Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Lost in the city

I'm not one to go camping, hike through the woods, or climb the top of mountains. But after reading The Lost City of Z by David Grann, I wanted to pack up my stuff and explore the Amazon rainforest. The Amazon is one of those few places on Earth that captivate us with tales of the numerous indigenous tribes that live in it and of the exotic animals and plants that can only be found in this lush but hostile environment.

The Lost City of Z, even though it's a work of non-fiction, is captivating. It reads like a novel -- a thriller at that. David Grann's book looks at the disappearance of Percy Fawcett. In 1925, Fawcell went missing with his son and his son's best friend during an expedition to find an ancient civilization living in the heart of the Amazon which he called Z. Grann switches his narrative between the past and the present. In the chapters that explore the past, Grann presents Fawcett's brief biography, the trends in archeological exploration during that time, Fawcett's preparation and eventual exploration of the Amazon, and the efforts by many individuals to rescue Fawcett and his team two years after they've gone missing. The result is one riveting read, brimming with information about the Amazon and explorers during the early part of the 1900s.

As an amateur explorer, Fawcett was notably different from his peers. He asserts that advanced civilizations could fluorish in the harsh Amazon rainforest, despite the prevailing belief that it was impossible since the harsh conditions sets a limiting effect on human existence. I also thought he was a progressive thinker, especially when he feels that the Amazon's indigenous peoples are equal in physiology to modern humans. (Many people believed that tribesmen were genetically inferior to humans.) Ultimately, his dream of making his name a legend in the scientific community once he discovers this enigmatic civilization would be his undoing.

The Lost City of Z also appealed to the naturalist in me. It was exciting to read about the many maladies and diseases one can contract when exploring the Amazon. I was fascinated to read how explorers can easily contract malaria, dengue, and yellow fever because of mosquito bites, how gnats can make sleeping comfortable, how ticks attached to one's eyebrows can grow several times their size because they become filled with blood. It wasn't uncommon for a group of say, 100 men, to be dwindled down to half after several weeks in the Amazon. It really is a hostile place. Knowing this, I couldn't help but admire how indigenous peoples have become hardy to survive in this inhospitable place, often relying on herbal medicine to cure these diseases and learning to adjust to the harsh conditions.

Grann's research is evidently meticulous. He reads all relevant correspondences, goes to Brazil to somehow trace Fawcett's path, and manages to unearth a few interesting details about Fawcett's expedition. (One of which is that Fawcett intentionally communicated the wrong coordinates in his letters so that his competitors wouldn't be able to reach his city of Z first.) I immediately felt his investigative experience in this book. Come to think of it, The Lost City of Z is a mystery, an investigative thriller if you will. It attempts to find out what really happened in 1925 to Fawcett. Of course, I won't spoil the details in this review by saying whether Grann did figure out what happened to this trio of explorers. Read The Lost City of Z to find out.

Read this book if:
  1. You love the Indiana Jones adventure stories.
  2. You're fascinated about the Amazon and all the people and wildlife that live in it.
  3. You want to read a true-to-life mystery.

22 comments:

Mrs. B. said...

Great review Peter! It sounds like a riveting read. I've never heard of this book.

Peter S. said...

Hi, Mrs. B! I think The Lost City of Z was one of the well-received non-fiction books of 2009. It really is a riveting read.

Vivienne said...

I am doing a challenge where I have to read something out of my normal comfort zone and I think you might have just found the right book for me. I have never read any Indiana Jones style books or anything about the rainforest, but this one does sound really good.

Peter S. said...

Hi, Vivienne! Yes, this is a good non-fiction book. I'm sure you'll like it!

josbookshelf said...

Because I fit in all three characteristics you said of people who might enjoy this book, I've saved it in my Shelfari wishlist.

Btw, I purchased Wolf Hall recently 'cause I remember I saw it on your site and when I read the blurb, I was really hooked. Waiting for you review on this. :)

Peter S. said...

Hi, Jo! Yes, I'm reading Wolf Hall right now. I can't wait to read your review of that novel as well!

artseblis said...

wow, i'll interview you about what happened to fawcett in our next get-together. =P.

Peter S. said...

Hi, artseblis! Surely!

caite said...

I am not a big adventure fan, or a big fan of non-fiction really, but I loved this book. You are right, it does read like a novel and a very good novel.

Peter S. said...

Hi, caite! It's one of my favorite reads this year!

Davin Malasarn said...

Great review. I hadn't heard of this book, but I'll put it on my list. I had the chance to go to the Amazon a few years ago, and it truly was a magical experience.

Peter S. said...

Hi, David! Thanks for dropping by!

savidgereads said...

I bought this book for The Converted One for Christmas... partly because then I can read it hahaha. It will be a great preperation for my adventure off to Brazil later in 2010.

Peter S. said...

Hi, Simon! LOL! I'm so excited for you and your trip to Brazil!

SariJ said...

Oh Peter, yet again you add another book to my wish list. I am off to go look for it now.
Great review by the way!

Peter S. said...

Hi, SariJ! Thanks! I hope the bookstores are open even on New Year's eve.

Sheila (Bookjourney) said...

1. You love the Indiana Jones adventure stories.
2. You're fascinated about the Amazon and all the people and wildlife that live in it.
3. You want to read a true-to-life mystery.

Uhhh... yes. yes, and yes! This is funny as my post yesterday about The Murder Of King Tut mentions my desire to be Indiana Jones, or Lara Croft Tomb Raider...LOL

This sounds like a book I would love!

Peter S. said...

I bet that you'll surely love this book, Sheila!

Ruth O'Leary said...

I love non-fiction books - fact really is stranger than fiction in most cases! - and this book sounds fascinating. I'll be sure to check it out.

Have a fantastic new year, and may you discover lots of wonderful books!

Peter S. said...

Hi, Ruth! Have a wonderful year as well!

Mark David said...

I've seen this book a number of times before but I wouldn't have known that it's nonfiction if I hadn't read your rather engaging review.

By the way, I think it's nice that you're concluding your reviews with a Read-this-if list :)

Peter S. said...

Hi, Mark David! Thanks! It can be hard to come up with those three things!