos and former archivist at the Los Alamos Historical Museum.


"The school comes alive for us. . . LARS should not be forgotten."


Santa Fe New Mexican

"The most thorough account of life at the school. It is based on personal recollections as well as archival research. It is well written and filled with anecdotes that bring the era to life."


enchantment, NM

"This is the definitive book on the Los Alamos Ranch School."


New Mexico Magazine

"Linda Aldrich and Wirth have given us a book that honors the progressive era in each aspect of the school's down-home ranch spirit. The story they tell is evocative and memorable, and will likely make you wish such a school still existed."


True West

"Wirth and Aldrich have provided a sound, analytical history of the school and the personalities involved in its development. . . . The impressive bibliography illustrates extensive research by the authors through manuscripts, publications, and especially interviews. This is a nicely done story of a small but significant part of the history of education and of New Mexico."


West Texas Historical Association

"The authors have created a detailed account of this unique episode in the history of Los Alamos that intertwines personal stories into an interesting narrative. The content will appeal to a general audience, historians of education, and anyone interested in early twentieth-century New Mexico."


Journal of Arizona History

" Los Alamos: The Ranch School Years will be of value to readers interested in educational history, educational philosophy, the history of childhood in the West, . . . and varied history of the Pajarito Plateau. Those with a bookshelf reserved for exceptional books on Los Alamos will be able to add yet another fine volume to their growing collection."


New Mexico Historical Review

6.125 x 9.25 in. 320 pages 81 halftones, 3 maps