Title: The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon
Author: David Grann
Genre/Format: Literary Journalism/Audiobook
Summary: New Yorker journalist David Grann set out to solve one of the biggest exploration mysteries of the last 100 years: What happened to explorer Percy Fawcett when he headed into the Amazon to find the mythical Lost City of Z?
According to Grann’s website:
In 1925, Fawcett ventured into the Amazon to find an ancient civilization, hoping to make one of the most important discoveries in history. For centuries Europeans believed the world’s largest jungle concealed the glittering kingdom of El Dorado. Thousands had died looking for it, leaving many scientists convinced that the Amazon was truly inimical to humankind. But Fawcett, whose daring expeditions helped inspire Conan Doyle’s The Lost World, had spent years building his scientific case. Captivating the imagination of millions around the globe, Fawcett embarked with his twenty-one-year-old son, determined to prove that this ancient civilization—which he dubbed “Z”—existed. Then he and his expedition vanished.
For years, explorers followed Fawcett’s route and scientists looked in the Amazon for lost cities, but didn’t find much of anything. Grann, a journalist who describes himself as obsessed with obsessions, caught the Fawcett bug and too chose to follow the lost explorer into the jungle to find Z.
Book Review: Some parts of The Lost City of Z are quite good, but the whole isn’t as entirely satisfying as I hoped it would be.
I liked learning about Percy Fawcett, the Livingston of the Amazon, a prototypical adventurer trying to map the world. And Fawcett’s connections to the National Geographic Society and their efforts to figure out what the planet looks like and then draw it out were unexpectedly interesting details.
In fact, I really enjoyed the whole theme of discovery and adventure and the quest for knowledge that ran through the book. I thought Grann did an artful job weaving together a lot of different storylines without losing track of the narrative.
But what the book lacks is the big reveal or flash of insight that pulls it together. I mean, it’s fairly obvious Grann isn’t going to find Fawcett in the jungle or stumble across El Dorado, but as interesting as Grann’s story is, there isn’t a resolution.
Well, that’s not exactly true. Eventually, Grann gets the chance to speak with Michael Heckenberger, a researcher living in the Amazon who is the expert on early Amazonian culture. Heckenberger has some really fascinating things to share about potentials for civilization in the Amazon. It gives some credibility to Fawcett’s theory of Z, but those insights are limited to just a few minutes of the story. After spending so much time searching, this wrap up felt abrupt.
So while it’s not Grann’s fault that there is no actual ending to the story of Z, I think the ending he tried to use was wrapped up too quickly to be effective.
But overall The Lost City of Z was a good book. I learned about the Amazon, got shocked by how many awful things can happen to you while you’re there, and got the bug to do some more reading about lost civilizations.
Audio Review: This book was narrated by Mark Deakins, who I felt did a good job. He had some sort of accent that worked well for Fawcett and the British explorers, but wasn’t so obvious that it felt odd when narrating for Grann (an American) and his experiences.
One challenge for this book on audio is that the chapters flip back and forth in time, sometimes following Fawcett and sometimes following Grann. It takes a little while to figure out where in time the story is at each time the chapter switches, but it’s not such a big deal. It actually brought me back in focus a bit if I drifted off.
Overall, I recommend this book if you can stomach a few gory details about life in the Amazon and enjoy a true-to-life adventure tale, but don’t expect to find answers to some of the biggest questions.
If you have reviewed this book, please leave a link to the review in the comments and I will add your review to the main post. All I ask is for you to do the same to mine — thanks!