Thursday, March 3, 2011

Book #10: The Lost City of Z

I first heard mention of David Grann's The Lost City of Z this summer while I was in London; on a visit to the Royal Geographical Society, one of the librarians mentioned that Grann did quite a bit of his research for the book using their collections. I've been trying to read more nonfiction as of late, and I figured an exploration adventure would likely please.

And please it did! Grann's book delves into some of the history of Amazon exploration as he gets to his central figure, Colonel Percy H. Fawcett. Grann recounts Fawcett's upbringing and early military career in Ceylon, establishing a basis for the reader to understand the adult, seemingly-fanatical explorer as Fawcett is remembered. See, Fawcett believed wholeheartedly in that Victorian idea of plotting all of geography on a map. His interests were in the Amazon jungle, a place where state borders weren't even firmly established prior to Fawcett and his travels. Fawcett was most definitely a sturdy man of tough constitution: he survived numerous expeditions into the harsh Amazon jungle where many of his travelmates met with horrible (and vividly-described) diseases--and worse.

Perhaps to his detriment, however, Fawcett also believed wholeheartedly in there being a lost city somewhere in that jungle. Not El Dorado of legend, per se, but a separate bastion of complex South American civilization that Fawcett dubbed, cryptically, Z. All of Fawcett's later expeditions were in pursuit of this city, and he eventually vanished while purportedly seeking it out.

Grann explores all aspects of Fawcett's life nearly as thoroughly as Fawcett explored the Amazon, peppering in details about that grand Age of Exploration, the development of the discipline of anthropology, and some of Fawcett's more idiosyncratic beliefs. He also continues the Fawcett story after Fawcett disappeared, ultimately making the trip into the Amazon himself.

I was captivated by the rich descriptions of the Amazon that Fawcett and Grann both experienced, and I found the biographical details of Fawcett very fluidly weaved into the story of his explorations. Some of the actual content was perhaps more graphic than I had expected (think maggots, venom, and cannibalism), but every detail helped to portray the Amazon as the alluring yet formidable opponent it has been for so many explorers. I'd suggest this book for readers who enjoy nonfiction about the 20th century, about exploration, or about unsolved mysteries; readers who like a good adventure story; and readers who have some crazy notion to explore the Amazon on their own.

No comments:

Post a Comment