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The Afterword: For those who need to do a little brushing up on their explorers, who was Percy Fawcett?

He was the last of the great territorial explorers who ventured into blank spots on the map with little more than a machete, a compass, and an almost divine sense of purpose. During the first quarter of the twentieth century, he explored the Amazon, a wilderness area virtually the size of the continental United States. He became convinced that this impenetrable jungle concealed the remnants of an ancient civilization, which he named, simply, the City of Z. In 1925, he set out to find it with his twenty-one-year-old son and his son's best friend. They never returned, giving rise to what has been described as "the greatest exploration mystery of the twentieth century."

What drew you to him?

Several years ago I read that Fawcett had been one of the real-life inspirations for 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 came up, 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 disappearance had once captivated the world, how hundreds of scientists and adventurers tried to find Fawcett's party and the City of Z, and how countless seekers died or disappeared in the process. What intrigued me most, though, was the notion of Z. For years, most scientists had dismissed Fawcett's theory, insisting that conditions in the jungle were too brutal to support a complex society. But recently some archeologists had begun to challenge this long-held belief and thought that a place like Z might really have existed -- a discovery that would transform our understanding of what the Americas looked liked before the arrival of Christopher Columbus. Suddenly, the mystery seemed irresistible.
    -INTERVIEW: Q&A with David Grann, author of The Lost City of Z (Mark Medley, March 26, 2009, National Post)
My freshman Fall at Colgate, as we were supposed to be studying for finals, I read To Your Scattered Bodies Go and became fascinated with the great British explorer/adventurer/author Sir Richard Francis Burton. The school library had three biographies and I read them all, though the best would not come out until the early 90s, by Edward Rice. I've also enjoyed William Harrison's novelization of Burton's troubled relationship with John Hanning Speke, movie version of same. Went through a Henry Morton Stanley phase too, after reading Peter Forbath's terrific novel, The Last Hero. Then during a travel book phase--brought on largely by the high quality of the Vintage Departures series--I read Joe Kane's Amazon books and Redmond O'Hanlon's hilarious, In Trouble Again: A Journey Between Orinoco and the Amazon. And I yield to no one in my enthusiasm for both Werner Herzog's jungle films--Fitzcarraldo and Aguirre, The Wrath of God--and John Boorman's Emerald Forest. So I get why David Grannwas so captivated when he read about the last great Victorian explorer, Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett, who disappeared on a well-publicized 1926 expedition to find a supposed advanced but lost civilization deep in the Amazon. But here's the thing--reading about the miserable experiences that those explorers and travelers went through never made me want to trace their steps the way Mr. Grann does in this outstanding book.

Really, it's almost two books, because he gives us a thorough biography of Fawcett and intercuts it with his own somewhat ridiculous to find the lost city of Z. The author is a bookish and sedentary New Yorker who leaves wife and young child behind as he plunges into the Amazon himself. It would be almost slapstick if he hadn't managed to make some apparently important discoveries about Fawcett's fate and about Z. At any rate, the text is a success on both levels--bio and travelogue--even if it doesn't tempt us out of our armchairs.


Grade: (A+)


See also:

