The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon

The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon

by David Grann

Paperback(Reprint)

$15.12 $16.95 Save 11% Current price is $15.12, Original price is $16.95. You Save 11%.
View All Available Formats & Editions
Eligible for FREE SHIPPING
  • Want it by Wednesday, September 26  Order now and choose Expedited Shipping during checkout.
    Same Day shipping in Manhattan. 
    See Details

Overview

The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann

The #1 New York Times bestseller  - now a major motion picture starring Charlie Hunnam, Tom Holland, Sienna Miller and Robert Pattinson. 

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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781400078455
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/26/2010
Series: Vintage Departures Series
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 448
Sales rank: 28,094
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

DAVID GRANN is a longtime staff writer at The New Yorker. He has written about everything from New York City’s antiquated water tunnels to the Aryan Brotherhood prison gang, from the hunt for the giant squid to the mysterious death of the world’s greatest Sherlock Holmes expert. His stories have appeared in several Best American writing anthologies, and he has written for The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and The New Republic.

Read an Excerpt

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 even in a suit and a tie, and without his customary wild beard, he could be recognized by the crowds on the pier. He was Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett, and his name was known throughout the world.

He was the last of the great Victorian explorers who ventured into uncharted realms with little more than a machete, a compass, and an almost divine sense of purpose. For nearly two decades, stories of his adventures had captivated the public's imagination: how he had survived in the South American wilderness without contact with the outside world; how he was ambushed by hostile tribesmen, many of whom had never before seen a white man; how he battled piranha, electric eels, jaguars, crocodiles, vampire bats, and anacondas, including one that almost crushed him; and how he emerged with maps of regions from which no previous expedition had returned. He was renowned as the "David Livingstone of the Amazon," and was believed to have such unrivaled powers of endurance that a few colleagues even claimed he was immune to death. An American explorer described him as "a man of indomitable will, infinite resource, fearless"; another said that he could "outwalk and outhike and outexplore anybody else." The London Geographical Journal, the pre-eminent publication in its field, observed in 1953 that "Fawcett marked the end of an age. One might almost call him the last of the individualist explorers. The day of the aeroplane, the radio, the organized and heavily financed modern expedition had not arrived. With him, it was the heroic story of a man against the forest."

In 1916, the Royal Geographical Society had awarded him, with the blessing of King George V, a gold medal "for his contributions to the mapping of South America." And every few years, when he emerged from the jungle, spidery thin and bedraggled, dozens of scientists and luminaries would pack into the Society's hall to hear him speak. Among them was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who was said to have drawn on Fawcett's experiences for his 1912 book The Lost World, in which explorers "disappear into the unknown" of South America and find, on a remote plateau, a land where dinosaurs have escaped extinction.

As Fawcett made his way to the gangplank that day in January, he eerily resembled one of the book's protagonists, Lord John Roxton:
Something there was of Napoleon III, something of Don Quixote, and yet again something which was the essence of the English country gentleman._._._._He has a gentle voice and a quiet manner, but behind his twinkling blue eyes there lurks a capacity for furious wrath and implacable resolution, the more dangerous because they are held in leash.

None of Fawcett's previous expeditions compared with what he was about to do, and he could barely conceal his impatience, as he fell into line with the other passengers boarding the S.S. Vauban. The ship, advertised as "the finest in the world," was part of the Lamport & Holt elite "V" class. The Germans had sunk several of the company's ocean liners during the First World War, but this one had survived, with its black, salt-streaked hull and elegant white decks and striped funnel billowing smoke into the sky. Model T Fords shepherded passengers to the dock, where longshoremen helped cart luggage into the ship's hold. Many of the male passengers wore silk ties and bowler hats; women had on fur coats and feathered caps, as if they were attending a society event, which, in some ways, they were-the passenger lists of luxury ocean liners were chronicled in gossip columns and scoured by young girls searching for eligible bachelors.

Fawcett pushed forward with his gear. His trunks were loaded with guns, canned food, powdered milk, flares, and handcrafted machetes. He also carried a kit of surveying instruments: a sextant and a chronometer for determining latitude and longitude, an aneroid for measuring atmospheric pressure, and a glycerin compass that could fit in his pocket. Fawcett had chosen each item based on years of experience; even the clothes he had packed were made of lightweight, tear-proof gabardine. He had seen men die from the most innocuous seeming oversight-a torn net, a boot that was too tight.

Fawcett was setting out into the Amazon, a wilderness nearly the size of the continental United States, to make what he called "the great discovery of the century"-a lost civilization. By then, most of the world had been explored, its veil of enchantment lifted, but the Amazon remained as mysterious as the dark side of the moon. As Sir John Scott Keltie, the former secretary of the Royal Geographical Society and one of the world's most acclaimed geographers at the time, noted, "What is there no one knows."

Ever since Francisco de Orellana and his army of Spanish conquistadores descended the Amazon River, in 1542, perhaps no place on the planet had so ignited the imagination-or lured men to their death. Gaspar de Carvajal, a Dominican friar who accompanied Orellana, described woman warriors in the jungle who resembled the mythical Greek Amazons. Half a century later, Sir Walter Raleigh spoke of Indians with "their eyes in their shoulders, and their mouths in the middle of their breasts"-a legend that Shakespeare wove into Othello:
Of the Cannibals that each other eat,
The Anthropophagi and men whose heads
Do grow beneath their shoulders.

