Though I had heard through the grapevine that The Lost City of Z was a great book, I find myself reading much more fiction than non-fiction and never managed to pick up a copy. When I finally had an opportunity to read it, I was drawn into the story from the opening pages and held until the very end. And when I put it down, I told my wife that I had read novels with less compelling plots than this true story about obsession and the lure of the unknown.
Percy Harrison Fawcett disappeared in 1925 into the dense, unforgiving jungles of the Amazon and never returned. At age 57, he had more experience exploring the then unmapped parts of the world than nearly anyone else alive. What was to stop David Grann, a writer for The New Yorker, from disappearing on the same quest a mere 81 years later?
Grann's seamless prose weaves past and present in a coherent tapestry, intertwining Fawcett's story with his own as he develops his own fascination with the legendary City of Z Fawcett and so many others lost their lives pursuing. Would I want to accompany either of these men through the jungles of South America in search of rumors, hearsay, and legend? Probably not. They each risked their lives and the lives of others in a part of the world where the flora and fauna make the lasting works of society such as roads, buildings, and monuments disappear seemingly overnight. Thankfully, Grann is able to share his experiences and his research with his readers.
On Fawcett's last expedition, the fateful trip from which he never returned, he took his son Jack and his son's best friend Raleigh along as young, strong, fearless adventurers dedicated to the quest. They sought traces of what may have been El Dorado, the City of Gold, when Europeans first entered the jungles. The stories of such riches and the knowledge that the Amazon hid such a wealth archaeological and anthropological knowledge from the world was enough to drive Fawcett to research all he could.
After a long series of successful quests to map the jungles, his last expedition had been a failure and he'd been forced to retreat. But he vowed to go back and he did. Unfortunately he and his young companions were never seen again.
Grann spoke to Fawcett's remaining family, spoke with experts far and wide, and eventually kissed his wife and baby son goodbye to travel to South America himself. He was hot on Fawcett's trail. And he eventually found the truth he sought…
For me, reading about these harrowing tales was enough to make me appreciate their heroism and steadfastness from afar. As a bestseller on the lists of the New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Denver Post, and others, obviously I wasn't the only one who found the story irresistable.
This book is not for the squeamish in a few spots, where Grann goes into great detail about some of the diseases and critters who see see the human body as a host or a meal. However, I found it fascinating to learn about some of the more horrific things the Amazon has in store for visitors.
If you have not yet been bitten by the bug, be sure to check out The Lost City of Z by David Grann, which is now out in paperback. It's part Indiana Jones, part Sherlock Holmes, and fascinating from cover to cover.