The story of Percy Harrison Fawcett is one of those tales that someone would have invented if it had not actually occurred, inspiring movies, books, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World.
Percy Fawcett was a cross between Indiana Jones, Kent Allard, Henry Morton Stanley and Sir John Roxton, the irony being the fact that Roxton was based on the actual character of Fawcett. An amateur archaeologist, he was an adventurer, explorer, soldier, and in 1925 disappeared in the Amazon. His disappearance was so famous, and so well covered by the media, upward of 100 men have either disappeared or died trying to learn of his fate.
The story of Percy Fawcett has been told, repeatedly, for nearly eight decades. While author David Grann was doing research on another book, he noticed the Fawcett story. Like countless others, Grann became somewhat obsessed with the disappearance of Fawcett and his son. After researching the life of Fawcett, Grann became determined to follow in the footsteps of others who have sought not only Fawcett, but the lost city Fawcett code-named “Z”. Unlike Fawcett and those who went before him, Grann returned to tell the tale.
Percy Fawcett became obsessed with the idea that there was a long lost “higher” civilization deep in the Amazon, untouched by the “modern” world. His story is so compelling, Donald Grann, a life long New Yorker and a complete stranger to the ways of the explorer, found himself in the middle of a swamp, holding his equipment over his head, wading, alone, terrified of his impending fate. His guide was nowhere to be found. As he waded through the grass and swamp, being eaten alive by vile crawling and flying creatures of our worst nightmares, the author emerged, only to realize that he had finally stumbled upon Fawcett’s dream.
The Lost City of Z indeed does exist in the Mato Grosso region of Brazil. It is currently being explored by a devoted archaeologist, Michael Heckenberger. Far from the modern world, the Lost City of Z is still one of those amazingly wild adventures, fit only for Indiana Jones, and now for Brad Pitt and an upcoming film about Grann’s obsession with Fawcett.
Grann does not glamorize Fawcett’s life, rather detailing the obsessive, stubborn, and strong personality that was required to conduct almost super-human treks through the Amazon. The author makes you feel the heat, humidity, the staunch of death, and feel the attacks of flies, mosquitoes, and makes you a little concerned about maggots attacking your extremities. Far from the glamor depicted in the numerous incarnations of The Lost World, the Amazon David Grann depicts is a brutal, unforgiving landscape with death lurking with every foot-step.
If Grann’s version of Fawcett is correct, he was a man ahead of his time in many ways, loath to fire a gun, take a life, or do anything that might inhibit his relationship with the native peoples of the Amazon. Indeed, Fawcett was highly critical of anyone who took the life of a native, even in self defense. His opinions were based, not particularly on any determination to preserve native cultures, though he felt it was necessary to do so, but out of self preservation. Evidently, even in the impenetrable Amazon jungle, a man’s reputation proceeded him.
Donald Grann does not give us the pure, politically correct ‘Rainforest” the environmental movement is determined to protect and wax poetic about. Instead, he depicts a terrible, deadly landscape, no different today that it was when Fawcett was exploring it a century ago. Only with the advent of modern technology has it been ‘easier’ to explore this unforgiving terrain, but one must always remain vigilant. Grann does touch upon the fact that the Amazon is being destroyed on a day by day basis, but he is careful not to glamorize the deadly jungle.
I am discovering it is rather difficult to write a review for a book read exclusively on the Kindle. It is more difficult to “thumb” through the Kindle, looking for salient passages. Also, the Kindle does not do justice for the interesting photos in Grann’s book. I will admit I’ve gone ahead and purchased a hard copy of Grann’s books. It is a keeper.