Synopses & Reviews
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In 1925, the legendary British explorer Percy Fawcett ventured into the Amazon jungle, in search of a fabled civilization. He never returned. Over the years countless perished trying to find evidence of his party and the place he called “The Lost City of Z.” In this masterpiece of narrative nonfiction, journalist David Grann interweaves the spellbinding stories of Fawcett’s quest for “Z” and his own journey into the deadly jungle, as he unravels the greatest exploration mystery of the twentieth century.
About the Author
DAVID GRANN is a longtime staff writer at The New Yorker. He has written about everything from New York City’s antiquated water tunnels to the Aryan Brotherhood prison gang, from the hunt for the giant squid to the mysterious death of the world’s greatest Sherlock Holmes expert. His stories have appeared in several Best American writing anthologies, and he has written for The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and The New Republic. A collection of his stories, The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness, and Obsession, will be published in spring 2010.
Reading Group Guide
1. Books about explorers, adventurers, and extreme risk-takers like Jon Krakauer’s Eiger Dreams
and Into the Wild
, Caroline Alexander’s The Endurance
, Joe Simpson’s Touching the Void
, Nathaniel Philbrick’s In the Heart of the Sea
, Sebastian Junger’s A Perfect Storm
, and many others, have become extremely popular in recent years. What are the appeals of such books? What qualities does The Lost City of Z
share with books of this kind? In what ways does it differ from them?
2. After time away from the jungle, Fawcett wrote: “Inexplicably—amazingly—I knew I loved that hell. Its fiendish grasp had captured me, and I wanted to see it again” [p. 116]. What drove Fawcett to plunge himself again and again into the dangers of the Amazon? What is the main force that drives him—obsession with finding the lost city, desire to prove himself against his competitors, a need to escape the confines of civilization, a spiritual quest?
3. In what ways is Fawcett a symbolic figure? What values does he embody? In what ways does he represent many of both the best and worst qualities of the British Empire?
4. Grann notes that some anthropologists and historians consider Fawcett’s view of the Indians enlightened for his era while others saw him as unable to transcend the prevailing racism of his own culture. How does he regard the Indians he encounters? How does he treat them?
5. How do Fawcett’s expeditions affect his wife Nina? How does she see her role in relation to him? In what ways does she succumb to his obsessions?
6. In what ways does The Lost City of Z challenge conventional views of the Amazon? What does it suggest about the current state of archeological research in the region?
7. What are some of the most fascinating and/or dreadful features of the Amazon jungle revealed in The Lost City of Z? How has the jungle been changed since Europeans first made contact with it?
8. What does The Lost City of Z reveal about the power of obsession? In what ways does Fawcett’s obsession draw others into its deadly gravitational pull?
9. By what means does Grann maintain such a high level of suspense throughout the book? What does the interweaving of his own story—the story of his search for the truth about what happened to Fawcett and the story of his writing of the book itself—add to the total effect of The Lost City of Z?
10. After witnessing the mass carnage of World War I, Fawcett exclaims: “Civilization! Ye gods! To see what one has seen the word is an absurdity. It has been an insane explosion of the lowest human emotions” [p. 189]. In what ways does The Lost City of Z call into question conventional notions of civilization? What does it suggest about the supposed differences between advanced and primitive cultures?
11. What are Percy Harrison’s Fawcett’s most admirable qualities? What aspects of his character prove most troubling? Was James Murray right in accusing Fawcett of all but murdering him? [p. 139].
12. Near the end of the book, Grann writes about how biographers are often driven mad by the inability to fully comprehend their subjects. Of his own quest he says: “The finished story of Fawcett seemed to reside eternally beyond the horizon: a hidden metropolis of words and paragraphs, my own Z” [p. 303]. How well does Grann succeed in discovering and revealing the truth of Percy Fawcett?
13. Does Grann’s meeting with the anthropologist Michael Heckenberger in Kurikulo village confirm Fawcett’s belief in a lost ancient civilization? Is Fawcett’s search vindicated at last?
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