What was true about the region-serpents as long as trees, rodents the size of pigs-was sufficiently beyond belief that no embellishment seemed too fanciful. And the most entrancing vision of all was of El Dorado. Raleigh claimed that the kingdom, which the conquistadores had heard about from Indians, was so plentiful in gold that its inhabitants ground the metal into powder and blew it "thorow hollow canes upon their naked bodies untill they be al shining from the foote to the head."

Yet each expedition that had tried to find El Dorado ended in disaster. Carvajal, whose party had been searching for the kingdom, wrote in his diary, "We reached a [state of] privation so great that we were eating nothing but leather, belts and soles of shoes, cooked with certain herbs, with the result that so great was our weakness that we could not remain standing." Some four thousand men died during that expedition alone, of starvation and disease, and at the hands of Indians defending their territory with arrows dipped in poison. Other El Dorado parties resorted to cannibalism. Many explorers went mad. In 1561, Lope de Aguirre led his men on a murderous rampage, screaming, "Does God think that, because it is raining, I am not going to_._._._destroy the world?" Aguirre even stabbed his own child, whispering, "Commend thyself to God, my daughter, for I am about to kill thee." Before the Spanish crown sent forces to stop him, Aguirre warned in a letter, "I swear to you, King, on my word as a Christian, that if a hundred thousand men came, none would escape. For the reports are false: there is nothing on that river but despair." Aguirre's companions finally rose up and killed him; his body was quartered, and Spanish authorities displayed the head of the "Wrath of God" in a steel cage. Still, for three centuries, expeditions continued to search, until, after a toll of death and suffering worthy of Joseph Conrad, most archeologists had concluded that El Dorado was no more than a delusion.

Fawcett, however, was certain that the Amazon contained a fabulous kingdom, and he was not another soldier of fortune or a crackpot. A man of science, he had spent years gathering evidence to prove his case-digging up artifacts, studying petroglyphs, and interviewing tribes. And after fierce battles with skeptics Fawcett had received funding from the most respected scientific institutions, including the Royal Geographical Society, the American Geographical Society, and the Museum of the American Indian. Newspapers were proclaiming that Fawcett would soon startle the world. The Atlanta Constitution declared, "It is perhaps the most hazardous and certainly the most spectacular adventure of the kind ever undertaken by a reputable scientist with the backing of conservative scientific bodies."

Fawcett had concluded that an ancient, highly cultured people still existed in the Brazilian Amazon and that their civilization was so old and sophisticated it would forever alter the Western view of the Americas. He had christened this lost world the City of Z. "The central place I call 'Z'-our main objective-is in a valley_._._._about ten miles wide, and the city is on an eminence in the middle of it, approached by a barreled roadway of stone," Fawcett had stated earlier. "The houses are low and windowless, and there is a pyramidal temple."

Reporters on the dock in Hoboken, across the Hudson River from Manhattan, shouted questions, hoping to learn the location of Z. In the wake of the technological horrors of the Great War, and amid the spread of urbanization and industrialization, few events so captivated the world. One newspaper exulted, "Not since the days when Ponce de Le—n crossed the unknown Florida in search of the Waters of Perpetual Youth_._._._has a more alluring adventure been planned."

Fawcett welcomed "the fuss," as he described it in a letter to a friend, but he was careful about how he responded. He knew that his main rival, Alexander Hamilton Rice, a multimillionaire American doctor who commanded vast resources, was already entering the jungle with an unprecedented array of equipment. The prospect of Dr. Rice finding Z terrified Fawcett. Several years earlier, Fawcett had watched as a colleague from the Royal Geographical Society, Robert Falcon Scott, had set out to become the first explorer to reach the South Pole, only to discover, shortly before he froze to death, that his Norwegian rival, Roald Amundsen, had beaten him by thirty-three days. In a recent letter to the Royal Geographical Society, Fawcett wrote, "I cannot say all I know, or even be precise as to locality, for these things leak out, and there can be nothing so bitter to the pioneer as to find the crown of his work anticipated."

He was also afraid that if he released details of his route, and others attempted to find Z or rescue him, it would result in countless deaths. An expedition of fourteen hundred armed men had previously vanished in the same region. A news bulletin telegraphed around the globe declared, "Fawcett Expedition_._._._to Penetrate Land Whence None Returned." And Fawcett, who was resolved to reach the most inaccessible areas, did not intend, like other explorers, to go by boat; rather, he planned to hack straight through the jungle on foot. The Royal Geographical Society had warned that Fawcett "is about the only living geographer who could successfully attempt" such an expedition and that "it would be hopeless for any people to follow in his footsteps." Before he left England, Fawcett confided to his younger son, Brian, "If with all my experience we can't make it, there's not much hope for others."

As reporters clamored around him, Fawcett explained that only a small expedition would have any chance of survival. It would be able to live off the land, and not pose a threat to hostile Indians. The expedition, he had stated, "will be no pampered exploration party, with an army of bearers, guides and cargo animals. Such top-heavy expeditions get nowhere; they linger on the fringe of civilization and bask in publicity. Where the real wilds start, bearers are not to be had anyway, for fear of the savages. Animals cannot be taken because of lack of pasture and the attack of insects and bats. There are no guides, for no one knows the country. It is a matter of cutting equipment to the absolute minimum, carrying it all oneself, and trusting that one will be able to exist by making friends with the various tribes one meets." He now added, "We will have to suffer every form of exposure._._._._We will have to achieve a nervous and mental resistance, as well as physical, as men under these conditions are often broken by their minds succumbing before their bodies."

