by David Grann
The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann (Doubleday, 2009) would be a perfect gift for any dad on Father’s Day. Or for anyone, male or female, who enjoys a bit of history, a bit of mystery, and a lot of (true) adventure. Although reading it doesn’t provide quite the same adrenaline rush as say, Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air or Sebastian Junger’s The Perfect Storm, it definitely deserves a place next to them on any bookshelf. Certainly, fans of those two books won’t be disappointed with Grann’s tale.
The author, a staff writer at The New Yorker, combines first rate reporting skills, an engaging style, and an adventurous spirit to tell the story of British explorer Percy Fawcett. Fawcett, his 21 year old son, and his son’s best friend disappeared in the Amazon in 1925 while looking for remnants of the fabled once flourishing and wealthy City of Z. Before that final, fateful expedition, Fawcett had made six successful, groundbreaking, and health destroying treks through the deepest jungles of the Amazon, all in pursuit of geographical knowledge. But he was determined not to give up his dream of finding that tantalizing lost City of Z. As Grann pores over maps and diaries and visits Fawcett relatives, he decides to retrace Fawcett’s last journey through the “green hell” of the Amazon and see what he can find out for himself. He does so, accompanied by his samba dancer guide, and despite the fact that he’s unable to read a map, is likely to get lost in his home borough of Brooklyn, has bad eyesight, and has never been what you would call an outdoorsy sort of guy.
One of the reasons I like books like this is that you tend to pick up a lot of tangential information as you’re reading along. Following Grann following Fawcett, we learn about the founding of Britain’s Royal Geographic Society, the great explorers of the 19th century, the influence of Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel The Lost World on Fawcett, and of the many dangerous and frequently deadly insects, fish, and parasites that would seemingly put anyone in their right mind off a trip into the great rainforest of the Amazon. Luckily for those of us who take our adventures vicariously, it didn’t deter either Fawcett or Grann.