After stumbling upon a hidden trove of diaries, New Yorker writer David Grann set out to solve "the greatest exploration mystery of the twentieth century": what happened to British explorer Percy Fawcett. In 1925 Fawcett ventured into the Amazon to find an ancient civilization. For centuries Europeans believed the world's largest jungle concealed the glittering El Dorado. Thousands had died looking for it, leaving many convinced that the Amazon was truly inimical to humankind. But Fawcett had spent years building his scientific case. Captivating the imagination of millions, he embarked with his 21-year-old son, determined to prove that this ancient civilization--which he dubbed "Z"--existed. Then he and his expedition vanished. Fawcett's fate--and the clues he left behind--became an obsession for hundreds who followed him. As Grann delved deeper into Fawcett's mystery, and the greater mystery of the Amazon, he found himself irresistibly drawn into the "green hell."--From publisher description.
Percy Fawcett took his oldest son
Percy Fawcett was supported by his wife, who was his son's mother, and the mother of the best friend, as well as the Royal Geographical Society. He was a veteran Amazonian explorer. His son was himself writ young. His son's friend, well, it's on such trips as this that a man uncovers his true self, and the best friend was...wanting.
The story of Percy's life, as Grann tells it, is interesting; the story of the exploration of the Amazon is interesting; the story of the many, many attempts to find the three disappeared explorers is not as interesting, but is very deftly compacted into a few passages.
The author's expedition to follow Percy Fawcett's footsteps is, blessedly, brief in the telling. Exactly long enough, in fact. What the author, a fat middle-aged shlub who writes for The New Yorker, discovers...should be front-page news.
Read this book. No evasive "maybes" no "I'll get around to it"s just go GET THIS BOOK AND READ IT. No one with an ounce of human curiosity can possibly regret reading "The Lost City of Z."
On his last mission, in 1925, Fawcett, his son Jack and Jack’s friend Raleigh try once more to find the elusive El Dorado, or as Fawcett called it, Z. They never return. The book chronicles the attempts made to rescue the three men, and then, when it was apparent that they were lost forever, the continual obsession by some to find Fawcett’s bones, including the author in 2005. These people were known as ‘Fawcett Freaks.’
Even though Fawcett’s trek through the jungle was the primary thrust of the book, I was very taken in by the part Fawcett’s wife, Nina, played. The lonely wife, left behind for years at a time, she was a loyal supporter of her husband, even though he left her destitute with three children to raise on her own. She was so used, by her husband and his obsession with Z, and yet she felt she played an important role in his explorations.
Beautifully written, meticulously researched, this is a book not to be missed. Very highly recommended.
Throughout the book, Grann includes writings from Fawcett and other explorers, historical information on the exploration of the Amazon, and analysis of present-day investigations into Fawcett's disappearance and his unwavering belief in a lost city in the middle of the jungle.
I also appreciated that the book includes extensive notes on each chapter, and an enormous, comprehensive bibliography. I found the subject so intriguing that I plan to mine Grann's bibliography for additional resources on Amazonian exploration and the travels of Fawcett.
Admittedly, my favorite part of the book was the information on the various diseases, parasites, and other dangers in the jungle, as well as commentary on the various tribes living there (and encountered by Fawcett and other explorers). It's unbelievable how many people ventured into the jungle looking for El Dorado and/or Fawcett's Z and lost their lives... hundreds of people, sometimes vanishing without a trace. I'm compelled to know more, and I think this was an excellent place to start with the subject.
I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this to anyone!
This book chronicles the quest of Percy Harrison Fawcett to find the lost city of El Dorado which he
Of all the expeditions that Fawcett would embark on, the search for Z would be his most important. He researched and gathered information that he believed supported his theory of Z and after he secured some funding he again set off for the Amazon. He took with him his son Jack and Jack's best friend Raleigh Rimmel. They received a rousing sendoff from the world's media and were treated like celebrities everywhere they went. But once they reached the Amazon and had sent out a few communiques, they were never heard from again.