Fawcett had chosen only two people to go with him: his twenty-one-year-old son, Jack, and Jack's best friend, Raleigh Rimell. Although they had never been on an expedition, Fawcett believed that they were ideal for the mission: tough, loyal, and, because they were so close, unlikely, after months of isolation and suffering, "to harass and persecute each other"-or, as was common on such expeditions, to mutiny. Jack was, as his brother Brian put it, "the reflection of his father": tall, frighteningly fit, and ascetic. Neither he nor his father smoked cigarettes or drank. Brian noted that Jack's "six feet three inches were sheer bone and muscle, and the three chief agents of bodily degeneration-alcohol, tobacco and loose living-were revolting to him." Colonel Fawcett, who followed a strict Victorian code, put it slightly differently: "He is_._._._absolutely virgin in mind and body."

Jack, who had wanted to accompany his father on an expedition since he was a boy, had spent years preparing-lifting weights, maintaining a rigid diet, studying Portuguese, and learning how to navigate by the stars. Still, he had suffered little real deprivation, and his face, with its luminescent skin, crisp mustache, and slick brown hair, betrayed none of the hardness of his father's. With his stylish clothes, he looked more like a movie star, which is what he hoped to become upon his triumphant return.

Raleigh, though smaller than Jack, was still nearly six feet tall and muscular. (A "fine physique," Fawcett told the R.G.S.) His father had been a surgeon in the Royal Navy and had died of cancer in 1917, when Raleigh was fifteen. Dark-haired, with a pronounced widow's peak and a riverboat gambler's mustache, Raleigh had a jocular, mischievous nature. "He was a born clown," said Brian Fawcett, the "perfect counterpart of the serious Jack." The two boys had been virtually inseparable since they roamed the Devonshire countryside around Seaton, England, where they grew up, riding bicycles and shooting rifles in the air. In a letter to one of Fawcett's confidants, Jack wrote, "Now we have Raleigh Rimell on board who is every bit as keen as I am._._._._He is the only intimate friend I have ever had. I knew him before I was seven years old and we have been more or less together ever since. He is absolutely honest and decent in every sense of the word and we know each other inside out."


From the Hardcover edition.

What People are Saying About This

Erik Larson

"David Grann's 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."--(Erik Larson, author of Thunderstruck, Devil in the White City and Isaac's Storm)

Nathaniel Philbrick

"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."--(Nathaniel Philbrick, author of Mayflower and In the Heart of the Sea)

Walter Isaacson

"A wonderfully researched true story about an intrepid adventurer, a colorful cast, and an obsession that grips both him and the author."--(Walter Isaacson, author of Einstein)

Candice Millard

"A fantastic story of courage, obsession, and mystery, THE LOST CITY OF Z is gripping from beginning to end. In the pantheon of classic exploration tales, this stands out as one of the best."--(Candice Millard, author The River of Doubt)

Hampton Sides

"What a wild and adventurous life! In the deft storytelling hands of David Grann, explorer Percy Fawcett emerges as one of the most ambitious, colorful, just plain intrepid figures ever to set foot in the New World. Part Indiana Jones, part Livingstone, and part Kit Carson, Fawcett has found his perfect biographer in Grann, who has gamely endured every conceivable Amazonian hardship to piece together the story of this British swashbuckler and his crazed search for a vanished civilization."--(Hampton Sides, author of Blood and Thunder and Ghost Soldiers)

Charles Mann

"Few things are better than experiencing a horrendous adventure from the comfort of your own armchair. Hordes of mosquitoes, poison-arrow attacks, bizarre and fatal diseases, spies in starched collars, hidden outposts of Atlantis -- what's not to like? The Lost City of Z is like a wonderful 19th-century tale of exotic danger -- except that David Grann's book is also a sensitively written biographical detective story, a vest pocket history of exploration, and a guide to the new archaeological research that is exploding our preconceptions of the Amazon and its peoples."--(Charles Mann, author of 1491)

Goodwin Doris Kearns

"With this riveting work, David Grann emerges on our national landscape as a major new talent. His superb writing style, his skills as a reporter, his masterful use of historical and scientific documents, and his stunning storytelling ability are on full display here, producing an endlessly absorbing tale about a magical subject that captivates from start to finish. This is a terrific book."--(Doris Kearns Goodwin, author of Team of Rivals)

Malcolm Gladwell

"The story of Z goes to the heart of the central questions of our age. In the battle between man and a hostile environment, who wins? A fascinating and brilliant book."--(Malcolm Gladwell, author of Blink and The Tipping Point)

Reading Group Guide

"Suspenseful. . . . Rollicking. . . . Reads with all the pace and excitement of a movie thriller" —The New York Times

The introduction, questions, and suggestions for further reading that follow are designed to enhance your group’s discussion of David Grann’s gripping account of the mysterious disappearance of Great Britain's last great gentleman explorer, Percy Harrison Fawcett.

1. Books about explorers, adventurers, and extreme risk-takers like Jon Krakauer’s Eiger Dreams and Into the Wild, Caroline Alexander’s The Endurance, Joe Simpson’s Touching the Void, Nathaniel Philbrick’s In the Heart of the Sea, Sebastian Junger’s A Perfect Storm, and many others, have become extremely popular in recent years. What are the appeals of such books? What qualities does The Lost City of Z share with books of this kind? In what ways does it differ from them?

2. After time away from the jungle, Fawcett wrote: “Inexplicably—amazingly—I knew I loved that hell. Its fiendish grasp had captured me, and I wanted to see it again” [p. 116]. What drove Fawcett to plunge himself again and again into the dangers of the Amazon? What is the main force that drives him—obsession with finding the lost city, desire to prove himself against his competitors, a need to escape the confines of civilization, a spiritual quest?

