Sunday, December 14, 2008

REVIEW: The Lost City of Z

Title: The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon
Author: David Grann
ISBN: 9780385513531/ Doubleday
Rating: B+

First Line: On a cold January day in 1925, a tall, distinguished gentleman hurried across the docks in Hoboken, New Jersey, toward the S.S. Vauban, a five-hundred-and-eleven-foot ocean liner bound for Rio de Janeiro.

Author David Grann admits that he's not the spontaneous Indiana Jones type:

Let me be clear: I am not an explorer or an adventurer. I don't 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 have a terrible sense of direction and tend to forget where I am on the subway and miss my stop in Brooklyn.

Why on earth would someone like this decide to find out what happened to a world-renowned explorer who disappeared in the Amazon over eighty years ago? Because when he's working on a story, it's a completely different ball game. When he was young, Grann was drawn to mystery and adventure tales, and the story of Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett, an explorer who vanished in 1925 while searching for a fabled lost civilization in the Amazon, is certainly filled with both.

In 2004, Grann was researching the mysterious death of a Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes expert when he came across a reference to Fawcett's role in inspiring Conan Doyle's The Lost World. As he read more about Fawcett, he became intrigued with the idea of a sophisticated civilization with monumental architecture existing in the Amazon since many experts have always believed the area could never support one. This led to more research on Fawcett. When he was given access to Fawcett's papers, Grann found clues that made him believe he could not only find out what happened to Fawcett--he could find what he had dubbed the Lost City of Z. Once he had those clues, there was no turning back.

The Lost City of Z tells us of the life and adventures of Fawcett, and how his family coped while he was off exploring. The sections taking place in the Amazon are vivid and fascinating. More than once I found myself doing a self-check for parasites and wanting to place an order for massive quantities of mosquito netting. Instead of the usual birdsong, I was hearing the howls and screeches of monkeys. If I have any quibble about this book, it's the fact that the focus is almost entirely on Fawcett; Grann doesn't spend enough time telling us about his own experiences as an explorer. The differences between Fawcett's Amazon and Grann's is often startling. I usually finish a book wondering what happened to the editor--a hundred pages could have been axed without hurting the story one bit. This is one instance where I feel like Oliver. Please Mr. Grann, may I have some more?

The Lost City of Z will be published in February. You can pre-order a copy from Amazon now. If you enjoy armchair exploration and the answer to an eighty-year-old mystery, that pre-order sounds like a good plan!

Read Alyce's review on At Home With Books.
Read Fyrefly's review on Fyrefly's Book Blog.


  1. well I have this one in my TBR pile and I need a new book soooo... :-) you've made it sound fun.:-)

  2. Sounds very interesting. The man had guts to follow in his foot steps into the Amazon I don't think I could do it.

  3. I'm glad to hear it's good.

  4. I'm glad to hear this was a good read. I will be reviewing it sometime soon.

  5. Great review Cathy - my dad just borrowed this book from my tbr pile!

    You've been Stumbled!

    :) Wendi

  6. Sounds interesting! I'll have to find a copy when it comes out.

  7. This is on my pile to read so I am glad to hear that you enjoyed it.


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