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The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon Paperback – January 26, 2010
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“Suspenseful. . . . Rollicking. . . . Reads with all the pace and excitement of a movie thriller. . . . The Lost City of Z is at once a biography, a detective story and a wonderfully vivid piece of travel writing that combines Bruce Chatwinesque powers of observation with a Waugh-like sense of the absurd. Mr. Grann treats us to a harrowing reconstruction of Fawcett’s forays into the Amazonian jungle, as well as an evocative rendering of the vanished age of exploration.”
—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
“Breathtaking. . . . Grann brings Fawcett’s remarkable story to a beautifully written, perfectly paced fruition. . . . Any writer who can breathe life into letters written by scientists in the early 1900s deserves more than a hat tip.”
—The Los Angeles Times
“Brilliant. . . . Impressively researched and skillfully crafted. . . . Grann makes abundantly clear in this fascinating, epic story of exploration and obsession, [that] the lethal attraction of the Amazon mystery remains strong.”
—The Boston Globe
“A smart biographical page-turner.”
“Grann escapes death and tracks down Z, giving the reader the kind of Indiana Jones kicks best experienced vicariously.”
“A riveting, exciting and thoroughly compelling tale of adventure.”
“Thoroughly researched, vividly told. . . . Grann recounts Fawcett’s expeditions with all the pace of a white-knuckle adventure story. . . . A thrill ride from start to finish.”
—The Washington Post
“The story of Z goes to the heart of the central questions of our age. In the battle between man and a hostile environment, who wins? A fascinating and brilliant book.”
“A spellbinding tale that produces fresh surprises around each turn. . . . An amazing story.”
—Dallas Morning News
“A fascinating yarn that touches on science, history, and some truly obsessive personalities.”
“There is something about Fawcett’s spirit and self-assurance that captivates. . . . To read The Lost City of Z is to feel grateful that Grann himself bothered to set out for the Amazon in search of the bones of an explorer whose body was long ago reclaimed by the jungle.”
—Christian Science Monitor
“In a hyperconnected and exhaustively charted world, here is a revelation about wildness and the mad desire to plunge into it. . . . Unfathomably riveting. . . . Grann wildly delivers the goods.”
“A blockbuster tale of adventure.”
—New York Observer
“Marvelous. . . . [Grann] combines a colorful narrative of Fawcett’s early life, military career, jungle treks, theories and even conversations with a biography of an extraordinary man and an overview of the last great and highly competitive age of exploration.”
“A blood-stirring reading experience.”
—The Denver Post
“A deeply satisfying revelation. . . . What could be better—obsession, mystery, deadly insects, shrunken heads, suppurating wounds, hostile tribesmen—all for us to savor in our homes, safely before the fire.”
“What makes Mr. Grann’s telling of the story so captivating is that he decides not simply to go off in search of yet more relics of our absent hero—but to go off himself in search of the city that Fawcett was looking for so heroically when he suddenly went AWOL.”
—Simon Winchester, The Wall Street Journal
“Fast-paced adventure. . . . Grann delights us with the lure of obsession under a canopy of trees.”
—Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Absorbing and fair-minded. . . . In restoring a life that history has swallowed from general view, and vindicating a crackpot theory, Mr. Grann has also exposed the toll that explorers often took on those who loved or depended on them.”
—Richard B. Woodward, The New York Times
“An engrossing book, whose protagonist could outmarch Lara Croft and out-think Indiana Jones. . . . It’s almost enough to make you reach for a backpack.”
—The Daily Telegraph (London)
“A riveting adventure-mystery in the tradition of Conan Doyle’s The Lost World, said to be inspired by Fawcett.”
—The Toronto Star
“Perfect for armchair travelers and readers with fond childhood memories of books recounting tales of adventure in the dark wild. . . . What [Grann] found should help change how we think about the Amazon. . . . Read it, shiver with delight and thank your lucky stars you’re never going to get as close to a candirú as Fawcett and Grann did. (Look it up on Wikipedia, if you dare.)” —Richmond Times-Dispatch
“Thrilling. . . . What a story. . . . The beauty is that as incredible as it is, it’s true.”
“Outstanding. . . . A powerful narrative, stiff lipped and Victorian at the center, trippy at the edges, as if one of those stern men of Conrad had found himself trapped in a novel by García Márquez.”
—Rich Cohen, The New York Times Book Review
“Did Grann find the lost city? . . . It’s worth reading every page of this marvelous book to find out.”
“Grann is no hard-as-nails explorer, and his self-deprecating personal narrative . . . serves as a comic counterpoint to the superhuman exploits of Fawcett. Grann may not be able to hack the wilderness very well, but as a storyteller he’s first-rate.” —Outside
“Grann has an extraordinary sense of pacing, and his scenes of forest adventure are dispatched in passages of swift, arresting simplicity. . . . A splendid, suspenseful book.”
“With this riveting work, David Grann emerges on our national landscape as a major new talent. His superb writing style, his skills as a reporter, his masterful use of historical and scientific documents, and his stunning storytelling ability are on full display here, producing an endlessly absorbing tale about a magical subject that captivates from start to finish. This is a terrific book.”