3. In what ways is Fawcett a symbolic figure? What values does he embody? In what ways does he represent many of both the best and worst qualities of the British Empire?

4. Grann notes that some anthropologists and historians consider Fawcett’s view of the Indians enlightened for his era while others saw him as unable to transcend the prevailing racism of his own culture. How does he regard the Indians he encounters? How does he treat them?

5. How do Fawcett’s expeditions affect his wife Nina? How does she see her role in relation to him? In what ways does she succumb to his obsessions?

6. In what ways does The Lost City of Z challenge conventional views of the Amazon? What does it suggest about the current state of archeological research in the region?

7. What are some of the most fascinating and/or dreadful features of the Amazon jungle revealed in The Lost City of Z? How has the jungle been changed since Europeans first made contact with it?

8. What does The Lost City of Z reveal about the power of obsession? In what ways does Fawcett’s obsession draw others into its deadly gravitational pull?

9. By what means does Grann maintain such a high level of suspense throughout the book? What does the interweaving of his own story—the story of his search for the truth about what happened to Fawcett and the story of his writing of the book itself—add to the total effect of The Lost City of Z?

10. After witnessing the mass carnage of World War I, Fawcett exclaims: “Civilization! Ye gods! To see what one has seen the word is an absurdity. It has been an insane explosion of the lowest human emotions” [p. 189]. In what ways does The Lost City of Z call into question conventional notions of civilization? What does it suggest about the supposed differences between advanced and primitive cultures?

11. What are Percy Harrison’s Fawcett’s most admirable qualities? What aspects of his character prove most troubling? Was James Murray right in accusing Fawcett of all but murdering him? [p. 139].

12. Near the end of the book, Grann writes about how biographers are often driven mad by the inability to fully comprehend their subjects. Of his own quest he says: “The finished story of Fawcett seemed to reside eternally beyond the horizon: a hidden metropolis of words and paragraphs, my own Z” [p. 303]. How well does Grann succeed in discovering and revealing the truth of Percy Fawcett?

13. Does Grann’s meeting with the anthropologist Michael Heckenberger in Kurikulo village confirm Fawcett’s belief in a lost ancient civilization? Is Fawcett’s search vindicated at last?


(For a complete list of available reading group guides, and to sign up for the Reading Group Center enewsletter, visit www.readinggroupcenter.com)

Interviews

Q&A with David Grann, author of The Lost City of Z

When did you first stumble upon the story of Percy Fawcett and his search for an ancient civilization in the Amazon-and when did you realize this particular story had you in "the grip"?

While I was researching a story on the mysterious death of the world's greatest Sherlock Holmes expert, I came upon a reference to Fawcett's role in inspiring Arthur Conan Doyle's novel "The Lost World." Curious, I plugged Fawcett's name into a newspaper database and was amazed by the headlines that appeared, including "THREE MEN FACE CANNIBALS IN RELIC QUEST" and tribesmen "Seize Movie Actor Seeking to Rescue Fawcett." As I read each story, I became more and more curious-about how Fawcett's quest for a lost city and his disappearance had captivated the world; how for decades hundreds of scientists and explorers had tried to find evidence of Fawcett's missing party and the City of Z; and how countless seekers had disappeared or died from starvation, diseases, attacks by wild animals, or poisonous arrows. What intrigued me most, though, was the notion of Z. For years most scientists had considered the brutal conditions in the largest jungle in the world inimical to humankind, but more recently some archeologists had begun to question this longstanding view and believed that a sophisticated civilization like Z might have existed. Such a discovery would challenge virtually everything that was believed about the nature of the Amazon and what the Americas looked liked before the arrival of Christopher Columbus. Suddenly, the story had every tantalizing element--mystery, obsession, death, madness-as well as great intellectualstakes. Still, I probably didn't realize I was fully in the story's "grip" until I told my wife that I planned to take out an extra life insurance policy and follow Fawcett's trail into the Amazon.


Tell us about the discovery of Fawcett's previously unpublished diaries and logbooks.

Researching the book often felt like a kind of treasure hunt and nothing was more exciting than coming across these materials in an old chest in the house of one of Fawcett's grandchildren. Fawcett, who had been a British spy, was extremely secretive about his search for Z-in part because he didn't want his rivals to discover the lost city before he did and in part because he feared that too many people would die if they tried to follow in his wake. These old, crumbling diaries and logbooks held incredible clues to both Fawcett's life and death; what's more, they revealed a key to his clandestine route to the Lost City of Z.

In an attempt to retrace Fawcett's journey, many scientists and explorers have faced madness, kidnapping, and death. Did you ever hesitate to go to the Amazon?

I probably should have been more hesitant, especially after reading some of the diaries of members of other parties that had scoured the Amazon for a lost city. One seeker of El Dorado described reaching a state of "privation so great that we were eating nothing but leather, belts and soles of shoes, cooked with certain herbs, with the result that so great was our weakness that we could not remain standing." In that expedition alone, some four thousand men perished. Other explorers resorted to cannibalism. One searcher went so mad he stabbed his own child, whispering, "Commend thyself to God, my daughter, for I am about to kill thee." But to be honest, even after reading these accounts, I was so consumed by the story that I did not think much about the consequences-and one of the themes I try to explore in the book is the lethal nature of obsession.

When you were separated from your guide Paolo on the way to the Kuikuro village and seemingly lost and alone in the jungle, what was going through your mind?

Besides fear, I kept wondering what the hell I was doing on such a mad quest.