After the disappearance of the Fawcett party, many initiatives were launched to find them or news of them. Some who survived came back with tales of Fawcett's death by Indians, some said he had been kidnapped by Indians. Some even claimed that there was evidence that Fawcett had indeed found Z. There was even a purported sighting of a child believed to be Jack Fawcett's son. Someone even claimed to have found Fawcett's bones which later turned out to be the bones of a long dead Indian. This story is fascinating in all its essentials. Its heartbreakingly sad how this man was so consumed by the idea of this city that he followed it to his and his family's destruction. Regardless of how he met his end, we can tell that it was most likely not a happy one. He left behind a wife who died in extreme poverty, a son who continued to seek his father's approval by trying to continue his father's work and a daughter who never got to know her father. It is impossible not to admire many aspects of Fawcett's personality. He was a very hard worker, he was undeterred by the constant rejection that he faced in his search to achieve this goal and he serves as a model for never giving up. But in this case, never giving up proves to be his greatest undoing as passion became obsession very quickly. Amazing read that will enlighten you and break your heart at the same time.
The author sets forth the story of Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett, a British explorer who in 1925 set out on an expedition to the Amazon
Simply stunning and superb, I loved this book so much that I pre-ordered a copy for when it is released for the general reading public. The writing is excellent, the mystery surrounding Fawcett's disappearance is well portrayed, and the amount of effort that Grann went to in his research is very much apparent here. If you are looking for something entirely different that will mesmerize you instantly, you cannot miss this book. I had never heard about any of this up until now, & my curiosity has been sparked enough that I made notes and took down book titles to fill in some holes in my knowledge.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough, and I would like to thank Doubleday for sending me this book and also those on Shelf Awareness for offering it as an ARC. It is an excellent piece of writing.
The Lost City of Z combines true-life adventure, history, biography and travel narrative in one book. The book chronicles journalist David Grann's investigation into the mystery of what happened to British explorer Percy Fawcett, who disappeared in the Amazon in 1925 while searching
Grann was not the first person to become fascinated -- perhaps even obsessed -- with Fawcett's fate. Hundreds of others tried to find out what happened, and the majority never returned. As recently as 1996, a Brazilian explorer attempted to find out what befell Fawcett -- and his party ended up being abducted by one of the indigenous Indian tribes that populate the Amazon. Despite the dangers and his unpreparedness for such an undertaking (he had never been camping before!), Grann becomes increasingly obsessed with uncovering Fawcett's fate as he investigates the explorer's life and the clues Fawcett left behind documenting his belief in the existence of Z -- despite many scientists arguing that an advanced civilization could not possibly live and thrive in the Amazon (which many believe to be a "counterfeit paradise").
The book moves back and forth between the past and the present -- alternating between Fawcett's life and Grann's investigation. Along the way, the reader is treated to many interesting historical tidbits (e.g., how the Royal Geographic Society was formed and its contributions to mapping the planet, the influence that Fawcett had on the works of Arthur Conan Doyle) and numerous "adventure tales" about explorers -- as well as the reasons why scientists disagree about whether a city like Z could exist in a place like the Amazon.
Does Grann find the answers he is searching for? Was he able to discover what fate befell Fawcett -- or did he come up empty-handed like everybody else? Is there really evidence of a Lost City of Z? Well, I'm certainly not going to tell you -- you're going to have to read the book and find out for yourself!
I read The Lost City of Z as part of my Summer Reading Challenge -- and if there is ever a place where you should be an armchair traveler, it is the Amazon. For me, one of the most fascinating aspects of the book was the horrible things that can happen to you in the Amazon. Aside from the hostile native tribes (still a very real threat today), here is just a small sampling of what you might find or what might befall you:
* Bees drawn to sweat (called "eye lickers" by the Brazilians)
* Espundia -- an illness caused by a parasite transmitted by sand flies that destroys the flesh around the mouth, nose and limbs as if the person was slowly dissolving
* Sauba ants that can reduce clothes or equipment to threads in a single night
* Parasitic worms that cause blindness
* Red hairy chiggers that consume human tissue
* Kissing bugs -- whose bite transfers a protozoan that might cause your heart and brain to swell 20 years later
* 6-foot electric eels that can electrocute you to the point of losing consciousness and drowning.
