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The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazonby David Grann
Grann's riveting book, The Lost City of Z, delves into the intrepid life and mysterious disappearance of legendary British explorer Percy Fawcett. Armchair travelers will be whisked away to the Amazon on a wild ride with a surprising finish.
A true-life, amazing Amazon adventure-mystery. David Grann, mild-mannered reporter, treks into the Amazon to retrace the path of the legendary (and seemingly super-human) British explorer Percy Fawcett. Skillfully researched and written, The Lost City of Z is an fascinating read.
"'I call it Z,' wrote Fawcett of his fabled metropolis, 'for the sake of convenience'....Fawcett's case for the existence of Z grew out of his appreciation of the expertise native Amazonians demonstrated in extracting medicine and food from their harsh environment...." Greg Grandin, the Nation (read the entire Nation review)
Synopses & Reviews
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 followed him into the uncharted wilderness. For decades scientists and adventurers have searched for evidence of Fawcett’s party and the lost City of Z. Countless have perished, been captured by tribes, or gone mad. As David Grann delved ever deeper into the mystery surrounding Fawcett’s quest, and the greater mystery of what lies within the Amazon, he found himself, like the generations who preceded him, being irresistibly drawn into the jungle’s “green hell.” His quest for the truth and his stunning discoveries about Fawcett’s fate and “Z” form the heart of this complex, enthralling narrative.
Is there any place so boundlessly captivating as a jungle? Its labyrinth of green. Its rich botanical promise. Its seemingly infinite swarm of life. We sit in our comfortable chairs and imagine its wonders, yet those who truly know it call it "a counterfeit paradise," for despite its allure and splendor, the jungle is profoundly hostile to man. The Inca, who once reigned over much... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) of Latin America, keenly appreciated this. The Amazon to them was the "Antisuyo," the black hole over which they held no dominion, the slough from which their fierce enemies sprang. And so it has been throughout recorded history. The tropical rainforest, experience tells us, is where terrible things happen, where beasts rule and the best of men are likely to grow feral. Think Conrad. Think of the infamous brutalities in the Congo or the Putumayo. Think Vietnam. Among those who would have wanted you to think otherwise was the Englishman Col. Percy Harrison Fawcett, whose quest to locate an ancient civilization in the remote reaches of the Amazon became an obsession. For more than 20 years, he combed that forbidding territory — roughly the size of the continental United States — in search of the ruins of a metropolis with highly advanced art and culture. He called it the City of Z. Fawcett wasn't alone in looking for colossi in the Amazon. For half a millennium, adventurers searched for Paititi, a legendary trove of Inca treasures buried somewhere between Peru and Brazil. European explorers from Francisco de Orellana to Lope de Aguirre sailed the Amazon's tributaries, hunting the gold of El Dorado. Thousands of thrill-seekers followed. And in 1925, when Fawcett, "the last of the individualist explorers," went missing in that tangle of green, more than 100 men set out to rescue him. His was, as one observer called it, "among the most celebrated vanishing acts of modern times." "The Lost City of Z," by New Yorker writer David Grann, recounts Fawcett's expeditions with all the pace of a white-knuckle adventure story. The book is a model of suspense and concision. By the end, Grann wins us over with his own hard-won experience. He has geared up, abandoned his family and climbed into the vortex himself — stung by his subject's obsession. But Grann differs from Fawcett in two important ways: Unlike the colonel, he knows he is no match for this badland; and equally unlike him, he lives to tell the tale. What a grand tale it is! Fawcett, says Grann, "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. For nearly two decades, stories of his adventures had captivated the public's imagination: how he had survived in the South American wilderness without contact with the outside world; how he was ambushed by hostile tribesmen, many of whom had never before seen a white man; how he battled piranhas, electric eels, jaguars, crocodiles, vampire bats, and anacondas, including one that almost crushed him; and how he emerged with maps of regions from which no previous expedition had returned." He was reviled by his competitors and revered by the world at large. Sponsored by Britain's