The Lost City of Z – David Grann

I don’t know if I mentioned it but I am off to Brazil for a few months at the end of this year? Ha, that’s said tongue firmly in cheek and I do hope if I mention it now and again that it won’t get too annoying, I just keep getting waves of excitement. You know the waves I mean? Plus in the lead up I will be doing my ‘Reading for Brazil’ which today’s title is part of. I personally would have thought that a book that discussed a group of explorers going missing in the Amazon jungle of Mato Grosso (the very state I will be spending lots of time and actually camping in) including all the insects, reptiles, cannibal tribes and other horror stories would put me off. Bizarrely ‘The Lost City of Z’ by David Grann has made me more desperate than ever to go of on an exploring trek in the rainforest.

I doubt that I would have picked up ‘The Lost City of Z’ if it wasn’t for the fact that I am actually going off to spend time in the Amazon, and I would have been missing out on an absolute treat. If you are planning on heading out into the vast jungle then you really couldn’t ask for a better book for warning s of just what awful things can be lurking in the trees, rivers and even the air. It also makes the book rather grisly from time to time, mind you this book is really in the main a jungle from 1911 – 1950 so I am hoping in the now if you had a ‘vampire fish’ making your nether regions a home or were slowly ingested by nesting maggots a nearby hospital might do the trick. Mind you I don’t think anyone could stop the venom of a Jararaca snake killing you very painfully rather quickly. Sorry let me expand on this a little better; I think my excitement and enthusiasm for this book might mean I come across a little disjointed in my thoughts, bear with me.  

In part really David Grann’s book, for it isn’t a novel, is a biography of the life and quests of Percy Harrison Fawcett and what became his obsession of finding the Lost City of El Dorado, a man who I had never heard of and yet a man whose quests and eventual disappearance had the world gripped for years back in the 1920’s. Fawcett had a lust for adventure from an early age and in his life time as well as being an adventurer he was also a spy and fought in WWI, the latter is hinted as the cause of his obsession with the lost city, a kind of coping mechanism for all he saw during the conflict on the battlefield. He became so well known along with his adventures many believe he was the inspiration for his friend Conan Doyle’s ‘The Lost World’ which I am now going to have to read very soon.

It was however his disappearance that made him infamous and became the obsession of not only the press and headlines in the years that followed but of the public. Many people volunteered in the years after and actually went on quests themselves, not to find ‘El Dorado’ – or ‘Z’ as Fawcett called it, but to find the very man who quite literally vanished and either vanished themselves, went mad, died or came back very sick. This happened as recently as 1996 when a Brazilian accountant and his son decided to try. In fact the book then sees David Grann himself going off in search of Fawcett himself and following in his footsteps which itself adds another dimension to the book. I might ask The Converted One if we can go on a little hunt ourselves… maybe?

Grann manages to discuss all of these different threads as well as look at some of the other competing explorer’s expeditions of the same era and never once do you get confused. All the information is digestible and at the same time reads as an adventure in a way. Grann also manages to look at what is happening to the rainforest at the moment which makes the reader pause for thought too. I was really impressed with this book. Non fiction doesn’t normally do anything for me and I actually couldn’t put this book down, in the end finishing it in two sittings. 9/10 (I was going to give this ten out of ten but I have a post coming up on my review ratings this week that will explain why I didn’t!)

Who else has read this marvellous book and can help in my mission to make everyone else give this a whirl? Have any of you read The Lost World, as I love Sherlock Holmes but I am not sure how I will fair with ‘adventure’ stories – mind you I have done well with this one, what did you think of it? Has anyone read ‘Exploration Fawcett’ as I now really want to read that too? Which was the last and/or best non fiction book you have read that totally hooked you from start to finish?


Filed under Books of 2010, David Grann, Review, Simon & Schuster

15 responses to “The Lost City of Z – David Grann

  1. I have been wanting to read this for ages, but have’t managed to get my hands on a copy yet. I hope I love it as much as you did 🙂

    • I actually bought this for The Converted One’s Christmas present last year… in part because I wanted to read it myself. No sign of TCO picking it up yet though hearing me rave about it has raised its chances of getting read.

  2. I’ve only heard excellent things about this one and now I’m even more eager to read it! When I was younger you couldn’t supply me with enough novels about adventurers but my reading has been sadly lacking in that regard of late – clearly, this would be the remedy! I read and loved The Lost World years ago, far preferring it to the Sherlock Holmes stories but, again, I do have a weakness for over-the-top adventure stories.

    • Well I love the Sherlock stories so the fact you have said that The Lost World is superior means I might have a very exciting read ahead.

      Like you I had forgotten just how much I like a great adventure yarn be it fiction or non-fiction.

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  4. This sounds excellent, and I enjoyed your review! And oh my, Brazil? How fun!!

  5. There are hundreds of books I want to read, but this one has been near the top of the NEED to read for awhile now. It was rated as the number one non-fiction book of the year last year in EW, which carries some weight with me. It will be mine, eventually.

  6. Deb

    The character of a fearless explorer, presumably dead, who suddenly reappears is a staple of 1920s/1930s detective/mystery fiction. I’m sure that recurring motif is based somewhat on Fawcett and his popularity at the time of his disappearance.

    I think I’ve posted about it before, but I do recommend that you check out Greg Grandin’s non-fiction book, FORDLANDIA, for your Brazilian reading. It’s about Henry Ford’s attempt to build an American-style factory and company town in the middle of the Amazon jungle in the 1920s. Perhaps that’s where Fawcett ended up!

    • Ooooh Deb can you think of any books specifically as I would love to read some of the books from that era about these vanishing adventurers.

      Fordlandia is on a wish list for my family for Christmas, unless one magically turns up before. It could well be where Fawcett ended up, ha!

  7. I’ve been thinking of reading this since I saw it in the bookshop a couple of months ago, but I wasn’t sure. So, it’s marvellous eh? 😉 Righteo then!

    The last non-fiction I read was probably Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine, and yeah, it hooked me from beginning to end. It’s gripping, traumatic, hard-edged stuff and, I think, necessary reading. It took me a while to read only ’cause I had to read it in bits, with more cheerful books in-between! (All the non-fiction books that I have but haven’t read yet are here)

    • Shannon it is indeed marvellous so if you can get your hands on a copy of it then do so!

      I have heard lots of good things about The Shock Doctrine so thats one of the non fiction books thta I will have to look out for in the future.

  8. OK, OK! I give. I keep seeing fabulous reviews of this apparently-fabulous book. I hope my library has it.

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