27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
A Gut-Wrenching History of Amazon Jungle Explorations,
This review is from: The Lost City of Z: A Legendary British Explorer's Deadly Quest to Uncover the Secrets of the Amazon (Hardcover)
If you like to know about real-life adventures, you'll enjoy this book. David Grann writes convincingly in grisly detail about the many dangers and drawbacks of hacking your way through the Amazon jungle to find what might remain of "lost" cities described in legend.
The Amazon basin has been home to many extravagant legends -- El Dorado (where gold is used like talcum powder), Amazonians (beautiful, but dangerous, female warriors), strange "white" men, and bizarre cannibals. One of the most determined seekers in the jungle was British Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett, one of the most highly decorated South American explorers in the first part of the 20th century, and a former spy and military officer.
The Lost City of Z recounts Fawcett's last expedition into the jungle, from which he did not return. Since then, lots of people have launched unsuccessful, an often lethal, searches for him. David Grann makes his own, following a route that careful research suggests may have been where Fawcett went. The book's conclusion will surprise you.
The story is written on several parallel planes: Fawcett's life; Grann's search for Fawcett; other searches for Fawcett; and the history of exploration into the blank areas of the global map. At first this will seem disjointed and a little precious. By the end, the parallel story lines wrap around one another to make one compelling tale. It's a very clever design that I admired very much while reading and appreciate even more now.
The book's strength is that you will get a sense of how dangerous and difficult it was to explore in the Amazon jungle. If one thing didn't get you, something (or someone) else did. Fawcett was blessed by amazing stamina, great physical strength, remarkable ability to learn indigenous languages, charm that worked on those who were about to kill him, and a seeming immunity to the worst of the various illnesses that usually beset jungle adventurers. He also didn't like those who didn't keep up or questioned his approach . . . a very hard man to follow, indeed.
The book's weakness is that it deals too superficially with many of the most interesting aspects of the story such as the anthropology of the Amazon basin as understood today, the prior Amazon booms (such as the rubber boom), and the ways that explorers learned their craft.
I was very impressed by the research that Mr. Grann did to look for Fawcett's route toward Z. That aspect of the story is almost as good as the better murder mysteries that I enjoy. It's well told, as well.
I thought that his self-descriptions otherwise were a bit overdone and often didn't ring quite true. Could there have been some exaggeration added for effect?