Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Lost City of Z

Unless you are a follower of the Royal Geographic Society around the early 20th century, you probably haven't heard of Percy Fawcett. But to those who have, you would immediately recognize his name and would probably agree that he was the Livingston of the South American continent. He was one of the last of the great Victorian adventurers.

The Lost City of Z chronicles the life of Colonel Fawcett as he referred to himself later in life though only achieved the rank of Lt. Colonel but focuses on the author's search for what became of the explorer. In April 1925, Fawcett, his son Jack and a friend of Jack set off into the Amazon jungle in search of Z and were never heard from again. Until I read this book, I had always put Fawcett in the same group as Amelia Earhart, Joshua Slocum, Glen and Bessie Hyde, Theodore Cole and Ralph Roe, Glen Miller, D. B. Cooper, Jimmy Hoffa and Johnny Gosch, people who were never seen again. However, though Fawcett's remains have never been found, Grann lays a pretty convincing argument for what actually happened to him which somewhat separates him from the list above and in the end, find's the Lost City of Z.

Z is a name given by Fawcett to describe an ancient civilization that built a complex society within the Amazon which most scientists of the time regarded similar to the Sahara desert as far as it's capability to sustain life. Although most of the reviewers of this book equate Z to El Dorado or the City of Gold that so many were looking for, they obviously skimmed through this book as it was made clear several times that Fawcett had no illusions that Z was full of gold and gems. He was looking to prove that a complex society could be built and thrive in the Amazon, period.

After Fawcett's disappearance, his story captivated the public for several decades and it is estimated that over 100 people have lost their lives searching for him. He was reported to have died at the hands of the natives, held captive by the natives producing several "white" (albino) Indians who were paraded around the world to having found Z and remained there in his utopian paradise. Grann lays out that most likely he was killed by a particularly fierce group of natives that has kidnapped Europeans as late as 1996. The sad part was that Fawcett most likely walked right over the top of his Lost City of Z and never even realized it.

Z as it turns out did exist and was wiped out as so many cultures were by the introduction of diseases brought by early European explorers. Evidence through modern technology of great moats, roads and raised building sites have been found though to Fawcett's untrained eye, surely went unnoticed to him. Had he succeeded, his name would probably be a household word up their with the likes of Neil Armstrong.

This book is well written, quite gripping and a real page turner. I happened to hear an interview that David Grann gave on NPR about this book and added it to my wish list for the next time I had to order something from my internet supplier to get free shipping. It was well worth the price.

Percy Fawcett


PhilippinesPhil said...

Never heard of Fawcett. Hard to believe there were still unexplored places not all that long ago.

Back from my scuba diving trip. It went swimmingly. Gonna post on it soon. I already uploaded a short clip to YouTube.

Ed said...

Phil - Excellent! I've always wanted to scuba dive too but never have. Someday soon I hope.

Murf said...

Is he related to Farrah?

sage said...

It sounds like an interesting book... Have you read "River of Doubt" about Teddy Roosevelt trip into the region in 1914?

And I like Murf's question--now for a smart-a** answer :)

Ed said...

Murf - Percy was anything but an angel.

Sage - I haven't but I did add it to my list after reading this book as it was mentioned a couple of times in it.

Beau said...

Wow... I want to read that. Thanks!

Eutychus2 said...

I'm add this book to my summer reading list. Like Sage, I read River of Doubt and thoroughly enjoyed it and this sounds like a similar story. Thanks.

R. Sherman said...

Thanks for the tip. I'm going to add this to my "must read" history/geography/science list.