Book Review: The Lost City Of Z

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩

Subtitled "A Tale Of Deadly Obsession In The Amazone", "The Lost City Of Z" gives us the real life story of world-reknowned Amazon explorer Percy Fawcett's 1925 quest for an ancient city deep in the heart of the Amazonian highlands. An expert and intrepid explorer, he brought along his oldest son and his son's best friend, and they were never heard from again. Their disappearance has sparked an endless stream of other explorers, hoping to find out what happened to them. By some estimates, upwards of 100 others have lost their lives in this quest.

Grann is a reporter who also became fascinated, almost obsessed  by Fawcett's story. The book is told with intertwining stories, of Fawcett's career in India and his many earlier Amazon explorations and with Grann's investigations and preparations for his own hike into the jungle. He also combines stories of other explorations into the deepest parts of the jungle with the history of the Royal Geographic Society. Fawcett, who was in the army, also became good friends with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Fawcett's descriptions of his explorations inspired Doyle's The Lost World.

But it is the colorful and creepy retelling of Fawcett's (and others) Amazon explorations that really drive the book. Never mind the awful biting bugs, with clouds of tiny gnats that cause the ankles and wrists to swell and itch. It's the ways the jungle can kill you that give you the creeps. Stories of the candiru, the "translucent, toothpick-like creature ... one of the few creatures in the world to survive strictly on a diet of blood." But more than that, is its habit of entering human orifices, like a vagina, anus or even in a penis, latching on with its spines. Or of "espundia", from a parasite transmitted by sand fleas, which destroys the flesh around the mouth, nose and limbs, "as if the person were slowly disolving." Ewww!

My only real complaint with the book was that it ended. I wasn't ready for the end of the book, as I didn't realize there were 60 pages of notes and an index. I would have like to have heard more of Gann's explorations, because even with the remarkable encroachment of "civilization", there's still plenty of wild areas out there. But a truly remarkable account of a remarkable time of history, back when there were still total voids in the area of knowledge. They just don't make'em like Percy Fawcett any more, for better or for worse. If you can get over the creepy and itchy descriptions of the jungle, you'll really enjoy this book!


Ooo this sounds really interesting. I'm gonna check it out. I have heard of the candiru, on TV, they talk about a "vampire catfish" of the Amazon that just sneaks up into the trickiest places and causes no small world of hurt. Ugh. And the bugs and ants and botflies....ugh ugh ugh. Not to mention the underlying romance of 19th-century-style pith-helmet-style exploration in the world's dark and steamy locales. Cool.

Nice review. I enjoyed this book, too.

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This page contains a single entry by Jonathan published on January 25, 2010 7:35 AM.

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