Royal Geographical Society, he set out to explore the Amazon at the height of the rubber boom, when trappers were enslaving rainforest Indians by the tens of thousands, creating a human hecatomb for which tribes were seeking revenge. Anyone who has read Fawcett's chronicles — the most notable of which is the highly colorful "Exploration Fawcett" — will recognize the perils, real and exaggerated, that Grann recounts for us here. Apart from the human belligerents he chanced upon in his numerous expeditions, Fawcett met countless physical challenges, which he recorded in detail: sauba ants that could reduce cloth to threads; red, hairy chiggers that fed on human flesh; cyanide-squirting millipedes; parasitic worms that invaded the skin and caused blindness; "kissing bugs" that burrowed into men's lips and surfaced in their brains 20 years later. He told of candiru, needle-like fish that swam deep into human orifices — most notoriously, penises — and hooked themselves in with spines, causing excruciating death. He recounted wonders no one has ever confirmed: snakes that flew through the forest, singing. Grann relates all this in scenes that are interspersed with his own expedition 80 years later. By the time Fawcett made his last trip into the jungle, he was penniless, dismissed as a crank, forced to sell his story in advance to American newspapers. Grann tracks down his surviving family, hunts through his grandchildren's memorabilia and, with a broken-down samba dancer as guide, follows the secret coordinates to a remote area in Brazil called the Xingu. There he meets an American archaeologist who lives among the Kuikuro but has all the benefits of state-of-the-art instruments. He tells Grann that they are standing on a vast and ancient settlement. He shows him its moat, its palisade walls, its sophisticated geometric design, the scattered remnants of its ceramics. Grann's voyage, in other words, was no disappointment to him. Nor is it to readers. Although Fawcett's story cuts through 100 years of complicated history, Grann follows its twists and turns admirably. Thoroughly researched, vividly told, this is a thrill ride from start to finish. Marie Arana is a former editor of The Washington Post Book World. Her novel "Cellophane" is about an engineer's obsession with the Amazon; her most recent novel is "Lima Nights." She can be reached at aranam(at symbol)washpost.com. Reviewed by Marie Arana, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
(hide most of this review)
"A fascinating yarn that touches on science, history, and some truly obsessive personalities. Grade: A-" Thom Geier, Entertainment Weekly
"The Lost City of Z is at once a biography, a detective story and a wonderfully vivid piece of travel writing that combines Bruce Chatwinesque powers of observation with a Waugh-like sense of the absurd." Michiko Kakutani, New York Times
"The story of Z goes to the heart of the central questions of our age. In the battle between man and a hostile environment, who wins? A fascinating and brilliant book." Malcolm Gladwell
"What a wild and adventurous life! In the deft storytelling hands of David Grann, explorer Percy Fawcett emerges as one of the most ambitious, colorful, just plain intrepid figures ever to set foot in the New World. Part Indiana Jones, part Livingstone, and part Kit Carson, Fawcett has found his perfect biographer in Grann, who has gamely endured every conceivable Amazonian hardship to piece together the story of this British swashbuckler and his crazed search for a vanished civilization." Hampton Sides
"With his riveting work, David Grann emerges on our national landscape as a major new talent. His superb writing style, his skills as a reporter, his masterful use of historical and scientific documents, and his stunning storytelling ability are on full display here, producing an endlessly absorbing tale about a magical subject that captivates from start to finish. This is a terrific book." Doris Kearns Goodwin
"A fantastic story of courage, obsession, and mystery, The Lost City of Z is gripping from beginning to end. In the pantheon of classic exploration tales, this stands out as one of the best." Candice Millard
"A wonderfully researched true story about an intrepid adventurer, a colorful cast, and an obsession that grips both him and the author." Walter Isaacson
"The Amazon has had many chroniclers but few who can match David Grann's grasp of history, science, and especially narrative. Shifting seamlessly between the past and present, The Lost City of Z is a riveting, totally absorbing real-life adventure story." Nathaniel Philbrick
About the Author
David Grann is a staff writer at the New Yorker and a contributing editor at the New Republic.
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