The Lost City of Z by David Grann

lost cityI first heard about The Lost City of Z while listening to NPR’s Science Friday on a long drive in early 2015. The hold list at the local library was fairly long, so I put in a request for the audio version as well. After spending many more drives (and a few evenings toward the end when it was just too good to wait for the next drive) listening to the book, I went to the bookstore and bought two copies for friends I just knew needed to read the book as well. Let it not be said that I avoid buying books. I just buy really great books in multiples, I guess.

The full name, The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon gives a succinct summary for the book. This is a book about Amazon exploration. The obsession spans multiple generations of explorers and a modern reporter. First, the British explorer Percy Fawcett, who disappeared on an expedition with his son in 1925. He was no amateur explorer; by most counts, the final expedition was his eighth. To say he was obsessed with the Amazon and the city he was convinced existed within it (The City of Z, as he called it), is an understatement. After Fawcett disappeared, various groups and individuals ventured into the Amazon to look for him. Many did not return. Finally, the author found himself more and more obsessed with the story until he, too, undertook an expedition to the heart of the jungle searching for clues about Fawcett’s final journey.

The biographical information about Percy Fawcett and his reasonings for belief in the City of Z were interesting. I often found myself imagining what it would be like to be Nina Fawcett (the wife and mother of the missing explorers). I was intrigued by accounts of the Royal Geographical Society and the uneasy partnership of the explorers who gathered the primary accounts and research and the scientists and botanists who interpreted the research. What really fascinated me, however, was the descriptions of the Amazon and early Amazon exploration in general. The bugs! The diseases! The tribal civilizations still inside that have had no or limited contact with the world outside the jungle! This was the sort of book that I could not stop quoting to anyone I thought might be interested in flesh-eating parasites. Josh and I both chuckled at the description of the anthropology researcher who spends increasingly more and more time in the jungle and less time in contact with anyone outside because Josh has often said that the only thing keeping him from running away to research permanently is that he likes us too much. (The only thing keeping me from doing so is everything. I can read a book on my couch, thank you very much.) The Lost City of Z has everything I love in a non-fiction book: enough details to give me talking points over dinner, but not so many that my thoughts wander. When I finished the last chapter, I quickly scoured the internet for answers to questions I’d had while reading. I found myself moderately obsessed with Arctic explorers of the time (a topic that had never once crossed my mind previously).

A movie is under production based on the book, and I fully intend to see it. I can’t help but wonder how the film will approach the narrative arc of the book. Either way, I’ll be there with popcorn in hand (or perhaps not, depending on how thoroughly some of the Amazon’s creepier critters are handled). The real question is this: Lost City of Z(ee) or Lost City of Z(ed)? I suppose it would have been more accurate for me to read it as Z(ed), but I haven’t convinced the voice in my head to pronounce it that way just yet.

I would recommend this to: someone interested in nature or exploration. I can’t think of anyone that I discourage from reading it other than those who  might get squeamish during lengthy descriptions of creepy crawlies.


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