The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon, by David Grann, is as riveting as the title suggests. The book is the story of Col. Percy Fawcett's forays into the Amazon in search of a lost city he called simply 'Z'. El Dorado, the mythical city which boasted great riches and an advanced civilization, was still the intense focus of speculation in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Fawcett was one of several celebrated explorers who sought to find it in unmapped areas of South America, despite stories of hostile indigenous tribes and threats of cannibalism.
Fawcett's party, like many before it, failed to return on its final quest. Hundreds followed, searching for Fawcett, many of whom failed to return as well. The questions still haunt: What happened to Fawcett? Did he find "Z"? In fact, theories abound about what "Z" actually meant to Fawcett, and whether he could have chosen to disappear.
In the process of researching the book, author Grann deflects suggestions that he is "one of those Fawcett freaks" (those who became obsessed with the Fawcett mystery) but eventually follows Fawcett's path into the forests of the Amazon. Grann's personal experiences are interspersed lightly in the narrative as readers learn about Fawcett's explorations and the "fabulous kingdom" he hoped to find.
Grann doesn't look like Indiana Jones, but more like an accountant or an editor. That's appropriate, because Grann is a contributing editor to The New Republic and has been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 2003. He describes himself in Chapter 3, to give the reader a sense of his preparedness for a journey to the Amazon, and his commitment to his craft:
Let me be clear: I am not an explorer or an adventurer. I don't even climb mountains or hunt. I don't even like to camp. I stand less than five feet nine inches tall and am nearly forty years old, with a blossoming waistline and thinning black hair. I suffer from keratoconus--a degenerative eye condition that makes it hard for me to see at night. I have a terrible sense of direction and tend to forget where I am on the subway and miss my stop in Brooklyn.
Grann does a good job engaging the reader in Fawcett's story, while taking the reader along on his own adventure. It's an entertaining and educational story for all audiences, but the would-be Indiana Jones in your life would love it.
The Lost City of "Z" was published in 2009 by Random House.