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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in The Amazon » User review

Intrepid explorer in search of his own heart of darkness

  • Feb 5, 2009
  • by
I'm a sucker for exploration mysteries, and the Amazon is the Fenway Park of exploration mysteries. As Grann summarizes in sketching in the backstory for his mystery, the Amazon has swallowed 500 years worth of explorers looking for land, gold, rubber, health, wealth, and salvation.

Grann tells the tale of grand Victorian explorer Percy Fawcett, who represented the empire and the Royal Geographic Society in several intrepid overland marches through the Amazonian basin mapping boundaries, rivers, mountains, and cultures on a broad swath of blank maps formerly emblazoned "Unexplored."

For his yeoman work, he was well-honored and well-known as a master explorer and a man's man. He withstood the body-destroying microbial attacks of the Amazon with barely a degree of fever. He survived the life-threatening animal and environmental predators that abounded in the rain forest. He thrived on the fast-paced small-team forced marches he favored, eschewing faster and easier river travel to survey the landforms in between and fill in those blank spaces on the map.

Along the way, we learn that all is not well in Fawcett's world, however. Exploring companions can't keep up with his rigorous pace, and fall behind, die, or refuse to travel with him again. Competitors encroach on his territory and threaten to take credit for his discoveries. World War I interrupts him at the peak of his career, and in its aftermath little money is available from the Royal society to fund scientific research. And Fawcett finds himself broke, barely supporting his wife (his long-suffering hero and advocate at home throughout his life) and children, while he ventures into the spiritism so popular in his day. (Fawcett was a contemporary of Arthur Conan Doyle, whose devotion to spiritism later in his life is documented in Martin Booth's The Doctor and the Detective: A Biography of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle).

This backstory is fascinating and all but overwhelms the search for Z--Fawcett's code name for what he believed was a lost civilization deep in the jungles he had mapped, complete with monumental architecture, mysterious statuary, hieroglyphic writings, and even living descendants of its founders. Grann also weaves the tale of his own research and travels to the region into his book, so sometimes it seems as though Fawcett is not only lost in the jungle but lost in his own biography.

The mystery and excitement in Grann's account is not driven by Fawcett's failure to return from his journey into his own personal heart of darkness, but by the mysterious draw of the place itself. Grann found himself there, despite his willing acknowledgment that he was no intrepid explorer, and draws the reader into the place as well.

And in fact, in the end, Fawcett may have been closer than he realized, as Grann encounters an American anthropologist on the ground near the spot where Fawcett was last seen alive, and introduces us to the still-fresh exploration and research that is uncovering subtle traces of what may have in fact been a complex civilization, if not the Lost City of Z that Fawcett had imagined in his own mind.

Grann sometimes ventures too far from the story at the center of his book, but he provides so much fascinating background and keeps the story flowing so well that I can't grade him too harshly. He leaves me satisfied and wishing for more new discoveries to explore, which is as much as can be asked on such a grand adventure.

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review by . July 19, 2010
It may seem that there are no longer unexplored areas of the planet. Less than a century ago, however, the Amazon was one of the last, great areas that remained mysterious. Perhaps it was because it was jungle, a green space so dense that few had ever dared to explore it. While it is true that many used the rivers that fed the Amazon River, not many left the river for the interior. In 1906, British explorer Percy Fawcett, who was affiliated with the British Royal Geographic Society, which was in …
Quick Tip by . June 15, 2010
It's truly scary how many things can kill you in the Amazon. Great adventure/history story.
Quick Tip by . May 25, 2010
So packed full of history and archeological info about the Amazon jungle. Highly recommend this one.
review by . February 11, 2010
remember those cool adventure stories you read as kid? Well, this one is true.
(read as an ARC in 2008)         I picked up this book and was immediately lost between the covers and could not stop reading until I had finished the entire thing.      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 to find what he had named the "lost city of Z." He was convinced that an ancient and "highly cultured" people lived in the …
review by . August 21, 2009
This is a truly excellent book that tells the parallel stories of two explorers- one looking for El Dorado, the other looking for the truth. From the very first page, Grann pulls the reader into the story; it is easy to see how he became obsessed with the story of missing explorer Percy Fawcett and why it risked everything to try to find the truth about Fawcett's disappearance. This book is a real-life Indiana Jones story which kept this reader on the edge of her chair.    The …
review by . February 13, 2009
Percy Harrison Fawcett
The obstacles to proving his theory were overwhelming. As a young man Percy Fawcett became convinced that contrary to conventional wisdom a highly advanced civilization once thrived in the extremely hostile climes of the Amazon. Fawcett made his first foray into the region around 1910 and laid the groundwork for his world famous expedition in 1925. It was a journey from which he and his two associates would never return. "The Lost City of Z: A Tale Of Deadly Obsession In The Amazon" chronicles …
review by . April 23, 2009
I rather imagine that "The Lost City of Z " is going to be in my Top 10 Reads of 2009. I say this because it's a book that has so much going for it: Adventure, Mystery, Tantalizing Facts... not to mention that it is well written.    The book is about Sir Percy Fawcett. A member of the Royal Geographic Society, Fawcett was a remarkable explorer and a man who managed to captivate the attention of people around the world in the early part of the 20th Century. Newspapers and then …
review by . February 26, 2009
David Grann's tale of personal and historic adventure in Amazonia is the kind of book that will rob you of sleep. The author retells the career of "Colonel" Percy Fawcett, the last and greatest of the swashbuckling amateur explorers to come out of the 19th century. Fawcett's seemingly superhuman courage and derring-do left others in the dust, or, more accurately in this case, in the mud. After mapping thousands of square miles of the Amazon basin in sequential journeys lasting years at a stretch, …
review by . February 05, 2009
"The Lost City of Z" is a very worthwhile and entertaining account of a now-forgotten explorer. In my opinion, Grann has done an outstanding job of painting Fawcett as a man of his times, but also able to keep the story relevant.     I will not get into too much of the background (Amazon.com has already provided a very solid account of what the story is about) however, the "Lost City of Z" provides all of the ingredients for a great adventure story. A lost city... fabulous riches... …
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Todd Stockslager ()
Ranked #36
I love reading and writing about what I have read, making the connections and marking the comparisons and contrasts. God has given man the amazing power to invent language and the means to record it which … more
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A grand mystery reaching back centuries. A sensational disappearance that made headlines around the world. A quest for truth that leads to death, madness or disappearance for those who seek to solve it. The Lost City of Z is a blockbuster adventure narrative about what lies beneath the impenetrable jungle canopy of the Amazon.

After stumbling upon a hidden trove of diaries, acclaimed New Yorker writer David Grann set out to solve "the greatest exploration mystery of the twentieth century": What happened to the British explorer Percy Fawcett and his quest for the Lost City of Z?

In 1925 Fawcett ventured into the Amazon to find an ancient civilization, hoping to make one of the most important discoveries in history. For centuries Europeans believed the world's largest jungle concealed the glittering kingdom of El Dorado. Thousands had died looking for it, leaving many scientists convinced that the Amazon was truly inimical to humankind. But Fawcett, whose daring expeditions helped inspire Conan Doyle's The Lost World, had spent years building his scientific case. Captivating the imagination of millions around the globe, Fawcett embarked with his twenty-one-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 tantalizing clues he left behind about "Z"—became an obsession for hundreds who ...

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ISBN-10: 0385513534
ISBN-13: 978-0385513531
Author: David Grann
Genre: History, Explorations
Publisher: Doubleday
Date Published: February 24, 2009
Format: Hardcover
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