Warning: Do not read this book while you are eating, or if you are squeamish.
You will thank me later.
The year was 1925. A British explorer named Percy Harrison Fawcett, accompanied only by his oldest son Jack and his son’s best friend Raleigh Rimell, trekked into the Amazon in an attempt to find the ruins of a legendary city. They would search amidst the threat of savage wild animals, angry indigenous Indians, near-starvation and exhaustion, and some of the nastiest-sounding insects in the history of mankind in their quest to find the “City of Z”, which Fawcett had researched and read about for years. Thanks to wireless and the print media, this journey was an international sensation, making Fawcett and the two boys media superstars, and millions hung on every scrap of information which came from the expedition.
Unfortunately, in a mystery that has endured almost 100 years, Fawcett, his son and friend disappeared into the jungle, never to be heard from or seen again. Many would venture into the Amazon in an attempt to discover their whereabouts, only to disappear themselves. At last count, 100 people have died or disappeared in their quest to find Fawcett. And no one has been successful. David Grann, like many before him, also became obsessed with Fawcett and the legendary City of Z, and his book, The Lost City of Z, chronicles both Fawcett’s story as well as Grann’s own research and subsequent trek into the jungle to find out what happened.
In 1830, Great Britain formed the Royal Geographical Society. Its mission was to fill in the large blank spaces that existed on maps at the time. Back before airplanes, GPS systems and Google Earth, much of the world was still unexplored and unseen. Maps would label these places as “unknown” or even use pictures of mythological sea creatures to fill up the awkward blank spots. With support from the RGS, Fawcett was one of the first to venture into the Amazon, attempting to catalogue the flora and fauna there, as well as mapping rivers and settlements. Fearless and seemingly invincible, Fawcett drove his men hard, allowing very little sleep and nearly starving them, and as a consequence many of the men who accompanied him died. As other explorers began to break into the Amazon, Fawcett became slightly paranoid, and refused to talk about his expeditions and the paths he intended to take, leaving behind cryptic keys and misleading information to put his competitors on the wrong track. Unfortunately, Fawcett’s paranoia would later backfire on him, since the lack of information he left behind prevented anyone from rescuing the lost explorers.
With access to Fawcett’s personal papers and maps left behind, Grann attempted to figure out what happened to the Fawcetts and Rimell. When he meets up with an American anthropologist who has been living with natives in the wilds for several years, part of the mystery of the Legend of Z is solved.
I liked this book, but, being a bit squeamish, nearly threw up in some of the parts of the book. This book is not for the faint of heart or stomach. Reading about insects that burrow into the skin and crawl over you while you sleep was more information than I ever needed. Who would ever have gone to that place on purpose? I guess if someone out there didn’t think exploring was at least somewhat rewarding, we’d all still be British subjects. What was most interesting to me was that the Age of Exploration didn’t end with Columbus. Even as late as the turn of the twentieth century, we were still to some extent exploring our world. At the end of this book, I have nothing but respect for the people who leave their families and the comforts of home to seek out the unknown. I just know I’m not cut out for it.
PS: Brad Pitt will be starring as Percy Fawcett in an upcoming movie version of The Lost City of Z, so don’t miss that! Check out this link for more info.