The Lost City of Z by David Grann

Red hairy chiggers that consume human flesh, cyanide-squirting millipedes, and the candiru, a translucent toothpick-like creature that burrows into the gills of a fish or human orifices like the vagina or penis, latches it’s spines and sucks out the blood of the victim until they perish…

This is the Amazon of the 1920’s and the Amazon you’ll find in David Grann’s new book, The Lost City of Z, chronicling the infamous tough-as-nails British explorer, Percy Fawcett, as he ventures with his son, Jack, and Jack’s best friend, Raleigh, to discover the famous (gold laden and lost) city of El Dorado. Grann’s well-documented tale takes you deep inside the jungle for a peek into the mind of this sometimes ruthless, always brave, explorer. The trio, in so many respects, takes you back to a bygone era when well-heeled gents at supper clubs thirsted for the high stakes of an Amazonian adventure. Not only do the characters look straight out of the movies, but the cinematic story reads like one as well (likely why Brad Pitt and Paramount have optioned the film rights). Just as his piercing blue eyes make their way into your own, so will Fawcett’s adventurous tale. It is one man’s ultimate quest to find, with tragic consequences… a fantasy.

Grann deftly tells a real-life story from both a historical context and a personal one. The author himself ventured to the very place where many believe this fantastic civilization once existed. As I read his story, I found myself being bitten by vicious gnats and fearing the wrath of parasitic worms as the three men journeyed into the heart of one of the world’s most inhospitable regions.

Grann writes, “The cramped, dirty hold of the SS Panama was filled with ‘toughs, would be toughs, and leather faced old scoundrels,’ as Fawcett put it.” Flesh and carrion eating bees, an area so hot that fish were cooked alive in the waters… the countless explorers that died along the way. Whether Percy, Jack, and Raleigh became victims of the elements or the native Indians, one thing is certain: they never made it out alive.

I was so enamored with this impossible, painstaking journey that, instead of reading it quickly as I do with most tales, I found myself intentionally re-reading passages and flipping through the photos. Like my own travels to South America, El Dorado, as well as this tale, is like the love you can never have. It will keep you constantly wanting more.

Kudos to Grann for all of his own painstaking research and bravery. After reading about the candiru, I’m not sure I’d be heading into that part of the jungle anytime soon. I will, however, recommend, for those who love a good jungle jaunt, ordering a copy of his obsessive and mysterious story.

David Grann is a staff writer at The New Yorker and has covered everything from an Aryan Brotherhood prison gang to the hunt for giant squid. His work has been featured in the New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal. His collected writings will be published by Doubleday in 2010.


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