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[711] The Lost City of Z – David Grann


” Despite the vastness of the Amazon, it seemed unable to accommodate all of these explorers’ egos and ambitions. The men tended to eye one another hawkishly, jealously guarding their routes for fear of being beaten to a discovery. They even conducted reconnaissance on each other’s activities. (Ch.14: The Case for Z, p.165)

The Lost City of Z concerns one of the greatest exploration mystery of the 20th century, the disappearance of British explorer Percy Fawcett, who in 1925 ventured into the Amazon jungle in search of a fabled civilization he believed located deep in the deadly wilderness. Expeditions like Fawcett’s were not fueled by the simple need to get as far away as possible, but more by an inner thirst, an obsession for uncharted realms.

Percy Fawce3tt certainly got the jones for hunting. He’s by no means a treasure hunter, but was hooked by the notion of treasure hunting in general. He was a man of science whose interest lied in civilization. He began with the Royal Geographic Society, which was in the process of mapping the globe. The society, which taught him cartography, surveying, mounting, and executing expedition, was responsible for turning him into an explorer. On his first trip to the Amazon in 1906, Fawcett was charged with fixing the border between Brazil and Bolivia. He made repeated trips to the region to fulfill obligation to the RGS.

Financial ruin, destitution, starvation, cannibalism, murder, death: these seemed to be the only real manifestations of El Dorado. A a chronicler said of several seekers. ‘They marched like madmen from place to place, until overcome by exhaustion and lack of strength they could no longer move from one side to the other, and they remained there, wherever this sad siren voice had summoned them, self-important, and dead. (Ch.15: El Dorado, p.174)

In the course of his cartography travels, Fawcett heard whispers of a kingdom, a civilization overgrown and forgotten. He began spotting clues everywhere, in the customs of the Indians, in oral histories and legends, Intertwined with the story of Fawcett’s chasing his mirage is Grann’s own pursuit, 80 years later, to the explorer’s chasing after a ruined empire, but with a more practical look at the Amazon that complies with science. Grann offers a valid but grim view of why Fawcett’s pursuit might not have been a feasible one. The jungle itself, so inimical and inhospitable, not only imposes on explorers severe survival challenges, but also refutes Fawcett’s theory that primitive Indian tribes could have constructed any sort of sophisticated society.

Grann examines numerous subjects, revolving around the Amazon jungle, that seem more and more mythical. The jungle itself might have resisted human’s effort to tame it, but the jungle’s wilderness is also a metaphor that can be glimpsed but never charted. In other word, Fawcett’s story is about how an ordinary person with boundless imagination can become tedious. He remains a legend also because an estimated 100 would-be-rescuers perished in more than 13 expeditions sent to to uncover his fate. The book follows a predictable pattern and paces evenly. Grann follows Fawcett’s twists and turns admirable in this thoroughly researched book of part memoir, part history and part cultural studies.

400 pp. Vintage Books. Paper. [Read|Skim|Toss] [Buy|Borrow]

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