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The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon (Hardcover)



From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. In 1925, renowned British explorer Col. Percy Harrison Fawcett embarked on a much publicized search to find the city of Z, site of an ancient Amazonian civilization that may or may not have existed. Fawcett, along with his grown son Jack, never returned, but that didn't stop countless others, including actors, college professors and well-funded explorers from venturing into the jungle to find Fawcett or the city. Among the wannabe explorers is Grann, a staff writer for the New Yorker, who has bad eyes and a worse sense of direction. He became interested in Fawcett while researching another story, eventually venturing into the Amazon to satisfy his all-consuming curiosity about the explorer and his fatal mission. Largely about Fawcett, the book examines the stranglehold of passion as Grann's vigorous research mirrors Fawcett's obsession with uncovering the mysteries of the jungle. By interweaving the great story of Fawcett with his own investigative escapades in South America and Britain, Grann provides an in-depth, captivating character study that has the relentless energy of a classic adventure tale. (Feb.)
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Revealing the Mysteries of the Amazon, February 11, 2009
By Erika Borsos "pepper flower" (Gulf Coast of FL, USA)


David Grann has written an exciting book about adventure, exploration, and a mysterious disappearance which occurred in the mid 1920s. Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett had a hardy constitution and a strong desire to find a lost civilization purported to exist within the Amazon jungle of Brazil. The story about such a civilization had been passed around by the Spanish conquistadors, among the first Europeans to explore South America. With the blessing of the Royal Geographical Society based in London, Percy Harrison Fawcett ventured forth with his son and his son's friend along with a local guide and carefully selected equipment. Percy Fawcett had participated in previous expeditions to this part of the world. He survived some harrowing challenges in the past, risking his life to discover and map this part of the world. His wife accepted her husband's need to explore as his destiny. It was a fire which burned within his soul, something he could never give up..

In 1888 he was a twenty one year old Lieutenant in the Royal Artillery for Great Britain and stationed in Ceylon. Part of his love of adventure and exploration developed at this time. It was in Ceylon he had received a letter with mysterious script which had been translated to relay information about lost treasure in a cave. He took a leave and discovered verdant jungles, lovely mountains, pristine beaches and people wearing flowing outfits in all the colors of the rainbow. Fawcett discovered some ruins but never did find lost treasure. However, the rumor of treasure from an ancient king buried in the region awakened his spirit and created a restlessness and need to travel and explore which would stay with him the rest of his life. It was also in Ceylon where he first fell in love. Through fate he and his wife met and socialized but eventually parted due to family interference. Later when they met again, their love was rekindled into full bloom and they married.

David Grann did a vast amount of reading and research to create a book which holds the reader's interest from start to finish. One feels the strong principles and beliefs which Percy Fawcett developed over time which would not let up until he made his last and most dangerous trek into the jungle to find the lost "City of Z" which he named the ancient city he was seeking. The author writes a superb biography of this adventurer and explorer. The dangers and risks are described in detail which anyone faced who entered this wild environment. There were hostile Indian tribes. Besides the threat of being killed by Indians, explorers faced malaria infested mosquitos, pirhanas, maggots that burrowed under human flesh and the deadly pit viper snake. We must keep in mind that there were no antibiotics or other medicines to treat various illnesses. Amazingly, the author also chose to enter the Amazon jungle and retrace the route which Percy Fawcett and his entourage took in order to learn more about the man and his disappearance. He and his guide met with an indiginous Indian tribe, the Kalapalos, who knew about Percy's expedition. There is a very satisfying conclusion to the book which realistically explains and solves the mysterious disappearance of Percy Harrison Fawcett and his exploration group. This is a most highly recommended book. Erika Borsos [pepper flower]

Non-fiction to rival the wildest adventures!, December 18, 2008
By Susan Tunis (San Francisco, CA)


I'm a huge fan of classic and contemporary tales of adventure, but I don't normally read much non-fiction. However, David Grann's The Lost City of Z sounded too irresistible to ignore. My instincts were right; it ranks among the best thrillers I've read. What a story!

Actually, it's two stories. The first is the life story of Victorian explorer Percy Harrison Fawcett. A member of the Royal Geographical Society, Fawcett was an explorer in the days when much of the globe was truly unknown. He came from a family of modest means, and began his career in the British military stationed in Ceylon. But he achieved worldwide acclaim as an explorer of the Amazonian jungles and river ways.

Grann's book is most concerned with Fawcett's last fateful expedition, but throughout the first couple hundred pages, he recounts Fawcett's entire career and it's enthralling. It's hard to imagine the bravery it took to strike out into the absolute unknown--with little or no communication with civilization--sometimes for years at a time. Fawcett and his companions routinely faced starvation, bloodthirsty indigenous tribes, horrific insect infestations, lethal tropical diseases, deadly white-water rapids, poisonous snakes, anacondas, piranha, and other terrifying creatures. If, for instance, you're wondering what's so horrific about insects, then you haven't been treated to a graphic description of what it's like when a living human is infested with maggots beneath their skin.

Fawcett and his men (always men) faced death constantly, and it seems that he must have lost hundreds of men in the course of his career. Perhaps not hundreds. Fawcett, unlike many of his contemporaries believed in keeping expeditions small. He was far more successful than most. The chapters that detail Fawcett's interactions with the native populations of the Amazon are among the most fascinating. Fawcett followed his own instincts which often were in direct opposition of conventional wisdom. Time after time he succeeded where others failed, and where the difference between success and failure was the difference between life and death.

Here's the other thing about Percy Fawcett: I think he was the Forrest Gump of his time. His story is touched on directly or indirectly by a truly staggering number of historic figures including Mark Twain, Charles Darwin, Arthur Conan Doyle, Mary Pickford, Ian Fleming, Winston Churchill, H. Rider Haggard, TE Lawrence, and even Indiana Jones!

As fascinating as every aspect of Fawcett's story is, the real hook is the enduring mystery of Fawcett's last expedition. Over the course of his long career, Fawcett had developed a hypothesis that there was once a great civilization in the depths of the Amazon. An El Dorado-like city that he simply called "Z." This is what he single-mindedly sought at the end of his career. In 1925, accompanied by his son and a friend, Fawcett entered the jungle determined to locate the lost city of Z--and was never heard from again.

He didn't go quietly. Readers around the world waited with bated breath to learn his fate. The story was routinely resurrected for decades. In the eighty-some years since, hundreds have entered the jungle hot on his trail. Many have never returned. Author David Grann is the most recent in a long line of would-be explorers obsessed with this mystery.

And it is Grann's tale that is the second story being told. He's an unlikely adventurer--a not particularly athletic, middle-aged staff writer for The New Yorker. But Grann does get caught up in the course of researching the book. So much so that he leaves his comfortable urban life, his wife, and his infant son to enter the Brazilian jungle. Like so many others, he seeks to find out what truly happened to Fawcett, and/or if there really was a Z. We follow Grann's progress interspersed between the chapters about Fawcett. One of the most shocking aspects of Grann's expedition is just how much the Amazon has changed since Fawcett's day. Grann doesn't dwell overly on the ecological ramifications, but the juxtaposition is disturbing.

Time and time again I had to restrain myself from turning to the back of the book to see how it ends. I was as caught up in the outcome as I have been with any novel in recent memory. Success was so unlikely; I just couldn't imagine how Grann's quest would end. And I'm certainly not going to tell you. Go read this book! Run! Now!

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