Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Lost City of Z - David Grann

This book was a stretch for me, as it covered multiple ventures into Amazonia by the British surveyor, cartographer, explorer, and legendary adventurer Lt. Colonel Percy H. Fawcett, in search of a lost center of ancient civilization. The book jumps back and forth between modern explorations of the Amazon River and some of it tributaries, the history of the Spanish explorers of the 1500's and their high jinks in the conquer and massacre of the native populations of Peru, Bolivia, and Brazil, the more modern rape of the rainforests by the rubber barons, and finally the various political endeavors to become familiar with and tame the indigenous peoples of subtropical Brazil. All these interesting back stories serve to make a tapestry on which the various explorations of Fawcett and his multiple teams of adventurers traipse. Their time of exploration ranged from 1907 until 1925. Since then, they have piqued the interest of numerous other adventurers who have followed them and either become sick and disappointed or have met the same fate as the Fawcett expedition - 'disappeared'.

Who can resist a story of adventure, exciting tanglings with snakes and insects, extreme climate challenges, hostile and mysterious natives, infighting and suspicion between different explorers, and the mystery of uncharted regions deep in the jungles of Amazonia ? I couldn't, but the book was too detailed for me. After reading five or six chapters, I started to bog down, so I got the unabridged audio version of the book at the local library. That was a much better experience.  Listening to the narrator reading quickly and with great expression helped me stay interested in the story of Fawcett's obsessive search for a mysterious lost civilization in the center of the South American jungle and a modern day reporter's research into his mysterious disappearance.

David Grann became involved with the story when he was investigating an Arthur Conan Doyle novel called 'The Lost World'. He came across the name of Percy Harrison Fawcett and became intrigued by this man, considered the last of the great territorial cartographers and explorers and Doyle's inspiration for his novel.   In his investigation of the Royal Geographic Society and Fawcett's biography, he became even more intrigued with Fawcett's drive to become the man to conquer the South American jungle and the unknown depths of the Amazon River. It's an amazing story and a continuing mystery ... is there a Lost City of Z ? Grann's investigation became somewhat of an obsession as he researched Fawcett's private papers, records of the exploration voyages into South America, and made his own Amazon exploration of Fawcett's last expedition - the one on which he was lost with his son and another family friend.

This is an intriguing story that heralds back to Conrad's novel The Heart of Darkness . Stranger than fiction, though, it's a true story of the British will to expand the empire and map the world and a man that tested his physical and psychological limits as he searched one of the last great uncharted frontiers of the world. Amazing stuff ...

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