Mark Terry

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Lost City of Z: A Tale Of Deadly Obsession In The Amazon

June 22, 2010
by David Grann

At the end of the 1800s and beginning of the 1900s there were a number of very famous explorers--Shackleton, Stanley & Livingston, Sir Richard Burton, Speke, Perry and Amundsen, etc. Many of them were famous for finding something--the North Pole, for example.

One of the most famous was Percy Harrison Fawcett, although by and large he's unknown now. His particular area of expertise was the Amazon and he made many very successful trips into the jungle, into areas that are now Bolivia and Peru.

He started to become obsessed with finding a lost empire, perhaps El Dorado itself, that he referred to as Z. Part of his thinking had to do with discovering significant caches of pottery sherds in various parts of the Amazon that suggested there might once have been significantly larger populations and organized cultures than the scattered small tribes he encountered. This was not a popular theory in the early 1900s and only now is starting to be accepted (which is covered in the book in a fascinating fashion).

In 1925 Fawcett set out with his oldest son Jack and Jack's best friend Raleigh Rimell into the Amazon in search of Z. For several months letters and dispatches were sent back to the world, which was following the adventure closely. And then the letters and dispatches stopped. And nothing was heard of the three men ever again.

Grann intensely researches Fawcett's life--this is partly a biography--and the many people he encountered during his life, such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Winston Churchill, Theodore Roosevelt, etc., and his adventures, including serving on the front in World War I. Grann himself, pretty much a NYC couch potato, decides to try and follow Fawcett's last trail into the Amazon (the description of deforestation along Fawcett's route is fairly stunning). Grann also covers modern-day explorers who've tried to track Fawcett.

The writing is vivid, the story--loosely two parallel tracks--is absorbing. Highly, highly recommended.


Blogger Barbara Martin said...

This is a book I'm certain I'd love to read. Thanks for the review, Mark.

8:20 PM  

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