Paolo and you made a game of imagining what happened to Fawcett in the Amazon. Without giving anything away about the Lost City of Z, I was wondering if you came away with any final conclusions?

I don't want to give too much away; but, after poring over Fawcett's final letters and dispatches from the expedition and after interviewing many of the tribes that Fawcett himself had encountered, I felt as if I had come as close as possible to knowing why Fawcett and his party vanished.

In his praise for your book, Malcolm Gladwell asks a "central question of our age": "In the battle between man and a hostile environment, who wins?" Obviously, the jungle has won many times, but it seems man may be gaining. What are your thoughts on the deforestation taking place in the Amazon?

It is a great tragedy. Over the last four decades in Brazil alone, the Amazon has lost some two hundred and seventy thousand square miles of its original forest cover-an area bigger than France. Many tribes, including some I visited, are being threatened with extinction. Countless animals and plants, many of them with potential medicinal purposes, are also vanishing. One of the things that the book explores is how early Native American societies were often able to overcome their hostile environment without destroying it. Unfortunately, that has not been the case with the latest wave of trespassers.

You began this journey as a man who doesn't like to camp and has "a terrible sense of direction and tend[s] to forget where [you are] on the subway and miss[es] [your] stop in Brooklyn." Are you now an avid outdoorsman?

No. Once was enough for me!

Early in the book, you write, "Ever since I was young, I've been drawn to mystery and adventure tales." What have been some of your favorite books-past and present-that fall into this category?

I'm a huge Sherlock Holmes fan, and every few years go back and read the stories again. I do the same with many of Joseph Conrad's novels, including "Lord Jim." I'm always amazed at how he produced quest novels that reflected the Victorian era and yet seem to have been written with the wisdom of a historian looking back in time. As for more contemporary authors, I read a lot of crime fiction, especially the works of George Pelecanos and Michael Connelly. I also relish books, such as Jonathan Lethem's "Motherless Brooklyn," that cleverly play with this genre. Finally, there are the gripping yarns written by authors like Jon Krakauer and Nathaniel Philbrick-stories that are all the more spellbinding because they are true.

Brad Pitt and Paramount optioned The Lost City of Z in the spring. Any updates?

They have hired a screenwriter and director and seem to be moving forward at a good clip.

What are you working on now?

I recently finished a couple of crime stories for The New Yorker, including one about a Polish author who allegedly committed murder and then left clues about the real crime in his novel. Meanwhile, I'm hoping to find a tantalizing story, like "The Lost City of Z," that will lead to a new book.

Anything else you'd like to add?

Just that I hope that readers will enjoy "The Lost City of Z" and find the story of Fawcett and his quest as captivating as I did.

Introduction

"Suspenseful. . . . Rollicking. . . . Reads with all the pace and excitement of a movie thriller" —The New York Times

The introduction, questions, and suggestions for further reading that follow are designed to enhance your group’s discussion of David Grann’s gripping account of the mysterious disappearance of Great Britain's last great gentleman explorer, Percy Harrison Fawcett.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews

