johnwsaunders

The Lost City of Z, David Grann

In Book reviews on May 27, 2011 at 3:35 am

Who nowadays can claim to be heroic in the way that explorers of old were? Soldiers, perhaps, and firefighters, sure. But is there any pursuit that captures the romance, the adventure, and the sheer idiocy of setting off into the Amazon by yourself for three months to go boldly where literally no-one has gone before? After reading this, I think not.

Grann, a staff writer for the New Yorker, determined to find out as much as he could about a particular explorer that went missing in the twenties, Colonel Percy Fawcett. Fawcett went looking for the remains of an ancient civilization he believed existed in the depths of the Amazon jungle (the lost city of the title) and never came back. The story of the book is Fawcett’s, and the mystery of his disappearance becomes more gripping as it becomes apparent that Grann’s own desire to find out what lay in the heart of the Amazon, and what happened to Fawcett and his two companions, is turning into an obsession.

Many before Grann have become obsessed with Fawcett’s disappearance and trekked off into the Amazon never to return (perhaps more than a hundred), and inevitably he ends up travelling to South America (by way of the Royal Geographical Society, London) to follow in Fawcett’s footsteps. This climactic end is told thrillingly, but the care with which the entire tale of adventure and historical exposition is unfolded makes the rest of the book no less enjoyable.

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