There was also a description of a fish that lives in the Amazon river that attaches itself to the penis or vagina and sucks the blood out of you. I couldn't find the page with that description -- probably because I fainted dead away after reading about it and didn't mark the page. (Just kidding ... about the fainting, not the fish.)
I've always been fascinated with stories of people (almost always men; women just don't seem to do this kind of stuff!) who live through horrific conditions and risk their lives for the possibility of discovering something that may or may not exist. The Lost City of Z (also known as El Dorado) is one of those explorer myths -- like the Fountain of Youth -- that drives men to the point of madness. To give up your life for something like this is beyond me -- but this type of personality almost always has a compelling biography. Fawcett is no exception.
Fawcett's story is truly engrossing and fascinating, and you begin to understand why so many people were drawn to the stories of his exploits and explorations. As Grann writes:
He was the last of the great Victorian explorers who ventured into uncharted realms with little more than a machete, a compass, and an almost divine sense of purpose...[he] was believed to have such unrivaled powers of endurance that a few colleagues even claimed he was immune to death. An American explorer described him as "a man of indomitable will, infinite resource, fearless"; another said that he could "outwalk and outhike and outexplore anybody else."
Yet the flip side to this personality is the toll it takes on the person's family. The book does explore Fawcett's rather unconventional and tragic home life, and I just couldn't help but feel sorry for his wife, sons and daughter who ended up suffering because of his need to return again and again to the Amazon. In fact, his youngest son accompanied him on his final journey into the Amazon.
The book is filled with so many interesting facts, stories and history lessons that I could go on and on about all the fascinating things I learned while reading this book. But it seems silly to keep going on about it here. If what I've talked about here has piqued your curiosity, then my suggestion is to get a copy of the book for yourself!
My Final Recommendation
I thought the book was an excellent read -- exciting, repulsive, enlightening, educational, tragic, and mysterious. Like so many before, the reader is drawn to the mystery of what happened to Fawcett. Was he really on the trail of the Lost City of Z when he disappeared? Is there any evidence such a city even exists? If these questions intrigue you and you enjoy real-life adventure books with a bit of history and biography mixed in, then this book is a must. And if you are considering a trip to the Amazon, I suggest you read this book first and then decide whether you want to go. My guess is you'll change your mind and go somewhere a little more hospitable!
PopSugar Reading Challenge 2017 | Task 37: Book becoming a movie in 2017 (which I now have to see)
There's tons of great historical details and some really funny stuff about the author trying to prepare for his trip.
The book was definitely interesting and upon more thought I did actually really like it and felt like I learned a lot. I do wonder what happened to Fawcett, his son and Ralleigh.
Percy Fawcett is an amazing character: a bold and colorful explorer who disappears, and I love David Grann's writing. I did not even mind Grann's decision to insert himself into the story - a technique of of
Those hoping for a definitive answer as to the fate of Fawcett will be disappointed, though; while Grann offers a likely scenario, there is no absolute certainty. Grann never promises that he will indeed answer that question, but I was certainly hoping.
After a long career of mapping the Amazon jungle, British explorer Percy Harrison Fawcett was 57 and ready to launch the expedition he had always wanted to attempt: a search for the lost city of Z. Fawcett had long believed that within the Amazon, there would be evidence of an advanced civilization. His motives weren't based solely on wealth (though most people equated Z with stories of golden El Dorado), but rather he wanted to prove the theory that an advanced civilization within the jungle was possible and, indeed, had existed and thrived. For years, Fawcett had built a reputation as being the Shackleton of the Amazon (while grumbling about the money that the arctic explorers received in comparison to his own meager funding), and while his personality sometimes made dealing with him a bit difficult, everyone around him (including his wife) came to believe that Fawcett could never come to harm. His final expedition launched in 1925. The men that Fawcett had come to rely upon during his previous expeditions were no longer available, and so he brought two young men whom he believed he could trust implicitly: his son, Jack, and Jack's best friend Raleigh Rimell. The last time they were ever seen alive was in April and for years, the Fawcett and Rimell families held out hope that the men would emerge from the jungle alive. Eventually, the rescue parties began... and then simply the expeditions to discover if any trace could be found that gave a clue as to what happened to them. No evidence was ever found, though it's possible that as many as 100 people died in the pursuit of this information.
