The Lost City of Z
David Grann, 2005, 2009
In 1925, the legendary British explorer Percy Fawcett ventured into the Amazon jungle, in search of a fabled civilization. He never returned. Over the years countless perished trying to find evidence of his party and the place he called “The Lost City of Z.”
In this masterpiece of narrative nonfiction, journalist David Grann interweaves the spellbinding stories of Fawcett’s quest for “Z” and his own journey into the deadly jungle, as he unravels the greatest exploration mystery of the twentieth century. (From the publisher.)
• Birth—March 10, 1967
• Where—New York, New York, USA
• Education—B.A., Connecticut College; M.A., Tufts University
(Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy); M.A., Boston
• Currently—lives in New York, New York
David Grann is a staff writer at The New Yorker. Grann's first book, The Lost City of Z, was a New York Times bestseller and has been translated into more than twenty-five languages. Shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize, England's most prestigious nonfiction award, The Lost City of Z was chosen as one of the best books of 2009 by countless newspapers and magazines, including the New York Times, Washington Post, Entertainment Weekly, Bloomberg, Publisher's Weekly, and Christian Science Monitor. The book is in the process of being developed into a movie by Brad Pitt's Plan B production company and Paramont Pictures.
At The New Yorker, Grann has written about everything from the mysterious death of the world's greatest Sherlock Holmes expert to the hunt for the giant squid, from the perilous maze of water tunnels under New York to a Polish writer who may have left clues to a real murder in his postmodern novel. Grann is also author of a 2010 collection of stories, The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness, and Obsession.
Grann’s stories have also appeared in The Best American Crime Writing (2004, 2005, and 2009), The Best American Sports Writing (2003 and 2006) and The Best American Nonrequired Reading (2009). As a finalist for the Michael Kelly award for the “fearless pursuit and expression of truth,” Grann has also written for the New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic, Washington Post, Boston Globe, Wall Street Journal, Weekly Standard, and New Republic.
Before joining The New Yorker in 2003, Grann was a senior editor at The New Republic, and, from 1995 until 1996, the executive editor of the newspaper The Hill. He holds master’s degrees in international relations from the Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy as well as in creative writing from Boston University. After graduating from Connecticut College in 1989, he received a Thomas Watson Fellowship and did research in Mexico, where he began his career in journalism. He currently lives in New York with his wife and two children. (From the author's website.)
[A]t 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...it reads with all the pace and excitement of a movie thriller and all the verisimilitude and detail of firsthand reportage, and it seems almost surely destined for a secure perch on the best-seller lists.
Michiko Kakutani - New York Times
[O]utstanding....The book is screwball...a hybrid in which the weak, fear-wracked reporter from the present age confronts the crazed iron men of yore, citizens of a country as grand and gone as the kingdom of the Incas. 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 Garcia Marquez
Rich Cohen - New York Times Book Review
The Lost City of Z...recounts Fawcett's expeditions with all the pace of a white-knuckle adventure story. The book is a model of suspense and concision…Although Fawcett's story cuts through 100 years of complicated history, Grann follows its twists and turns admirably. Thoroughly researched, vividly told, this is a thrill ride from start to finish.
Marie Arana - Washington Post
In 1925, renowned British explorer Col. Percy Harrison Fawcett embarked on a much publicized search to find the city of Z, site of an ancient Amazonian civilization that may or may not have existed. Fawcett, along with his grown son Jack, never returned, but that didn't stop countless others, including actors, college professors and well-funded explorers from venturing into the jungle to find Fawcett or the city. Among the wannabe explorers is Grann, a staff writer for The New Yorker, who has bad eyes and a worse sense of direction. He became interested in Fawcett while researching another story, eventually venturing into the Amazon to satisfy his all-consuming curiosity about the explorer and his fatal mission. Largely about Fawcett, the book examines the stranglehold of passion as Grann's vigorous research mirrors Fawcett's obsession with uncovering the mysteries of the jungle. By interweaving the great story of Fawcett with his own investigative escapades in South America and Britain, Grann provides an in-depth, captivating character study that has the relentless energy of a classic adventure tale.
