20 February 2010

Books: The Lost City of Z by David Grann (2009)

In “The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon,” David Grann tells the story of adventurer, Percy Fawcett, “the last of the great Victorian explorers who ventured into uncharted realms with little more than a machete, a compass and an almost divine sense of purpose.”

Fawcett is just one of many people, who since 1492, have risked life and money in search of legendary lost worlds. And before satellites mapped the planet, the only way to discover what was out there, was to go find it yourself.

But like many during the later half of the 19th and early 20th Century, the desire to explore the world was born out of boredom and not necessarily the fame and fortune that comes with it. Well, at times, but with Percy Fawcett, for him, he was merely hooked on the notion of treasure hunting in general.

Fawcett, a serial writer, kept copious notes of his travels which started in 1906 (a diary entry of Fawcett would provide Sir Arthur Conan Doyle with the idea of his novel The Lost World). With most of the world mapped, the only place that was left, was the mysterious Amazon.

In his travels, Fawcett hears stories, whispers of a long forgotten kingdom. Clues came from everywhere, it seemed, in the customs of Indians, their oral history and legendary tales. Called the City of Z -though it would morph into the classic tale of El Dorado, the fabled city of gold chased after by conquistadors since 1541.

Grann weaves two tales here, one of Fawcett’s search for the City of Z and another of his own obsession with finding out what happened to the adventurer. In between, we sort of get a screwball comedy of Grann -who concedes early in the book that he is not the typical guy to travel into the many dangerous areas of the Amazon, saying he’s “not an explorer or an adventurer. I don’t climb mountains or hunt. I don’t even like to camp. I stand less than 5 feet 9 inches tall and am nearly 40 years old, with a blossoming waistline and thinning black hair.”

A well written look into men’s obsessions and drives some people to risk their lives in search of such things as lost cities. And Fawcett, who with his son and his son’s best friend, vanished in 1925, Grann creates a gripping account of what might’ve happen to him. It does grow tedious at times, something you sort of expect from people who become obsessed with things, but all in all, a wonderful account of an Indiana Jones type of man who went over the hill and never came back.

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