David Grann was bitten by the Fawcett bug, and while he insists that never developed the obsessive fervor that some Fawcett freaks showed, he clearly went far beyond the usual research. After befriending the living members of the Fawcett family and gaining access to private papers, Grann went into the jungle to see what he could find of Fawcett and of Z. Grann has the benefit of modern technology, but it's clear that the Amazon is still a deadly and dangerous place. While we all would probably know from the news if Grann had achieved ground-breaking success by solving a 90+ year mystery, the answers that he does manage to find are a bit more subtle and yet terribly important.
Honestly, I suggest that you just dive into this book when you're ready for a great read. Just go buy it and enjoy. I don't want to go into too much detail because Grann does a remarkable job of introducing you to one of the last great explorers and the circumstances surrounding his final expedition. There's something so wonderfully readable about Grann's style as he takes you through Fawcett's origins and career, all leading up to his mysterious disappearance. Clearly, everything is well researched and described in incredible detail... often too detailed when it comes to things like the terrible living conditions of the jungle or the pestilence found within. It should be a compliment to Grann for conjuring such a vivid image that I had to take a shower after reading a particular description of maggots that burrow under your skin... yet I can't quite bring myself to thank him for it.
And as for Grann's own interest? Well, obviously I'm pleased that he did everything that he did, or we wouldn't have such a wonderful book to read so I could be an armchair explorer, visualizing the perilous journey through the Amazon from the comfort of my couch... but I also found myself heartily agreeing with Grann's wife, who is supportive and yet a bit skeptical about her husband's sudden obsession, particularly as they have a very young son that just arrived on the scene. Grann clearly seems to be making his last-ditch attempt at being an adventurer as the image of settling down to be a family man looms in front of him. It's not as though Grann is used to long treks through the jungle. Heck, a moment of triumph for Grann is when he decides he should take the stairs up to his second-floor apartment as opposed to the elevator. There is a particularly humorous scene in a camping supply store where Grann loads up on fancy items before the store employee realizes that what Grann really needs are the basics. The modern age and its gadgets are some comfort, but there's still great danger. As recently as 1996, an amateur Fawcett expedition nearly ended in death for its members after they were kidnapped by natives in the jungle.
Seriously, if you've ever named the dog Indiana, posed with a whip and a fedora, or wanted the chance to explore uncharted regions, then I think you'll really enjoy The Lost City of Z. (Sadly, Fawcett never seems to have said, "That belongs in a museum!" but he does actually have quite a sense of humor as evidenced by his writing.) If Grann was going to have a midlife crisis that needed to be worked out via ridiculous travel and danger, then at least this was the wonderful result. So thanks to David Grann for surviving to pen such a fun read... and thanks to his wife for letting him go in the first plac
Fawcett was intent on finding what he called the Lost City of Z - a pre-Columbian civilization with echoes of El Dorado, which was larger than what most archaeologists believe the local ecology could support. In 1925, he and his son left on one final expedition to find Z, walked into the jungle, and never returned. Although countless enthusiasts have tried to find out what happened to Fawcett, and been driven mad, died, or simply disappeared in the process, David Grann embarks on a similar journey: to learn what he can about Fawcett’s life, his perilous final journey, and what happened to him once he stepped off the edge of the map.
Review: I will say upfront that the biography genre is not typically a favorite of mine - I like journalistic non-fiction, but biographies often feel like they’re striving too hard to make all of the events in someone’s life relate to some culminating apex, which sometimes they do, but more often they don’t. In The Lost City of Z, however, Grann manages to make a biography feel like an adventure story and a mystery, and combined it with his own personal travelogue and detective story to result in an exciting and captivating read. It wasn’t particularly a fast read, but even though I knew the ending, I still pushed forward, wanting to know what happened. Fawcett is such a larger-than-life character that I spent most of the book hoping that Grann would head into the Amazon and find him alive… until I realized that hardy as Fawcett may have been, it’s still pretty unlikely that he’d be alive and kicking at the ripe old age of 137.
