Monday, February 22, 2010

The Lost City of Z by David Grann *Review*

I have always fancied myself as quite the adventurer, seeking out for parts unknown and laying eyes on something no human has ever seen before. In fact, I made elaborate plans while working with my son on the Hiking Merit Badge for Boy Scouts, to travel to a very remote location with glacial lakes and a big bear population, only to chicken out at the last minute. He took the Swimming Merit Badge instead.

That is why when I saw this book I knew it was the perfect way for me to live vicariously through someone else's Amazonian exploits. And it was. It was fascinating!

The Lost City of Z is the true story of Englishman Percy Fawcett, a well known explorer who is almost single handedly responsible for mapping a large part of the Amazon jungle. PHF, as even his wife called him, was obsessed with finding the city of El Dorado that earlier explorers alluded to in their journals. He became a member of the Royal Geographical Society, secured money numerous times through them to finance trips into the "green hell." As his obsession grew he invented codes- naming the lost city "Z", and formulas for longitudinal and latitudinal coordinates so others could not figure out where he was starting his journey from. His greatest fear was that someone would get there before him.

Fawcett would start with only a few men, believing large groups of botanists, anthropologists, and pack animals was "suicide." And indeed, many times he was right. His group would forge on all day in the hot, insect infested jungle with maggots burrowing into their wounds and gangrene infected limbs to get as many miles in a day as humanly possible. Or maybe not so humanly as Fawcett is reported to have a constitution unlike any other. He rarely contracted the fevers others did and never seemed to tire, a fact that irritated him greatly in others. He would ruthlessly plod on though others begged for rest.

In his journeys he encountered indian tribes who had never before seen a human. He never approached them with guns drawn, but with arms up and white handkerchief waving in the air as arrows zinged by his body, and soon befriended them with gifts of mirrors and knives. He was able to once observe a Guarayo indian crush "a plant with a stone and let it's juice spill into a stream, where it formed a milky cloud. After a few minutes a fish came to the surface, swimming in a circle, mouth gaping, then turned on it's back apparently dead. Soon there were a dozen fish floating belly up. They had been poisoned. A Guarayo boy waded into the water and picked out the fattest ones for eating. The quantity of the poison only stunned them...the fish that the boy left in the water soon returned to life and swam away unharmed."

After the war as Fawcett became older and financing became harder to appropriate, Fawcett struck out with his son Jack and Jack's best friend Raleigh, on a trip financed through the newspaper industry who had been promised updates sent back by indian runners along the journey. From this trip Fawcett would never return. Hundreds went out on rescue missions, many of them never returning either.

Author David Grann pored over journals and books written by Fawcett and other explorers into the region to try to recreate Fawcett's trail to come to some understanding of PHF's last trip and his death. Was he captured and killed by hostile indians or did he starve to death? Read The Lost City of Z to find out what the author finds out about the fabled El Dorado. Could it have existed?

How about you. Are you adventurous? What have you always dreamed of doing?


  1. I like a real adventure story!

  2. This sounds fantastic Angie! I do consider myself adventurous (as you may know LOL). I would love to be like Lora Croft Tomb Raider, explore old mines, be an archeologist..... I just want to get out there.

    Probably more realistic is that some day I want to spend my winters in Honduras and 4 month mission work as opposed to the 10 -14 days I do now.