In 1925, famed explorer Percy Fawcett, his son Jack, and Jack’s friend Raleigh Rimell disappeared in the Amazon jungle while searching for the lost city of Z, also known as El Dorado. The disappearance triggered a world wide fascination that costs the lives of at least 100 people that were determined to find the lost explorer and the fabled city of Z. David Grann’s book tells the story of Fawcett from his early days in the military all the way to his last fateful expedition and attempts to retrace the explorer’s steps all the way to Z.
In order for a non-fiction book to be successful it must entertain the reader while educating. The Lost City of Z is an enthralling book that successfully does just that. Grann does an excellent job of bringing to life the Victorian era that bred such famed explorers as Fawcett, Livingstone, Shackleton, and others and invokes a time long past when large patches of the world were still unexplored. Working for the Royal Geographical Society, Fawcett became obsessed with mapping out the vast South American rain forest around. These expeditions are brought to vivid life in the book, detailing exactly the kind of hell these men put themselves through for a better understanding of the unknown world. These early expeditions were besieged by insects, disease, heat, hostile natives, and were constantly on the verge of starvation and dehydration. Yet time after time these men, after narrowly escaping the jungle, end up right back there 6 months later rested and ready to attack that “green hell” again.
As he penetrated deeper in to the jungle Fawcett becomes convinced, and then obsessed, with the notion of a massive lost city. Spurred on by unverified accounts of a vast golden city, he puts all of his money into ill fated expeditions to find the mythical city of Z. It is Z that is the ultimate destination of the book’s author as well. He begins by investigating Fawcett’s journals, private letters and maps, and interviewing Fawcett’s living relatives. It is a detective story as well as a history lesson. Once Grann begins his own Amazon trek it brings home just how shattered the rain forest is now. What took Fawcett and the turn of the century explorers an arduous month to traverse takes Grann and his guide a day via truck. At times the landscape is more like a desert than jungle thanks to the massive deforestation taking place.
Does Grann find Z? Does he learn what happened to Fawcett? I’ll leave that to you to find out for yourself. The final revelation made me want to find more books on the subject and like any good documentary or non fiction, that is a pretty good indicator of a job well done.