Grann had access to many of Fawcett’s personal papers and letters than had not previously been available to scholars, and I wish the book had focused a little more heavily on his process of discovery - more travelogue and somewhat less biography. Still, I thought this book did an excellent job of describing the Amazonian forest and portraying the difficulties of jungle exploration both then and now (although “difficulties” seems too mild a word for some of the torments the Amazon has to offer). I also thought that the ending, while not whiz-bang-spectacular, satisfactorily resolved the mystery of Fawcett’s fate, and that of Z, while making me curious to read more about Amazonian archaeology and anthropology. Ultimately, it made me glad that there are still some places in our overpopulated, satellite-photographed world that retain some mystery.
As a final note, the ARC version of this book did not include a map, although I sorely wished it did. However, the final published version will have maps as well as archival photos, some of which you can see at the book's website. 4 out of 5 stars.
Recommendation: A fascinating piece of history and an exciting, compelling story that should be interesting to anyone who wishes they’d been born in the age of exploration, or who gets sad when they think that all of the map lines have been filled in.
Before I went to Lima, I had spent many weeks in a dugout canoe on the Rio Napo, a tributary of the Amazon that begins in the Ecuadorean Andes. The Amazon was so hostile we spent most of our waking hours battling it. No-see-ums and mosquitoes bombarded us day and night. Poisonous snakes and insects were a constant threat. When it rained, it came down in sheets so heavy it was impossible to see five feet in front of you. Huge logs crashed down from the Andes and threatened to crush our canoe. It would take hours to light a fire, the land was so wet. The jungles were so dense and hostile I was certain that the only way to travel was by water and the only places to live were along the hundreds of waterways that tumbled out of the mountains. I was also certain that the people who lived there would be so busy fighting the elements they couldn’t possibly have the time or the will to create an advanced civilization.
So I started reading The Lost City of Z with my own prejudices.
Early in the twentieth century the English explorer Percy Harrison Fawcett regaled the world with his stories about his efforts to find Z, the fabled city that was supposedly built in the middle of the Brazilian jungles many hundreds of years ago . Some eighty years later, David Grann wrote this book about Fawcett’s adventures.
The book is actually two stories. The first is about Colonel Fawcett, who spent much of his life exploring the Amazon searching for Z. Fawcett made six forays into the Bolivian and Brazilian Amazon between 1906 and 1914. Each time he returned to New York or London, he wrote and lectured extensively about his adventures. By the time he made his last trip in 1925, he was world famous, and so was the legend of Z. The second story, which is interwoven with Fawcett’s, is about the adventures of David Grann, the American journalist who wrote this fascinating book. First, Grann spent many months doing an exhaustive study of Fawcett’s journals and other documents about his expeditions in search of Z. When Grann’s research was done, some eighty years after Fawcett’s last expedition, he decided to follow the path Fawcett took on that fateful expedition. Even though travel in the jungles was a bit less brutal than it was in 1925, when Fawcett, his son and a friend disappeared, Grann’s adventure was every bit as exciting as Fawcett’s. And the conclusion to his story is both surprising and completely unexpected.
Grann characterizes Fawcett as an obsessive and it fits. After his first expedition to the Amazon which was grinding, hazardous and deadly he longed for home and when first received back with his family was content enough. Then, bit by bit, he grew restless and claimed to miss the arduous life in the jungle. So he went back. And back. And back. Because of him and his rivalry with other explorers, a lot of Bolivia, Peru and Brazil got mapped more accurately than ever. I was flabbergasted at the training the Royal Geographic Society provided and the sheer amount of skill the men who made these journeys had. Just learning cartography alone would have done me in, but they mastered so much more - how to deal with snakebite and to pull teeth, how to bleed an animal and to take a prisoner, to master surveying and dig a proper grave.
