Monday, January 11, 2010
As kids, many of us fantasized about exploration of undiscovered territories, whether that meant Antarctica or Mars, mountains or jungles. Many folks grow up to realize that there aren't that many untouched places left on planet Earth, and that the risks in getting to and exploring the ones that are still unexplored are great. One way to feed that need for exploration is to read about others who have set out to see what they could find. The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann is one such story that will transport you to another time and place, one of countless dangers and endless possibilities.
Grann's book is mostly about Percy Fawcett, an explorer who favored small expeditions to unmapped territories. He made several expdetions into the Amazon before disappearing there, along with his son Jack and Jack's friend Raleigh Rimell, in 1925. The story also follow's Grann's own quest to follow in Fawcett's footsteps as much as possible and try to discover whether Fawcett's obsession and goal, a great civilization in the middle of the jungle that he called "Z" ever actually existed.
The Lost City of Z is full of adventure, from the rivalries that existed in the world of exploration in the early 1900s, the history of the Royal Geographical Society, to the dangers that explorers faced in the Amazon, everything from hostile tribes to deadly insects, fish, and snakes. We learn of Fawcett's history and eccentricism, how he was seemingly indestrictible, and how he inspired others to follow him into the unknown. Fawcett's life and story were the basis for quite a number of novels and movies, including a book where Indiana Jones comes across Fawcett on one of his quests. The difficulty of exploration in this time period, when modern conveniences such as GPS and lightweight equipment were not available, is truly felt in the descriptions of the daily drudgery that was endured by any member of a Fawcett expedtion.
When Fawcett and his party disappeared in 1925, it was big news. Many other explorers mounted their own expeditions to find him, or at least find out what happened to him (most theories had him being captured and killed by one of the area tribes). While there were clues and conflicting stories, no one was able to bring back definitive word of Fawcett's fate, and some of the parties didn't return at all.
In this book, Grann puts together Fawcett's story, the stories of explorers who tried to find him, and his own search for the truth about Fawcett, taking him from interviewing Fawcett's relatives and into the Amazon itself to look for clues. The Lost City of Z is as suspenseful as any fictional adventure story and really allows you to get a feel for what Amazonian exploration was like. It doesn't matter that Grann doesn't find out the truth about what happened to Fawcett, you don't really expect him to. This book is all about the journey, and what a journey to go along on.
Note: I listened to the audio version of this book, but also took the book out of the library so that I could check out the pictures. The audio was good, but a few of the Brazilian place names were mispronounced, which I only knew because my wife speaks Portuguese. The audio would be a great way to pass the time on a road trip, even one that's not quite as eventful as the journey described in this book.
Cross posted at Dwelling in Possibility.