The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 164 reviews.
LN_Adcox More than 1 year ago
This book revives a once popular figure that time had reduced to obscurity - Percy Harrison Fawcett. It describes his early explorations in parts of Bolivia, Brazil and Peru - usually just referred to as "the Amazon". It describes what is known of Fawcett's last exploration to find El Dorado as well as expeditions by others to find El Dorado or to discover the fate of Fawcett, his son Jack, and his son's friend Raleigh. Part of the attraction of the book is the presentation of the unique character of Fawcett. He proves that truth can be stranger than fiction. Fawcett was tougher than the fictitious Indiana Jones although Fawcett maintained the way to survive attacks by the most hostile natives was to refuse to fight them. He and his handful of companions in all but his final journey survived almost unbelievable odds and hardships through his mental and physical strength. It was obvious that Fawcett could be admired from a distance, but was probably justifiably seen as insensitive, obsessed and ruthless by his traveling companions. Part of the attraction of the book is the reconstruction of the era of the amateur, gentleman explorer, the public's fascination with them, and the Royal Geographical Society and similar organizations that funded them. The book also dispelled some of the romantic notions about expeditions to the Amazon. I might be willing to subject myself to the stereotyped hardships - heat, thirst, hunger, snakes, crocodiles, violent natives and even piranhas. However, after reading about the hordes of bloodthirsty mosquitoes, gnats, bees, ants and termites intent on leaving victims gory and blind, gruesome flies that plant maggots beneath the skin, and horrific vampire bats that swoop down in packs to rip flesh open, I was left amazed that anyone that had somehow survived such horror once would be willing to face it again. The reader is somewhat discouraged throughout the book as the ending appears to be apparent. The obvious assumption is that Fawcett's luck finally ran out and he and his party were violently killed by hostile natives. Also El Dorado obviously was never found or the discovery would have been heralded. The author's determination to discover the actual route of the Fawcett party leads to a surprise ending that justifies Fawcett's obsession and his revival from obscurity.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am just a quarter through this excellent nonfiction, and I find that it easily explains through its wonderful writings the difference between the more honorable geographical explorers such as Fawcett (who was backed by the British Royal Georgraphic Society) compared to the Conquistadors such as Aguirre backed by Euroimperials. With Fawcett, the concept of "Z" (El Dorado) being a more anthrolopological expedition (rather than just metallic gold) to prove without doubt that human intelligence can exist and flourish within the deepest jungle (as opposed to the suggestion that primitivism as a result of some sort of human breakdown by the jungle can only exist). (The anthropological cultural significance can be compared to the current Coe's writings in their "The True History of Chocolate" where they found evidence that during the imperial time period, that the indigenous South Americans were as the Coe's wrote "light years" ahead of Europeans in the areas of medicine/botanics due to Europeans hanging on to ancient Greek medicinal codes). Fawcett's quest for "Z" a "City of Gold" was a search to prove that there is a highly advanced civilization in the deepest jungles. Of course, to find such a civilization or even a real city of gold, would be a treacherous undertaking as in mythological comparisions, or by the realities of learning to survive in a foreign place, a dense jungle, and with deadly obstacles brought in from the outside, or rather nearer to his own home country and other parts of Europe. The book suggests that during Fawcett's times, intelligence was seen as a culture that could create planes and trains, something beyond the normal scope of every day life. However, it is noted that some during that time period also believed an advanced culture such as "Z" could not be seen by those much less intelligent. (This is probably why they expected Fawcett could find it as he was supposed to be quite smart with some sort of patented technology he created to increase pace for the shipping industry). Fawcett propbably thought he would find "Z" since he took his son on the expedition. "The Lost City of Z" also gives quite a background of Fawcett and his culture as well as what was going on in the areas of his explorations such as the notorious rubber industry in South America. I had for the first time I can remember a dream that was influenced by a book. I actually had a dream regarding "The Lost City of Z" that caused me to further understand the explorers view and obsession with finding an advanced civilization, and that it probably may exist, though I would not try to find it. It is a book that really helps one understand a lot of issues including cultural issues, and the search for something enlightening. I am looking forward to reading the rest of this book. It is one of the best books I have ever read. Other interesting readings related to this: "Tears of the Tree: The Story of Rubber: A Modern Marvel" by John Loadman (Oxford University Press, 2005)
KrisPA More than 1 year ago
This is a great read. Grann has written the type of nonfiction book that I like the most--he has all these little side stories and interesting tidbits of history that are extra information but still fit the main subject of the story. I enjoyed all of it--the history of Percy Fawcett (who sounds like a hell of a guy), the investigation by the author, the detailed accounts of all the nasty bugs and animals there (the flesh-eating maggots had to be the worst). This is a great adventure/mystery book. I enjoyed the information about the archaelogical finds in the Amazon and Grann even touched on the deforestation of the Amazon without sounding preachy or crazy. This is a good book, lots of details, and I had a hard time putting it down.
TrishNYC More than 1 year ago
This book chronicles the quest of Percy Harrison Fawcett to find the lost city of El Dorado which he nicknamed the city of Z. Fawcett had been told of a legendary city so "enormously rich in gold-so much so as to blaze like a fire". This began his life long obsession to find this mythical place. He embarked on his first South American expedition when he was commissioned by the Royal Geographic Society to map the border between Bolivia and Brazil. It was an arduous trip but he surprised everyone by completing the task in half the estimated time. He later embarked on a mission to find the source of the Rio Verde. It was a hellish trip where he and his crew were ravaged by insects, a brutal trek through the forest and biting hunger. At a certain point in the journey, they were forced to do away with all but the basic necessities. They even abandoned any food that they could not immediately carry believing that they would be able to live off the land, it was after all the forest and they assumed that it would be teeming with animals they could hunt and eat. But they discover to their dismay that this forest was inhospitable. The trees drained all the nutrients out of the soil leaving the jungle floor in almost total darkness. Animals avoided the jungle floor and Fawcett and his team found themselves hungry most of the time. But upon returning home from this ordeal he was soon restless again. He said " It was the voice of the wild places and I knew that it was now a part of me forever. Inexplicably, amazing, I knew I loved that hell. Its fiendish grasp had captured me and I wanted to see it again". Of all the expeditions that Fawcett would embark on, the search for Z would be his most important. He researched and gathered information that he believed supported his theory of Z and