—Doris Kearns Goodwin
“A thrilling yarn. . . . What [Grann] finds is what makes The Lost City of Z so gratifying, and in the end he, and we along with him, find ourselves stunned by what Percy Fawcett discovered.”
“Grann paints a vivid picture of the final days of trail-blazing, Earth-bound grand exploration, before airplanes and radios began stripping the mystery from the unknown parts of the world.”
—The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, VA)
“Meticulously researched and spellbinding. . . . Reads like a cross between an Indiana Jones adventure and a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel. . . . Gripping.”
—The Ottawa Citizen
“Irresistible. . . . At once a biography of Fawcett, a history of the era of exploration, a science book on the nature and ethnography of the Amazon and a thrilling armchair adventure. . . . [It] has everything to fire the imagination: Romance, nostalgia, bravery, monomania, hardship, adventure, science, tragedy, mystery.”
—South Florida Sun Sentinel
“The Lost City of Z is meticulously researched, riveting and horrifying, guided by a core mystery that seems unimaginable and an author driven into the depths of the jungle by his daring to imagine it.”
—Philadelphia City Paper
“Absorbing. . . . A wonderful story of a lost age of heroic exploration.”
—The Sunday Times (London)
“Tantalizing. . . . Grann gives us a glimpse of the vanished age of exploration [as well as] a suspenseful, often very funny account of his own trek as a complete amateur into the ‘green hell’ of the Amazon. . . . Immensely entertaining.”
—The Gazette (Montreal)
“Thankfully, for those of us who secretly live and breath for the swashbuckling adventure tale, every now and then a book comes along that renews our faith in the epic quest narrative, its ability to inform and enlighten even as it feeds our most primal need for dramatic amusement. [The Lost City of Z] succeeds tremendously in these pursuits.”
—The Globe and Mail (Canada)
About the Author
DAVID GRANN is a longtime staff writer at The New Yorker. He has written about everything from New York City’s antiquated water tunnels to the Aryan Brotherhood prison gang, from the hunt for the giant squid to the mysterious death of the world’s greatest Sherlock Holmes expert. His stories have appeared in several Best American writing anthologies, and he has written for The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and The New Republic.
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
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Some people criticize the book for only getting to the final expedition at the very end of the book. But I believe this criticism is unwarranted. You can't just jump into the final expedition without getting the backstory and context of the people, place, and time. I feel the author did a marvelous job of jumping around and pacing the book, so that when you get to the final expedition, you're well versed in the context and prepared to understand why things went down the way they did.
Fantastic read, and I shall keep this book as a permanent fixture in my collection. Too bad I only got it in paperback... dang.
Fawcett and his crew of explorers faced great dangers. In those days the Amazon jungle or rain forest was home to many insects such as mosquitos that carried horrible diseases, such as dengue fever, malaria, yellow fever, and maggots that invaded their bodies. There were no preventatives, no antibiotics. Fawcett rarely got sick, but his men did and many died. It didn't help that he drove his men to hike through the thick jungle and mud for unreasonable long hours with little or no food even when they were extremely ill
In addition, they had were exploring in uncharted rain forests and rivers without the aide of a GPS or a cellphone or satellite phone. There were no computers or Internet. Furthermore there were tribes who liked to kill outsiders.
During these years, Fawcett heard tales of a lost city in the interior of the Amazon basin that many called El Dorado. Fawcett called it Z. He became obsessed with finding this lost city. On his final exploration, he took his son and his son's friend and they looked for the lost city. Much of what happened during Fawcett's trips was documented in journals kept by him and those who were with him. Furthermore they sent letters home occasionally.
David Grann who was writing for The New Yorker, decided to go to the Amazon in the 1990s to learn what happened to Fawcett 70 years previously and to see if the lost city even existed. Grann spent much time doing research and got access to letters and other documents that others never had seen. Despite medical and technological advances and the destruction of much of the rain forest, Grann had some harrowing times and became about as obsessed with his mission as Fawcett had. I actually became more engrossed in Grann's story.
It was interesting to see how even more rain forest had disappeared when we went on the Amazon and Ucayali rivers this summer. I highly recommend this book for those planning a trip to the Amazon basin and for those interested in the history of the area.
Sure, it's a history book -- a subject that some readers would find dry. But Fawcett makes for an incredibly compelling subject, with the constitution of a superhero and a singular, obsessive focus. There were specific passages recounting Fawcett's expeditions that seem almost cinematic in nature; it was no surprise to see that the rights have already been optioned by a major film studio. Grann also manages to include a lot of information from primary sources, and is even able to point out an instance where Fawcett falsified his own notes to keep others off his trail. The notes that Fawcett took on his journeys are vivid: for instance, your skin will be crawling from the battles the explorers fought with various insects.
The book as a whole is a real page-turner. it keeps you as invested as any contemporary adventure work by Krakauer or Junger. The only reason I even considered a four-star review (rather than the five I eventually decided upon) is the book's final chapters aren't quite as rich. Grann narrates himself following Fawcett's footsteps, but a lot of the impact is diminished because of the near-century of technological advances, and because Grann pales as a protagonist compared to Fawcett. That's not meant as an insult, by the way -- Fawcett was basically an action hero. There is an interesting piece of knowledge gained at the end that redeems Grann's journey somewhat. Still, I would have preferred another 25 pages on Fawcett.