Grann, a staff writer at The New Yorker, gives a gripping, detailed account of the fate of English explorer Percy Fawcett. Fawcett disappeared into the jungles of Brazil in 1925 with his son and his son's best friend. It was not the first time that Fawcett had plunged into Amazonia or confronted pestilence and natives not keen on receiving trespassers. Colonel Fawcett was a soldier, sometime spy, and expert surveyor and explorer who helped define the border between Bolivia and Brazil. But he was primarily obsessed with finding a rumored great city in the jungles of South America, which he simply called Z partly because it did not have a name and partly to throw off others who were looking for it. Grann's experience following this mystery to England and Brazil was an adventure in its own right. He alternates chapters on Fawcett's adventures, based on his diaries and contemporary accounts, with his own and others' efforts to find Fawcett or at least the truth about his demise. Like the books of Simon Winchester (e.g., The Man Who Loved China), this is a compelling and entertaining read. Recommended for all public and academic libraries.
A stirring tale of lost civilizations, avarice, madness and everything else that makes exploration so much fun. As New Yorker staff writer and debut author Grann notes, the British explorer Percy Fawcett's exploits in jungles and atop mountains inspired novels such as Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World, and his character is the tutelary spirit of the Indiana Jones franchise. Fawcett in turn was nurtured by his associations with fabulists such as Doyle and H. Rider Haggard, whose talisman he bore into the Amazonian rainforest. Working from a buried treasure in the form of long-lost diaries, Grann reconstructs the 1925 voyage Fawcett undertook with his 21-year-old son to find the supposed Lost City of Z, which, by all accounts, may have been El Dorado, the fabled place of untold amounts of Inca gold. Many a conquistador had died looking for the place, though in their wake, "after a toll of death and suffering worthy of Joseph Conrad, most archaeologists had concluded that El Dorado was no more than a delusion." Fawcett was not among them, nor was his rival, a rich American doctor named Alexander Hamilton Rice, who was hot on the trail. Fawcett determined that a small expedition would be more likely to survive than a large one. Perhaps so, but the expedition notes record a hell of humid swamps and "flesh and carrion-eating bees [and] gnats in clouds...rendering one's food unpalatable by filling it with their filthy bodies, their bellies red and disgustingly distended with one's own blood." It would get worse, we imagine, before Fawcett and his party disappeared, never to be seen again. Though, as Grann writes, they were ironically close to the object of their quest. A colorful tale of true adventure, marked by satisfyingly unexpected twists, turns and plenty of dark portents.
Use our LitLovers Book Club Resources; they can help with discussions for any book:
Also consider these LitLovers talking points to help get a discussion started for The Lost City of Z:
1. What inspired Col. Percy Harrison Fawcett's obsessive search for Z...what evidence led him to believe the city was more than legend?
2. How does Grann portray Fawcett? What kind of a man was he? Would you describe him as a victim of his own obsession...as a romantic...a fool bent on his own destruction...a rational man of science...?
3. What are some of the legends that have surrounded Fawcett himself? To what do you attribute his place in popular culture over the years—and what does it say, both about Fawcett and ourselves, that he has maintained a hold on our collective imagination?
4. How did Fawcett differ from his rival, Alexander Hamilton Rice—especially in the approach to exploration? Were the two men evenly matched in skill and technology...or not? In what way did Rice, perhaps, represent the future of modern exploration?
5. What draws David Grann into the search for Fawcett—what initially sparks the author's fascination? Consider Grann's own difficulty in the Amazon, especially for a man who delights in air conditioning and fast food. Finally, what new information does Grann contribute to solving the mystery surrounding Fawcett's disappearance?
6. Where does Grann stand with regard to the existence of Z? What conclusions does he reach? Where do you stand?
7. What are some of the more surprising, even shocking, accounts of jungle exploration you found in this work?
8. Does this book remind you of other stories of those obsessed with adventure or other cultures: The Man Who Loved China...or Bill Bryson's misguided but humorous adventure on the Appalachian Trail? Any resemblance to fictional works ... say, Conrad's Heart of Darkness...or Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude?
9. Brad Pitt has brought production rights to the book. So, will he play Grann...or Fawcett?
(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)
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