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Lost in Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II Hardcover – Deckle Edge


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Lost in Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II + Frozen in Time: An Epic Story of Survival and a Modern Quest for Lost Heroes of World War II + The Forgotten 500: The Untold Story of the Men Who Risked All for the Greatest Rescue Mission of World War II
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; First Edition edition (April 26, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061988340
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061988349
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.1 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (707 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #92,048 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, May 2011: Near the end of World War II, a plane carrying 24 members of the United States military, including nine Women’s Army Corps (WAC) members, crashed into the New Guinea jungle during a sightseeing excursion. 21 men and women were killed. The three survivors--a beautiful WAC, a young lieutenant who lost his twin brother in the crash, and a severely injured sergeant--were stranded deep in a jungle valley notorious for its cannibalistic tribes. They had no food, little water, and no way to contact their military base. The story of their survival and the stunning efforts undertaken to save them are the crux of Lost in Shangri-La, Mitchell Zuckoff’s remarkable and inspiring narrative. Faced with the potential brutality of the Dani tribe, known throughout the valley for its violence, the trio’s lives were dependent on an unprecedented rescue mission--a dedicated group of paratroopers jumped into the jungle to provide aid and medical care, consequently leaving the survivors and paratroopers alike trapped on the jungle floor. A perilous rescue by plane became their only possible route to freedom. A riveting story of deliverance under the most unlikely circumstances, Lost in Shangri-La deserves its place among the great survival stories of World War II. --Lynette Mong

Amazon Exclusive: Hampton Sides Reviews Lost in Shangri-La

Hampton Sides is the editor-at-large for Outside magazine and the author of the international bestseller Ghost Soldiers, which won the 2002 PEN USA Award for nonfiction and the 2002 Discover Award from Barnes & Noble, and also served as the basis for the 2005 Miramax film The Great Raid.

Although World War II was the greatest conflict in the history of this planet, many a jaded reader has come to the reluctant conclusion that there aren’t any more World War II stories left to tell. At least not good ones—not tales of the “ripping good yarn” variety. Yet remarkably, in his new book Lost in Shangri-La, Mitchell Zuckoff has found one, and he’s told it with reportorial verve, narrative skill, and exquisite pacing.

What makes this World War II story all the more fascinating is that it isn’t really a war story—not in a strict military sense. It’s more of an exotic adventure tale with rich anthropological shadings. In 1945, near the end of the war, an American plane crashes in a hidden jungle valley in New Guinea inhabited by Stone Age cannibals. 21 Americans die in the crash, but three injured survivors soon find themselves stumbling through the jungle without food, nursing terrible wounds and trying to elude Japanese snipers known to be holding out in the mountains.

The first contact between the three Americans and the valley’s Dani tribesmen is both poignant and comical. The Americans, Zuckoff writes, have “crash-landed in a world that time didn’t forget. Time never knew it existed.” The tribesmen, who have never encountered metal and have yet to master the concept of the wheel, think the American interlopers are white spirits who’ve descended on a vine from heaven, fulfilling an ancient legend. They’re puzzled and fascinated by the layers of “removable skin” in which these alien visitors are wrapped; the natives, who smear their bodies in pig grease and cover their genitals with gourds, have never seen clothes before.

The Americans, in turn, are pretty sure their boartusk-bestudded hosts want to skewer them for dinner.

What ensues in Zuckoff’s fine telling is not so much a cultural collision as a pleasing and sometimes hilarious mutual unraveling of assumptions. Though the differences in the two societies are chasmic, the Americans and the Dani become—in a guarded, tentative sort of way—friends.

But when armed American airmen arrive via parachute to rescue the survivors, relations become more tense. The Americans make their camp right in the middle of a no-man’s land between warring Dani tribes—a no-man’s land where for centuries they have fought the battles that are central to their daily culture. Here, Zuckoff notes, the ironies are profoundly rich. The Dani, untouched by and indeed utterly unaware of the great war that’s been raging all across the globe, become thoroughly discombobulated when their own war is temporarily disrupted.

Yes, there are still a few good World War II stories left to tell. And yes, this one meets all the requirements of a ripping good yarn. Zuckoff, who teaches journalism at Boston University, is a first-rate reporter who has spared no expense to rescue this tale from obscurity. His story has it all: Tragedy, survival, comedy, an incredibly dangerous eleventh-hour rescue, and an immensely attractive heroine to boot. It’s extraordinary that Hollywood hasn’t already taken this tale and run wild with it. If it did, the resulting movie would be equal parts Alive, Cast Away, and The Gods Must Be Crazy. It’s as though the Americans have arrived in the Stone Age through a wormhole in the space-time continuum. The Dani don’t know what to do with themselves—and life, as any of us know it, will never be the same.


Review

“A truly incredible adventure.” (New York Times Book Review)

“[A] gripplingly cinematic account. . . . A remarkable cast of characters. . . . A.” (Entertainment Weekly)

“This is an absorbing adventure right out of the Saturday-morning serials. . . . Lost in Shangri-La deserves a spot on the shelf of Greatest Generation nonfiction. It puts the reader smack into the jungle. ” (Cleveland Plain Dealer)

“Zuckoff transforms impressive research into a deft narrative that brings the saga of the survivors to life.” (Publishers Weekly (starred review))

“Zuckoff delivers a remarkable survival story. . . . In this well-crafted book, Zuckoff turns the long-forgotten episode into an unusually exciting narrative. . . . Polished, fast-paced and immensely readable—ready for the big screen.” (Kirkus Reviews (starred review))

“[An] engaging story. . . . This excellent book will be enjoyed by anyone who loves true adventure stories.” (Library Journal (starred review))

