Summary and book reviews of The Lost City of Z by David Grann

The Lost City of Z

A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon

By David Grann

The Lost City of Z
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  • Hardcover: Feb 2009,
    352 pages.
    Paperback: Jan 2010,
    416 pages.

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Book Summary

After stumbling upon a hidden trove of diaries, acclaimed New Yorker writer David Grann set out to solve "the greatest exploration mystery of the twentieth century": What happened to the British explorer Percy Fawcett and his quest for the Lost City of Z?

In 1925 Fawcett ventured into the Amazon to find an ancient civilization, hoping to make one of the most important discoveries in history. For centuries Europeans believed the world’s largest jungle concealed the glittering kingdom of El Dorado. Thousands had died looking for it, leaving many scientists convinced that the Amazon was truly inimical to humankind. But Fawcett, whose daring expeditions helped inspire Conan Doyle’s The Lost World, had spent years building his scientific case. Captivating the imagination of millions around the globe, Fawcett embarked with his twenty-one-year-old son, determined to prove that this ancient civilization—which he dubbed “Z”—existed. Then he and his expedition vanished.

Fawcett’s fate—and the tantalizing clues he left behind about “Z”—became an obsession for hundreds who followed him into the uncharted wilderness. For decades scientists and adventurers have searched for evidence of Fawcett’s party and the lost City of Z. Countless have perished, been captured by tribes, or gone mad. As David Grann delved ever deeper into the mystery surrounding Fawcett’s quest, and the greater mystery of what lies within the Amazon, he found himself, like the generations who preceded him, being irresistibly drawn into the jungle’s “green hell.” His quest for the truth and his stunning discoveries about Fawcett’s fate and “Z” form the heart of this complex, enthralling narrative.

1
WE SHALL RETURN

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. He was fifty-seven years old, and stood over six feet, his long arms corded with muscles.

Although his hair was thinning and his mustache was flecked with white, he was so fit that he could walk for days with little, if any, rest or nourishment. His nose was crooked like a boxer's, and there was something ferocious about his appearance, especially his eyes. They were set close together and peered out from under thick tufts of hair. No one, not even his family, seemed to agree on their color-some thought they were blue, others gray. Yet virtually everyone who encountered him was struck by their intensity: some called them "the eyes of a visionary." He had frequently been photographed in riding boots and wearing a Stetson, with a rifle slung over his shoulder, but ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

... Ultimately, Grann's strategy doesn't pay off, and it doesn't elevate the book into something more than its subject matter. I will highly recommend this book to anyone I know with an interest in exploration. But this is not a book, like Daniel Everett's Don't Sleep, There are Snakes, that I'll push on everyone I know, whether or not they have an interest in the Amazon. Grann got me interested in Fawcett, but not obsessed. Given the maggots, that's probably a good thing.   (Reviewed by Amy Reading).

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Media Reviews
Author Blurb Erik Larson, author of Thunderstruck, Devil in the White City and Isaac's Storm.
David Grann's The Lost City of Z is a deeply satisfying revelation - a look into the life and times of one of the last great territorial explorers, P. H. Fawcett, and his search for a lost city in the Amazon. I mean, 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.

Author Blurb Nathaniel Philbrick, author of Mayflower and In the Heart of the Sea.
The Amazon has had many chroniclers but few who can match David Grann's grasp of history, science, and especially narrative. Shifting seamlessly between the past and present, The Lost City of Z is a riveting, totally absorbing real-life adventure story.

Library Journal

Like the books of Simon Winchester, this is a compelling and entertaining read.

Kirkus Reviews

A colorful tale of true adventure, marked by satisfyingly unexpected twists, turns and plenty of dark portents.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. ... Grann provides an in-depth, captivating character study that has the relentless energy of a classic adventure tale.

New York Times - Rich Cohen

The result is 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.

Wall Street Journal - Simon Winchester

Oh, please. It is all just too pat, too wanting in healthy skepticism. Sure, after all the mud and scratched knees and far too many astronaut dinners, Mr. Grann surely wanted to go home to Brooklyn. But I wish he had lingered and considered the legacy of the poor, mad and utterly memorable Percy Harrison Fawcett. Though Brad Pitt might never notice, it would have made for an even better book.

Entertainment Weekly - Thom Geier

[A] fascinating yarn that touches on science, history, and some truly obsessive personalities. A–

Reader Reviews
warren

Lost City of Z Disappoints
I really wanted to like this book and, after the first few chapters, was really getting into it. The book turned out to be primarily about the wanderings of Col. Fawcett in the Amazon, and very little about the lost city. There are a few debates ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

If Fawcett's adventures in the Amazon pique your interest, you can hack into the jungle of research on him and Z with the following as guides…

...from the serious….

Charles Mann, author of 1491, theorizes on what a pre-Colombian civilization in the Amazon might have been like in the Atlantic Monthly.

David Grann speaks to interviewers at the New Yorker and the Daily Beast. His original article about Fawcett was published in the New Yorker (you may need to register to view it.)

Michael Heckenberger from the University of Florida,  is excavating ancient ruins that indicate Fawcett was at least partially right in his quest for a lost city.  His website ...

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