Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett disappeared in the jungles of South America back in 1925. A seasoned adventurer, Fawcett made numerous trips deep into the Amazon and surrounding areas from 1906 right up until his mysterious disappearance. He mapped much of the region and explored it fervently, helping to survey and note corners of the map that had previously been left blank. His passion for adventure, his fair and kind treatment of the local natives, and his unmatched strength and endurance make it all the more puzzling how he could have vanished without a trace during an expedition to find Z, a lost city he believed to exist in the jungles of Brazil. To this day his remains have never been recovered and various reports and rumors continue to circulate about how he (along with his son Jack and Jack's friend) ended up and what really happened.
Author David Grann explored this history in The Lost City of Z a few years ago and it's a great companion piece to Exploration Fawcett, an autobiographical account of Fawcett's adventures compiled from his journals, manuscripts, letters, and notes by his other son, Brian. It's a thrilling, interesting, humorous, and ultimately haunting account of his adventures from 1906 right up until his disappearance. Hearing the man's story and tales in his own words is fascinating and will no doubt entertain history buffs and adventure lovers like myself. This guy was the real deal and endured hardships and trials that most of us can only dream of.
Perhaps what I enjoyed most about this book is that, despite Fawcett being a hero of mine, he was also a real person who made mistakes, had quite an ego, could be a real taskmaster at times, and held some views and beliefs that I simply didn't see any sense or value in. He was human and that's what makes his tale so interesting. Obviously his notes are not heavy on self-examination or admittance of mistakes but he seemed to have a genuine heart for adventure and for people, at times even abandoning or canceling an entire expedition to ensure that someone in his party got medical treatment or the supplies they needed. His dedication and love for his wife and family (neither of which he saw much of during those busy years) was impressive and their support for him was equally fascinating to read about. His wife in particular was one of his biggest champions and encouragers.
Fawcett's writing style is very descriptive without bordering on overkill and it flows effortlessly from one adventure to the next. There's also a surprising amount of humor here. Fawcett met and traveled with some interesting characters throughout his life and some of the things he witnessed will undoubtably bring a smile to your face or make you cringe, sometimes both in the same sentence. He could be a stubborn and hard man at times, yet he also appeared to have a good sense of humor and optimism. Those traits pepper his writing with a vitality and ease that draws you in and makes you want to stay. Every chapter is unique and it would take paragraph upon paragraph to describe all of the freaky, amazing, and downright bizarre things he experienced. They include attacks from local tribes, extreme storms and temperatures, starvation, giants spiders and bugs of every kind, violent outposts, and even some paranormal and other-worldly encounters that you'll have to decide on for yourself. You have to read it to fully appreciate it all.
One criticism I do have is that Fawcett's writings end in a pretty boring fashion. The last few chapters are dedicated to his fascination with the supposed existence of Z and he goes into a long history about the origins of the people there and how the race may have come to exist and survive. It's tedious to read through and totally anticlimactic after all of the great stories that come before it. Fortunately Brian writes a couple chapters in the epilogue that detail the search for his father and all of the different theories floating around about his death. They're tinged with both sadness and reflection and thankfully bring the book to a dramatic closing that leaves the reader feeling more satisfied than the history chapters.
Exploration Fawecett still remains one of the greatest autobiographies of its kind and firmly held my interest the entire time. We may never know what really happened to him and his party but the writings and legacy he left behind will last for a lifetime. I can't recommend it enough.