“A riveting tale in the hands of a good storyteller. . . . LOST IN SHANGRI-LA is the most thrilling book, fiction or nonfiction, that I have read since I can’t remember when.” (Seattle Times)

“Mitchell Zuckoff has uncovered, and vividly reconstructed, such an astonishing tale. . . . Zuckoff skillfully builds narrative tension and deft character portraits. . . . . He has pulled off a remarkable feat — and held the reader firmly in the grip.” (David Grann, Washington Post)

More About the Author

Mitchell Zuckoff is a professor of journalism at Boston University. Previously, he was a reporter and writing coach for The Boston Globe, where he was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize in investigative reporting. He won the Distinguished Writing Award from the American Society of Newspaper Editors, The Livingston Award, and The Heywood Broun Award, among other national honors. He received a master's degree from the University of Missouri and was a Batten Fellow at the University of Virginia. He lives outside Boston. His website is www.mitchellzuckoff.com

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Customer Reviews

Well done Mr. Zuckoff, thank you for sharing this wonderful story.
Robert C. Olson
He does it in such a way that it doesn't interrupt the main action, but rather adds to the insight and makes it that much more interesting.
PT Cruiser
In any case, I do recommend the book for anyone who enjoys true-life adventure or survival stories, or has an interest in World War II.
Karen S. Garvin

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

706 of 720 people found the following review helpful By PT Cruiser TOP 50 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 23, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This book is a true story, but Mitchell Zuckoff does such an amazing job of telling it that reads much like a novel in that it grabs you right from the beginning, and for me, was darn near impossible to put down. Imagine going on a fly-over sight seeing tour of one of the most beautiful mountain jungle areas in the world to see an almost hidden, untouched valley and then crashing into a mountain and being one of the few survivors trying to find a way out. But getting out or back to the base isn't easy in a place with no roads or paths, just dense rain forest vegetation, a huge tree canopy and tangled vines both above and below you. Imagine being injured with open wounds and having to exist in a place that's perpetually wet and steaming with all sorts of bacteria and fungi and little to keep it out. You don't even want to think about all the bugs and critters that call this place home. Add to that the stories you've heard about spear throwing, cannibalistic natives and you wonder how these people didn't give up right then and there.

Having read the description of the book and knowing that it was a rescue and reading pretty much what the outcome was, I was a little concerned that the book might not hold my attention. But, not to worry, as soon as I started reading I was mesmerized by the amount of detail and how gripping the story was. Mitchell Zuckoff notes that no liberties were taken with any of the facts, characters, dialog or chronology which must have made it a double challenge for him to put the diaries, notes, news stories and newsreels and interviews all together in a way made me feel like I was there, personally involved with these people.

Besides being such a good read, it added to my knowledge of the history of WWII.
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171 of 176 people found the following review helpful By Richard A. Mitchell VINE VOICE on March 3, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Near the end of WWII, a plane crashed on New Guinea. A colonel based there thought he and another pilot had been the first white men to discover an Eden-like valley filled with towns of natives on the island. As a morale booster, he would send planes filled with soldiers and WACs to the valley, dubbed "Shangri-La" after the nirvana of LOST HORIZONS. One of the planes crashed and only three survive - two soldiers and one WAC. The WAC and one of the soldiers were severely injured.

The account then tracks their survival, how they were found and how they were rescued. The author uses diaries, Army records and interviews to reconstruct the events.

Mr. Zuckoff provides far more then a simple account, however. He provides some history of the participants. Especially interesting were the Phillipino-American soldiers who volunteered for the rescue mission and the rescue operation itself (don't want to give it away). The most fascinating aspect, though, was the study of the natives who had lived a stone age war-mongering existence completely isolated from the rest of the world, or even the rest of the island and their interactions with the Americans. What makes it so unique is that he has the perspectives from both the American side and the natives' side because he was able to New Guinea last year and interview natives who still remembered the events. Thus he was able to provide their thinking as well as the Americans'. It is frequently amusing to learn the gross misunderstandings of members of the two so different cultures. Even with these gross misunderstandings they were able to peacefully co-exist for seven weeks.

The background and the retrospective perspective make this far more than just a plane crash sage. Highly recommended.
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506 of 566 people found the following review helpful By Jeannie Mancini VINE VOICE on April 30, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
In the year 1945, on the island of what was then titled Dutch New Guinea, an Army base full of soldiers & WACS were stationed there waiting for shipment out to the Philippines. While killing time waiting for their next set of orders, they embark on mini day trips soaring the skies above the jungle canopy into the land of towering mountains and magical panoramic terrain. A native village had been sighted and those who enlisted for these special sightseeing flights were dubbed members of The Shangri-La Society. Flying over this village that was hidden deep in the valley gorges was extremely dangerous due to low visibility through cloud enshrouded mountains. Tight hairpin turns in between gorges didn't leave a whole lot for airplane maneuverability. On one such run, the airplane nicknamed the Gremlin Special, took off for a day of fun to only end in tragedy. Clouds came in swiftly blocking visibility, causing a catastrophic plane crash that killed 24 men and women instantly. Three lucky survivors, although seriously burned, miraculously walked away.

Lost in Shangri-La is the amazing story of their many months spent deep in the perilous jungle of New Guinea. Lost and alone, they were in drastic need of food, water, supplies, and more than anything, medical attention. John McCollum, Kenneth Decker, and a beautiful blonde petite WAC named Margaret Hastings were in rough shape. Maggie's legs were horribly burned, Decker's entire backside was worse, and although McCollum was able to walk away uninjured, he lost his twin brother in the flames. Walking to a nearby hillside brought the trio a little hope when the jungle walls parted and a group of frightening natives emerged, bows and arrows and spears at the ready.
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