The Lost City of Z

By David Grann

The Short Take:

Death defying adventures in the Amazon jungle! Victorian explorers risking health, sanity, even their very lives! Hostile native tribes, blood sucking insects, and deadly snakes abound! It’s the perfect book to read in air-conditioned comfort! And it’s all true!


I apologize for all the exclamation points, but this book offers all the thrills of a vintage True Adventures-style magazine while delivering the real deal. As a staff writer for The New Yorker, David Grann brings a wealth of research to his book (including many new sources), plus goes on his own trek through the Amazon in search of the truth.

What truth? The fate of famed explorer Percy Fawcett, his oldest son, and his son’s best friend. These three set out (alone!) to find the legendary city of El Dorado, which Fawcett referred to as “Z.” They disappeared in 1925, and literally scores of other explorers died trying to find them. That’s not counting the hundreds that barely survived the effort.

Grann makes all this come to vivid life. While never lurid, his retelling of these deadly jungle journeys quickens the pulse and gives you plenty of squirmy moments. He mixes the adventuring with equally compelling information about other explorers of the area, Fawcett’s personal history and motivations, and how conventional views of the Amazon, its peoples, and its cultures have changed.

The Lost City of Z is one fascinating book: probably the most thrilling non-fiction book I have ever read. Plus, it thoroughly convinced me I have no business going where these explorers dared to go.

A Little Plot:

Percy Fawcett was a household name in the Victorian era — a legendary explorer in an era of great explorations. Boldly going where no European had gone before, he helped define the borders of Brazil and Bolivia, established first encounters with secretive jungle communities, and survived to tell the tale — again and again. The book covers all Fawcett’s explorations, where he seemed to thrive in this hostile environment (until the final, fatal one). Others (lots of others) weren’t so fortunate.

Ultimately Fawcett was determined to find the lost city of Z, the El Dorado of legend. Insistent that a small party had a better chance of survival, he set out with only his son and his son’s closest friend.

The catalog of dangers they faced each and every day included everything mentioned earlier plus flesh-eating piranha, a toothpick-thin catfish that can creep into bodily orifices, even the impossible heat.

Was Fawcett’s search for a lost civilization of grandeur and gold a lost cause? ¬†Was he delusional? Maybe even mad? The answer is both yes and no. Discovering out why is an adventure in itself.

To learn more about Grann and his book, click here.

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