after he secured some funding he again set off for the Amazon. He took with him his son Jack and Jack's best friend Raleigh Rimmel. They received a rousing sendoff from the world's media and were treated like celebrities everywhere they went. But once they reached the Amazon and had sent out a few communiques, they were never heard from again. After the disappearance of the Fawcett party, many initiatives were launched to find them or news of them. Some who survived came back with tales of Fawcett's death by Indians, some said he had been kidnapped by Indians. Some even claimed that there was evidence that Fawcett had indeed found Z. There was even a purported sighting of a child believed to be Jack Fawcett's son. Someone even claimed to have found Fawcett's bones which later turned out to be the bones of a long dead Indian. This story is fascinating in all its essentials. Its heartbreakingly sad how this man was so consumed by the idea of this city that he followed it to his and his family's destruction. Regardless of how he met his end, we can tell that it was most likely not a happy one. He left behind a wife who died in extreme poverty, a son who continued to seek his father's approval by trying to continue his father's work and a daughter who never got to know her father. It is impossible not to admire many aspects of Fawcett's personality. He was a very hard worker, he was undeterred by the constant rejection that he faced in his search to achieve this goal and he serves as a model for never giving up. But in this case, never giving up proves to be his greatest undoing as passion became obsession very quickly. Amazing read that enlig
QuetziXica12 More than 1 year ago
I read this book when it first came out & I just couldn't put it down! Even though the main characters are real people, this book reads like a Suspense Novel! I sat up to the wee hours of the morning until I finished reading this book. I couldn't stop reading until I found out everything that happened! David Grann talks about the Amazon with such passion that you can't help but feeling like you are right there inside the pages of this book. It's a "must read!"
Sabin More than 1 year ago
A great mix of the past and present. I found Grann's writing style very absorbing and very hard to put down! You not only get to follow the steps of a famous explorer lost long ago, but also get to follow the author as he searches for clues to what happened to Fawcett and if his lost city in South America can be found. This is pretty much a true adventure book! I really could picture myself with both Fawcett and Grann fighting my way through jungles of the past. It would make a great book to take on a backpacking, camping, hiking trip!
Hack More than 1 year ago
The classic story of one man acting on his beliefs and going against the traditional thinking of his time. It was very rewarding to learn that Colonel Fawcett was correct in his beliefs about about civilization in the Amazon. This book made me realize how the traditionalist thinking of government and academia resist the advancement of knowledge to preserve their invested positions and beliefs. Mankind's knowledge advances despite these institutions due to the courage of individuals that are willing to go against the conventional and traditional thinking promoted by these instigutions. A VERY good read!
Twink More than 1 year ago
Subtitled: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon -- Who hasn't watched the movies where an explorer or adventurer discovers a lost world or civilization? I personally am fascinated by the whole idea that there may still be some untouched or unfound something out there. The Lost City of Z isn't fiction - it's an incredible true story. In 1925 famed explorer Percy Fawcett set out to find the fabled city of El Dorado or as he referred to it - The Lost City of Z. Dispatches were sent back documenting his journey for the first two years, but then he and his expedition vanished - no trace of them ever to be heard of again. Many others followed, looking for Fawcett or his golden city. None have ever found it. David Grann, a staff writer for the New Yorker magazine, became enthralled with Fawcett's story as well. Grann discovers some of Fawcett's old journals that give him additional information on Fawcett's planned expedition. He decides to head to the Amazon himself and trace the explorer's route. What follows is an absolutely riveting tale. The history of Fawcett and other adventurers bent on mapping and mastering the Amazon is utterly fascinating. The book alternates between Fawcett's time, drawing on newspapers, journals and letters to present a real picture of his time and Grann's own growing obsession and pilgrimage. I had to keep reminding myself that this was real - documented history. I honestly couldn't put it down. Does he discover what happened to Fawcett and his lost party - well I'll leave that for you to explore. Brad Pitt is rumoured to be starring in a film version of The Lost City of Z coming out in 2010.
SeattleSlackkey More than 1 year ago
Well written with an excellent pace despite a barrage of factoids and dates, this well researched book provides a peek into the psyche and motivations of all those individuals that call themselves "explorers". Structured around a biography of the mysterious disappearance of British explorer Percy Fawcett while searching for the lost city of Z, the author does a great job of weaving the culture and prevailing thinking of the times and the mystery of the wilderness around the Amazon River.
ilikegoodbooks More than 1 year ago
This is a great story and yes it was well written and keeps the reader turning the pages, but there was too much about grann's personal expedition into the jungle, that to me got in the way of the what should have been the main Fawcett story. The payoff of what grann's reports as the possible Lost City of Z is not believable to me, but that is my personal opinion. I wan to read a book that actually discovers the Lost City of Z. I want to find out out exactly what the lights that never went out were. Something that Grann doesn't achieve in his book. But all may not, like the City of Z, be lost, as a new book called Amazon Adventure by Ben Hammott is due for release shortly. http://www.fawcettadventure.com (Fiction) The book actually continues Fawcett's journey into the jungle from Dead Horse Camp, Fawcett's last known possession, to reach the Lost City and to go inside. If handle well it should be a good read. I have read Hammott's previous book, Lost Tomb of the Knights Templar, http://www.benhammott.com it was one of my best reads of 2009, so I have no doubt that Hammott's Amazon Adventure will do the story justice.
iluvvideo More than 1 year ago
A meticulously researched chronicle of Colonel Percy Fawcett and his many expeditions into the Amazon at the turn of the century. He was an extraordinary man; a quick learner, possessor of an iron will, steely determination and an unrivaled confidence in his abilities. He truly went where none had gone before. This is the story of his education by the Royal Geographic Society, his many expeditions into the Amazon jungles, and finally his search for the spectacular Lost City of Z. It tells of his family, colleagues and later the researchers who tried to find him and any trace of his final lost expedition. You get the feeling that you are step in step with Fawcett in his travels, with occasional insights into the how and why of his world. Later, the author, a non-traveler, takes his own journey to the Amazon jungle to try and follow Fawcett and possibly find out definitively what became of him. Does he succeed? It's well worth the time to find out!
EttaProse More than 1 year ago