Unlike Grann, I don’t have the least desire to go into the Amazon. Not only for what it has become, a dangerous zone of cutthroat capitalism, exploitation and slavery, but that practically everything in it will kill you or make you so miserable that you’ll wish you were dead. The descriptions of the insects, the infestations of maggots inside a living human, the heat, the unknown natives, the uncrossable rivers - all of it made me squirm. Fawcett was really bent around the axle that jungle explorers didn’t get the glory that the polar explorers did, like Scott, Peary and Shackleton. He was right in saying that while the stressors were great, they were limited and repeated (cold, wind, bleak snow-covered ice or rock, lather, rinse repeat) while the jungle gave you something new and different every minute. Plus there were things in there that could, and would, kill you directly, not just from exposure or cold.
It was fascinating to read about Fawcett’s difficulty in reconciling what he observed of the native people to what prejudices he was raised with. From the first Europeans encountered Americans, they assigned them less than human status; some even speculating they were a subspecies that wasn’t fully evolved. Of course that came once Darwin’s theory of evolution became widely known. Prior to that popes, priests, kings and conquerors found some religious reason the people they found could be killed, tortured and enslaved. The idea of the “noble savage” is a direct result of the inability to reconcile the two. So native peoples became childlike and innocent and backward. Incapable of grasping European society, thought, religion or anything else. How Europeans also believed there were fabulously complex, wealthy and powerful cities there to be found is inconceivable if the people were so backward and dumb. One of the things they told themselves is that some ancient white race (like the Phoenicians) must have sailed over and founded the very people who supposedly built those fantasy cities like El Dorado and Z. I guess finding Moctezuma, ruler in Tenochtitlan, an intricately organized and powerful capital of a nation of thousands, wasn’t enough.
But as affecting as the book is. And interesting, too, it doesn’t provide many more answers than we already had. Fawcett’s fate is still unknown. Grann uncovered previously unseen and unpublished logs and journals that put him very close to where the last expedition vanished, but he didn’t find any answers. It’s a tease and isn’t necessarily his fault, but I wish we knew what happened. Bravo to Grann for getting what he got though and becoming one of the Fawcett Freaks!
I say quasi-biography, because it is largely focused on Fawcett’s disappearance and the author’s belated search for clues as to his fate. The search for Fawcett became something of a cottage industry in the early to mid 1900s as numerous attempts were made to solve the mystery, many ending tragically. It’s safe to say that Fawcett and his two companions either died of starvation/disease or were killed by hostile Indians. Not really much mystery there.
Fawcett and many of his contemporaries were lured to the Amazon by the promise of riches, and the belief that a rich civilization once thrived in the region; referred to by many early Spaniards as El Dorado but termed “Z” by Fawcett. Accounts of such explorations are fascinating in their description of the hardships and unique experiences encountered by the explorers, though this book seems somewhat light in that respect, especially when compared to such books as River of Doubt and Stephen Ambrose’s Lewis & Clark work. Too little detail on the travails encountered by the explorers is provided.
The book rotates between accounts of Fawcett’s exploits and those of the author in retracing Fawcett’s steps. As a result, the flow of the narrative is disrupted and the overall story suffers as a result. Finally, the author finally claims that an advanced civilization has actually been recently uncovered in precisely the region that Fawcett was exploring, in effect positing that Fawcett’s “Z” actually existed and was at least as advanced, if not more so, than contemporary settlements in Europe and Africa. While this may be true, I have not heard of it and suspect that the author is engaging in a bit of conjecture to the benefit of his subject and story line (again, I could be wrong).
For those looking for a more satisfying experience in the realm of exploration, I would highly recommend the aforementioned River of Doubt and Ambrose’s Lewis and Clark account, Undaunted Courage. Alan Morehead has written two fascinating accounts of Nile exploration and Shackleton’s Voyage of Endurance is a spellbinder.
Setting: the Amazon, 1920s and present day
Noted explorer and Royal Geographic Society member Percy Fawcett set off to find the lost city of Z in the Amazon jungle with his oldest son and the son's best friend in 1925. They made
Various groups set off to find him. Some of THEM disappeared, some were killed, but no one had any luck. Now journalist David Grann is ready to look again.
