The Lost City of Z


Now is a good time to escape to somewhere warmer. So I thought I'd try The Lost City of Z by David Grann. While the book is non-fiction it reads like fiction. Grann, a writer for the The New Yorker becomes intrigued by the mysterious disappearance of Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett. Fawcett was an explorer extraordinaire. He trekked through the Amazon basin on more than occasion creating maps of an area no white man had ever been in.

Fawcett became interested in the Amazon and the mythical city of Z as a young man. After his obligatory British military service he became fascinated with explorers like David Livingstone. He decided his life would be better spent as a "geography militant" and that the Royal Geographic Society (RGS) would be the best place for him. Taking classes from the RGS Fawcett became even more determined to go exploring. While others were heading to the North Pole, Fawcett headed to the Amazon.

The book details Fawcett's life and expeditions in detail. They start with him as a young man in his thirties. Not really prepared to undertake the explorations, Fawcett's personality was his best asset. Determined and rigidly believing in his Victorian British attitude Fawcett and his groups trekked over the Amazon basin trying to find the city of Z. This city was supposed to hold untold wealth - maybe it was really El Dorado. What Fawcett found was everything but the city.

He found tribes of Indians who had never seen a white man, tribes of Indians who only wanted to kill white men, 20 foot long snakes that could easily eat a man, mosquitoes that could kill you (and frequently did), ants that could eat the flesh off a human and more. The jungle was no place for the physically infirm or the weak of character.

Fawcett's last exploration ended with his disappearance. He had left with his son and his son's friend and a very small party of guides. He was never seen again. Years later Grann becomes bitten by the Fawcett bug. Numerous search parties had gone looking for Fawcett. None found him and very few returned. Grann decides he will go searching for Fawcett and Z without really realizing what he is getting into. Having no previous experience in a jungle he sets off after doing copious amounts of research.

Grann has access to all Fawcett's journal which the RGS possesses. He also has privy to some private diaries that contain some clues. And he also has better equipment and supplies. Grann never finds Fawcett or the city. What he does find is that the Amazon basin is a thriving area with natives still living in it. That there are ancient artifacts which show that large cities thrived there from thousands of years ago. In short that the area is as fascinating as Fawcett claimed it was.

I could not put this book down. Once I got over the "ick" factor ( i.e. bugs burrowing under the skin and moving around so you can see them), I had to finish the book. Grann switches back and forth from his own adventure to Fawcett's. The book is highly annotated, Grann having relied heavily on Fawcett's journals. While this is not a place I would like to vacation in, it is certainly a place I am glad I read about. I highly recommend this book.

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