"The Lost City of Z" is a very intriguing book. It is a book that is difficult to put down. But you had better be sure you have the stomach for it. If you can't take reading about the excruciating agony caused by "the "vampire fish of Brazil" (the candiru), that finds its way into human orifices (e.g. anus, penis or vagina) and "latches on irrevocably" to drink the blood of its victim... or maggots growing inside human flesh that peek out occasionally (to get their bearings?)... then you'd better forget this one. I must say, though page turner that this book is, I grew very weary of the famous Percy Harrison Fawcett's obsession. And angry that he dragged his wife, his son (and others) down with him. The wind up , by David Grann, however, was very satisfying.
hasenbusch More than 1 year ago
Percy Fawcett was an explorer who went in search of a city of gold in the Amazon. He died at the age of 57 when he, his son, and his son's best friend went deeper and farther into the Amazon than anyone else. This story is better than Indiana Jones and more horrific. The mosquitoes, bugs, insects, animals, disease was atrocious. Piranhhas and another water but that would enter a person's rectum or enter the penis would be shear torture and a horribly way to die. Insects would penetrate eyes and lips and there would be no end to this even with netting and tight fitting clothing. In addition natives and tribes of all kinds were hostile and Percy Fawcett had a way to show a sign of peace. Percy entered the war and saw hundreds and hundreds of men die in battle piled one on one. After Percy never returned there were hundreds more people trying to find him and the lost city of z and died tryihg. This is a book I couldn't put down. I read 300 pages the first night and the second 300 pages the next night. It's the best book I've ever read right up there with Robert E. Howard's works. If you never read another book in your life you've got to read this one. Believe me you'll never forget this book. I believe it's going to be made into a movie and might have Brad Pitt star in it. This is what I heard through the grapevine. Enjoy and don't even think about doing what Percy Fawcett did.
silverfox67 More than 1 year ago
A well-written, although sometimes hard to follow, account of the attempts by British explorer, Percy Fawcett, to find the location of an ancient city that was supposedly inhabited by an advanced and very wealthy Indian civilization. His efforts are reported by the book's author, David Grann, who attempts to track Fawcett's last journey into the Amazon river region of Brazil where Fawcett and his companion were lost and never heard from again. The descriptions of Fawcett's courage, determination and perseverance are remarkable and mark him as a truly special person. He was also strongly supported in every way by his wife who, to her death many years after his disappearance, never gave up hope that her husband was still alive and would someday return. A good adventure story that provided an insight into the mentality of those who risk their lives and suffer greatly while trying to increase the world's knowledge of little-known places and societies.
readeranna More than 1 year ago
Highly recommended... a great mix of adventure, history, and biography. Very well researched and I loved learning about not only Fawcett but other explorers from the late 18th/early 19th century. Very well written as well.
grumpydan More than 1 year ago
I never heard of the British explorer Percy Fawcett before picking up this book. But I learned so much about him and the obsession as the many followers who either tried to locate the missing explorer in the Amazon jungle or theorize what had become of him. David Grann did a wonderful job of researching this individual and has written a straight forward history of the man and his mission. He has also made it exciting as he tries to make the same journey into the Amazon and records his own tales and findings. This is a very interesting book.
Anonymous 4 months ago
Couldn’t put it down!
Anonymous 6 months ago
Very well written and researched . I had a very hard time putting it down
JuliW 12 months ago
Percy Fawcett, a famous British explorer in the 20th century, disappeared into the Amazon jungle with his son and his son's best friend in 1925. Fawcett was searching for an ancient lost city that he called Z. The 3 men were never seen again. Over the decades after their disappearance, several teams and even individuals ventured into the dense jungle to find the famed explorer. Some of them reappeared weeks or months later sick and emaciated, and some were never seen again. No real trace of Fawcett was ever found. Plenty of rumors and lies......but no bodies or real evidence as to their fate. Fawcett's wife was never the same again. Flash forward to modern times, and New Yorker writer David Grann also goes to the Amazon jungle in search of evidence of Fawcett's fate. I love history and tales of the old style explorers....the men who trekked off into the unknown just because it was unknown. Not the sort of people who explored to make money, or to gain renown. But real explorers....the ones who mapped the world, discovered indigenous peoples and didn't plot to murder them all or evangelize them, the ones who climbed, trekked and discovered new places just because they were there. Fawcett was one of these men. Unfortunately, as with many explorers, his belief in himself, his obsession with his quest and his feelings of invincibility eventually caught up with him -- and he took two young men with him. He escaped fate multiple times.....but it catches up with everyone eventually. In 1925, he walked into the jungle in a valiant attempt to search for the Lost City of Z that he knew to his soul was there, and disappeared forever into the mysteries and tall tales that grow from such stories. Just a head's up for readers -- this is not a fictionalized story. This is a non-fiction account of the history of exploration in the Amazon jungle, the story of Fawcett's life and treks around the world, the fate of other explorers of the time, facts about his son and friend that went along on the 1925 trip, and the aftermath of the disappearance. There is also an accounting of David Grann's trip to the Amazon to glean facts about the fate of Fawcett, the local indigenous peoples and how the area has changed since the 1920s. Readers who don't like historical accounts of facts and information might want to pass this book by. But, for those who enjoy history....this story is awesome!! I loved this book! Anyone who enjoyed Douglas Preston's recent book, The Lost City of the Monkey God, will also enjoy this book. I listened to the audiobook version of this book. Read by Mark Deakins, the audio is just over 10 hours long. Deakins reads at a nice pace with an even, pleasant tone. I have hearing loss but was easily able to understand this entire book. It is obvious that Grann did a lot of detailed research into Amazon exploration, Fawcett and many other treks around the world at the time. He gives details of Fawcett's journals and news stories from the time, and information gleaned from Amazon natives and others. Such an interesting and intriguing story!! Because the book includes information gleaned from writings, journals and other sources from the time, there are some racist overtones in portions of this story. Many scientists, explorers, politicians, journalists -- hell, even the general white populus -- viewed indigenous peoples (or people of color in general) as lesser human beings, stating that there is no possible way they ever created a large soc
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Grann's comprehensive research and personal daring provide the basis for a novelistic account of the many follies and fantasies of Amazon exploration -- with strong hints of the tragic demise of a magnificent civilization.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A adventure
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Buzzy88 More than 1 year ago
I chose to read this when I heard about it on a program called Science Friday. It was absorbing, frightening, fascinating, and in some ways horrifying. I really wanted to keep reading beyond the end. It's a tale about obsession but I was also obsessed about reading it. I do not, however, EVER want to go to the Amazon.