The subtitle of this book is "A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon," and that is a very good description of the story. Fawcett was completely obsessed with the Amazon, going back again and again. He pushed himself relentlessly and had no time for anyone who couldn't keep up the pace. He himself had an amazing constitution, but for most of the folks, the jungle is not a friendly place. Not even counting the predators, the bad water, the heat, and the lack of food, the number of nasty bugs waiting to infest your body is staggering and disgusting. Even a paper cut would attract maggots in no time. Flies and biting bugs are everywhere. Why on earth anyone would want to visit once, let alone come back for more, is completely beyond me. But it makes for compelling reading.
Then the obsession spreads to Grann himself. The most recent in a long line of people chasing after the ghost of Fawcett, he is a rather unlikely explorer. He had never been to the jungle, didn't even like camping. He had no gear and no idea what to take. But he wouldn't give up on this story. I won't spoil the ending, but the book is absolutely worth the read. 4.5 stars
OK, in these days of air transport, antibiotics, GPS and better understanding of indigenous peoples, things are a bit safer, and Grann’s adventures could be said to have involved discomfort rather than any of the nasties listed above. Still, the first-hand account did lend color to a narrative that already had sufficient material to entertain its readers. AND, according to IMDb, a movie is now in pre-production with Brad Pitt in the leading role, so dashing explorers may be in fashion once more by next year and a whole bunch more, um, visionaries could be heading for the Amazon.
All this is a roundabout way of saying I enjoyed the book. The writing didn’t wow me, being journalistic with a definite leaning towards cliché. Maybe a bit more editing was needed, or maybe it was just the subject-matter that lent itself so well to familiar tropes. But the subject-matter is pretty entertaining, and I actually liked the conclusion, which left me more interested in the Amazon from a purely historical/anthropological standpoint. A book that ends well! As you may know from my other reviews, I am seldom satisfied with endings.
So go forth, young man, or woman, and read this book for a Discovery Channel-ready account of derring-do or lunatic obsession, depending on your point of view. At 270 pages of narrative, it’s a quick and entertaining read.
I loved pretty much everything about this book. I loved learning more about these driven (some would say obsessed) explorers, motivated by little more than a desire to prove their courage and earn – if they were fortunate enough to survive – the admiration of their Royal Geographical Society peers. I loved learning more about the fascinating life of Colonel Fawcett, which intersected with such notables as Roosevelt, Darwin, Lawrence, Haggard, and Doyle. I loved learning more about the history of Amazon region, from the conquistadors who were among the first to penetrate those deadly woods in search of “El Dorado” through the rubber robber-barons whose ruthlessness very nearly exceeded the cruelty of those who had come before. I loved learning more about the role of yellow journalism in promulgating exploration and transforming explorers into international celebrities. And if I didn’t quite love the overarching story – in which the author, David Grann, follows in Fawcett’s footsteps in search of Z, at least the author never lets his own narrative distract from the book’s other pleasures.
Lest you be fooled by the first person narration, however, make no mistake: the real protagonist of this tale is the Amazon itself. The author does a terrific – some would say terrifying – job of making the teeming wilderness come alive: the exotic wildlife, the pitiless insects, the grotesque diseases, the cunning (sometimes perilous) natives, swollen rivers teeming with piranha, towering trees teeming with life, the harrowing juxtaposition of abundance and death.
My only regret? Wish I hadn’t left this sitting on my shelf so long before finally picking it up.
(P.S. Any book clubs out there? Pair this with Anne Patchett’s State of Wonder and avail yourselves of an ideal opportunity to contrast fact and fiction.)
Intrigued by the mystery, David Grann started researching Fawcett and his obsession with "Z." Grann intersperses a biography of Fawcett with his own search for answers, first through historical documents and then through a visit to the Amazon himself. Fawcett is a fascinating man to learn about, a complex character who on the one hand is a product of his times, growing up in Victorian society, and on the other was a bit of a maverick. I'm not sure I can fully understand the sort of all-consuming passion and obsession that would lead one to drive into the Amazonian jungle and make geological observations, let alone search out a city that many scientists of the day didn't believe existed. I found the dual narratives jarring at first, especially in the beginning when both stories sort of started in the middle, and then backtracked, but once I was a few chapters in, I adjusted and really enjoyed the narrative.