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Genre: non-fiction, Publisher: Random House, Series: book review

Book Review: The Lost City of Z by David Grann

The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon
by David Grann
Hardcover: 9780385513531, Doubleday (Random House), $27.50
Paperback: 9781400078455, Vintage (Random House), $15.95

This was the most fascinating book I’ve read in a long time. It combines the very best of good reporting, action-adventure novel, history, anthropology, and biography. David Grann seamlessly weaves together his modern-day search for  what happened to the lost explorer Percy Fawcett, and Fawcett’s own quest for a city he labeled only as “Z”, an El Dorado-like city supposed to exist deep within the Amazon rainforest in Brazil.

Colonel Percival Harrison Fawcett was a British explorer in the late 1800s, early 1900s who mapped great portions of South America. With the constitution of an ox, he survived extreme conditions of the worst kind in jungles where it seemed every aspect of the environment was trying to kill you. Unlike most other explorers, Fawcett advocated peaceful interactions with the Native tribes living in the jungles, and survived many tense situations. As he got older, Fawcett became obsessed with the idea of a lost village deep within the Amazon rainforest, one filled with gold and other riches. He gathered Native stories, read the accounts of other explorers, and kept his own journals chronicling his theories and his searches for this city he called “Z”. As a member of the Royal Geographic Society, Fawcett expected them to fund his expeditions. Unfortunately, they did not, so Fawcett and his family spent many years in poverty, as Fawcett was equally unable to earn money as he was unable to stop going into the South American wilderness. In 1925, having finally secured enough money for another expedition, Fawcett departed with his son Jack, and Jack’s friend Raleigh Rimell, into the Amazon in an area close to the region of Mato Grosso. [This is probably why I find this so fascinating, as my parents spent a year or more living with the Bororo Indians in that same region in the 80s before I was born.] The three explorers were never heard from again.

David Grann admits he is one of the least likely people to go exploring in such conditions. Without even a boyscout background, he nonetheless gathers equipment, Fawcett’s research, and contacts people in Brazil who may help him find out what happened to Fawcett. Grann is hardly the first to try this; reportedly over 100 people have died during various rescue, information-gathering, and other attempts to enter the Amazon specifically looking for Fawcett and his lost party.

Grann, with a reporter’s instinct for hunting out a story, manages to find a guide, then an interpreter, and eventually speaks with the Kalapalo tribe, who may have been the last tribe to see Fawcett and his group alive. What’s even more incredible is that archaeologist Michael Heckenberger was living with the Kalapalo when Grann arrives. Heckenberger, and other archaeologists, may have recently discovered the remains of Fawcett’s “Z”.

Due to the hot and humid conditions of the Amazon, unlike a stone-based city such as Machu Picchu, any civilization built with jungle materials (wood, vines, etc.) would have rotted away and been swallowed by the jungle within 10 years of desertion. Due to the diseases brought by the first early explorers, hundreds of thousands of Native populations were wiped out, ravaged by diseases their immune systems had no experience with, before the next group of explorers came by. It could be that tragedies of this atrocious nature, combined with the accelerated breakdown of the natural materials used to build the great cities, caused the disbelief of early explorer accounts that detail great, prosperous cities with hundreds of people living in them. By the time a second wave of exploration began, the Native peoples, having been decimated to only a few hundred people, were living in small bands and villages, rather than in large cities. Archaeologists such as Michael Heckenberger are just beginning to map out and put together diagrams of huge, complicated cities, entire civilizations, that existed, often with technology and scientific knowledge that was far superior to that being used in the Western cities at that time.

A true adventure story, I was racing through the last few chapters, marveling at how Fawcett’s story and Grann’s story were coming together in a climactic ending. We’re still learning so much about ancient civilizations thanks to modern technology, there was really no way Fawcett would have found his lost city of “Z”. Yet, that doesn’t mean it didn’t exist.

Also, stay tuned for the 2012 movie version of this story that’s reputed to star Brad Pitt.


About WildlyLived

Creating | Photographing | Reading | Traveling | Writing



  1. Pingback: 2017: The Year of Non-Fiction | WildlyRead - January 16, 2017

  2. Pingback: The Lost City of Z: Book Review + Movie Trailer | WildlyRead - January 17, 2017

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Car book! We always keep a non-fiction book in the car to read on the way to the grocery or if we get stuck in a traffic jam or if we find a park somewhere. Our current book is SUDDEN SEA: THE GREAT HURRICANE OF 1938 by R.A. Scotti. She writes surprisingly lyrically about a hellish event that took the inhabitants of the NE coast almost entirely by surprise, despite the awareness of some officials. Fascinating in the wake of Hurricanes Irma & Maria.
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#hurricaneirma #hurricanemaria #readstagram #readwithme #readmore #reading #read #instaread #instabook #indiesfirst #shoplocal #bookstore #bookshop #bookshelves #book #books #bookrec #bookworm #bookish #booklove #booklover #nonfiction #carbook #sundayfunday #roadtrip Loving the #Halloween book display @quailridgebooks!
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#readstagram #readwithme #readmore #reading #read #spooky #instaread #instabook #indiesfirst #shoplocal #bookstore #bookshop #bookshelves #display #spookyreads #book #books #bookrec #bookworm #bookish #booklove #booklover #quailreads #childrensbooks #picturebooks Couldn't wait to get my hands on a copy of THE WORLD SHINES FOR YOU by Jeffrey Burton and @icreature for @simonkids!
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Gorgeous illustrations pop with foil pieces that highlight the words of this simple book, perfect for even the youngest reader. The sweetly lyrical text leads the reader from one - a tree - to many - the forest - and beyond, with each turn of the page showing more and more complex scenes through fall, winter, spring, summer, country, city, morning, and night, until we reach the end where the whole world is shining. I immediately wanted to read it again. For all ages, but especially 1-3-year-olds.
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#bookrecommendations #bookreview #bookrec #book #books #bookish #bookworm #bookstagram #booklover #instabook #instaread #read #reading #readmore #readwithme #readstagram Completed road trip book 1, including a brief review (review below).
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#booklove #bookrec #bookish #books #book #bookstagram #bookworm #booklover #bookstagrammer #instaread #instabook #readstagram #read #reading #readmore #readwithme #readmorebooks #bookreview #bookrecommendations #jdrobb #noraroberts #indeath . . .

Does not disappoint! Another solid read in the In Death series by JD Robb. I've been reading this series since 2013, since before she came out as Nora Roberts, and I keep expecting the next book and then the next book and then the next book to dip in terms of quality of style and content and originality, but it just doesn't (thank goodness!). In #46, Dark in Death, JD ROBB almost makes a play on her own life in ways, as Eve is after a murderer who finds inspiration in a specific author's murder mysteries. Robb literally pays homage to the master of the meta, Hitchcock, with mentions of Psycho and Dial M for Murder, and I'm pretty sure the author she describes is modeled after Robb herself (physically). The plot is pretty tight and focused, but we still get glimpses of Peabody & McNab; Leonardo, Mavis, & Bella; Somerset is still off on holiday; and there is just a peek at the growing romantic interest in Nadine's life, as well as a preview of Nadine's next best-seller based on Eve's police work. I'm looking forward to a future book of Robb's that I'm sure will go into further detail either about Nadine's upcoming Oscar nomination for the first book/movie or the publication and what I'm sure will be subsequent movie of the second book. Enjoy!

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