The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann

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My son picked up The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon at the library, but put it down after just a couple of chapters.  If the action doesn’t grab him right away, he’ll often abandon a book.  I read the synopsis and decided it looked really interesting.  I’m glad I decided to give it a go!

Premise:

Colonel Percy Fawcett was a man with a mission–to explore the Amazon and find the lost city of “Z” or what the rest of us would call, El Dorado.  He believed that the Amazon was home to an ancient city of magnificent proportions and untold wealth.  Fawcett took several trips to the Amazon to carry out his explorations, but in 1925, he simply disappeared.  David Grann examines the mystery behind Fawcett’s disappearance and tries to discover what happened to this epic explorer.

My thoughts:

This is a truly dramatic story about what it was like to explore the Amazon towards the end of the era of Victorian explorers.  The unifying thread of the story is the adventures and disappearance of Colonel Fawcett, but in reality it encompasses more than just his story.  The reader gets a good overview of his contemporaries, the history of European relations with indigenous tribes, the perils of exploring the Amazon, and the state of anthropological exploration during that time period.

If you like detail and understanding a subject from many different angles, then you  will like this book.  If minutiae drives you nuts, then you will probably see much of this book as unnecessary and boring.  Personally, I enjoyed all of the background information because it gave me a greater understanding of the time period, why characters behaved in a particular manner, and other issues which had an impact on the story.

The story that specifically pertains to Fawcett left me feeling sad.  This man had amazing drive and abilities, and it seems to have been thrown away on his mad quest to find a magnificent ancient city.  Current information shows that he was correct in his assertion that the Amazon was home to an ancient, complex civilization, but during his lifetime he never had the satisfaction of finding conclusive evidence himself.  His life was consumed by this obsession to find “Z” and prove that his theory was correct.  His wife and family sacrificed for many years as he prepared for and went on his explorations.  I wondered about his children and how much time they missed out on with their dad.  That was the saddest part, to me.  While Fawcett made many contributions to the exploration of the Amazon, it came at great cost in his personal life.  I suppose that is fairly common with people who are obsessed with a greater cause.

One thing I’d like to warn you about if you’re thinking of reading this book, is that there are a good number of descriptions of fairly yucky things.  There are many diseases, injuries, and insect-inflicted ailments which are described candidly in the book.  If things like that bug you, you may not be able to stomach this story.  If that sort of thing intrigues you, then you’ll have a heyday!

Also, the narrative skips around between characters and time periods, so that can be a little disorienting.  Having made it to the end of the book, I think it worked in terms of showing how the past and present are intertwined.

I recommend The Lost City of Z to older teens and adults who enjoy detailed historical stories.  If you don’t appreciate a lot of detail, you might get lost in this book.

Possible Objections:

  • Violence
  • Cannibalism
  • Some discussion of sexual things
  • Frank discussion of some awful diseases and parasites

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

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