David Grann Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: David Grann
    -David Grann (The New Yorker)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: David Grann (IMDB)
    -ESSAY: The Lost City of Z: A quest to uncover the secrets of the Amazon. (David Grann September 19, 2005, The New Yorker)
    -ESSAY: Finding the lost city: Does the Amazon jungle conceal a vanished empire? (David Grann, February 22, 2009 , Boston Globe)
    -GOOGLE BOOK: Lost City of Z
    -BOOK SITE: The Lost City of Z (Random House)
    -WIKIPEDIA: Lost City of Z
    -EXCERPT: from The Lost City of Z: We Shall Return
    -ESSAY: The Mark of a Masterpiece: The man who keeps finding famous fingerprints on uncelebrated works of art. (David Grann, 7/12/10, The New Yorker)
    -ESSAY: The Chameleon: The many lives of Frédéric Bourdin. (David Grann August 11, 2008, The New Yorker)
    -ESSAY: Inside Dope: Mark Halperin and the transformation of the Washington establishment. (David Grann October 25, 2004, The New Yorker)
    -ESSAY: The Squid Hunter: Can Steve O’Shea capture the sea’s most elusive creature? (David Grann May 24, 2004, The New Yorker)
    -ESSAY: Trial by Fire: Did Texas execute an innocent man? (David Grann September 7, 2009, The New Yorker)
    -ESSAY: The Fall: John McCain’s choices. (David Grann November 17, 2008, The New Yorker)
    -ESSAY: Giving "The Devil" His Due: For several years in the early 1990s U.S. intelligence maintained close ties with a Hatian named Emmanuel "Toto" Constant, the founder of a savage paramilitary group that has been held responsible for a prolonged wave of killings and other atrocities. Toto Constant today walks the streets of Queens, a free man. How did he come to find refuge in the United States? Who has been holding up his deportation? (David Grann, June 2001, Atlantic
    -ESSAY: The Selling of the Scandal (David Grann September 28, 1998, New Republic)
    -INTERVIEW: A Q&A with Author David Grann (
    -PODCAST: with David Grann (Washington Post Book World)
    -INTERVIEW: Q&A with David Grann, author of The Lost City of Z (Mark Medley, March 26, 2009, National Post)
    -INTERVIEW: Secrets of the Lost City of Z: In 1925 a Famed British Explorer Entered the Amazon Jungle and Was Never Seen Again; Now His Fate May Finally Be Known (CBS Morning News, 2/21/10)
    -LECTURE: David Grann (Book TV)
    -LECTURE: David Grann (
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: David Grann (MPR, 4/13/09)
    -INTERVIEW: Interview With David Grann: ‘The Lost City of Z’: Travel Interviews: Frank Bures asks the author about exploring the Amazon, writing and the difference between real and faux quests (Frank Bures, 3/03/09, WorldHum)
    -ARTICLE: Google Earth helps find El Dorado: For nearly 500 years, explorers have hunted in vain for a lost city— now with Google Earth, it may have been found (Ed Caesar, 1/10/10, Times of London)
The journal Antiquity has published a report showing more than 200 massive earthworks in the upper Amazon basin near Brazil’s border with Bolivia. From the sky it looks as if a series of geometric figures has been carved into the earth, but the archeologists and historians who published the report believe these shapes are the remains of roads, bridges, moats, avenues and squares that formed the basis for a sophisticated civilisation spanning 155 miles, which could have supported a population of 60,000. The remains date from AD200 to 1283.

It is an astonishing find — one that builds on recent archeological work in Brazil and northern Bolivia and the availability of Google Earth images of deforested sections of the Amazon. Since the 1980s anthropologists have begun to uncover evidence of advanced civilisations who lived in the Amazon basin: this latest development trumps them all.

David Grann, author of The Lost City of Z, believes the importance of this discovery cannot be overstated. “It shatters the prevailing notions of what the Amazon looked like before the arrival of Christopher Columbus,” he says.

    -INTERVIEW: Jungle Fever: Search For Missing Amazon Explorer Becomes Writer's 'Deadly Obsession' (DAVE HOLAHAN, 3/08/09, Hartford Courant)
    -INTERVIEW: Explorer's 'Deadly Obsession' With Lost City (NPR, February 24, 2009)
    -INTERVIEW: David Grann Finds the Story of Z (Dave Weich,
    -AWARD: Michael Kelly Award
    -ARCHIVES: David Grann (NPR)
    -ARCHIVES: David Grann (New Republic)
    -REVIEW: of The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann (Michiko Kakutani, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Lost City (Karla Starr, LA Times)
    -REVIEW: of Lost City (Marie Arana, Washington Post)
    -REVIEW: of Lost City (Oscar Villalon , NPR)
    -REVIEW: of Lost City (Gideon Lewis-Kraus, BookForum)
    -REVIEW: of Lost City (Jeremy Kutner, CS Monitor)
    -REVIEW: of Lost City (Phyllis Meras, ProJo)
    -REVIEW: of Lost City (Ann Robinson, The Oregonian )
    -REVIEW: of Lost City (Andrew Anthony, The Observer)
    -REVIEW: of Lost City (Simon Winchester, WSJ)
    -REVIEW: of Lost City (Casey Downing, Curator)
    -REVIEW: of Lost City (Alexander Cuadros, SF Chronicle)
    -REVIEW: of The Lost City of Z by David Grann (Greg Grandin, The Nation)
    -REVIEW: of Lost City (Jeffrey Burke, Bloomberg)
    -REVIEW: of Lost City (Don Oldenburg, USA Today)
    -REVIEW: of Lost City (Roger K. Miller, The Denver Post)
    -REVIEW: of Lost City (Rich Cohen, Washington Post)
    -REVIEW: of Lost City (Bill Marvel, Dallas Morning News)
    -REVIEW: of Lost City (Robert Colville, The Telegraph)
    -REVIEW: of Lost City (Barbara Bamberger Scott, Bookreporter)
    -REVIEW: of Lost City (Chauncey Mabe, Orlando Sentinel)
    -REVIEW: of Lost City (Lev Grossman, TIME)
    -REVIEW: of Lost City (Mike Dash, Fortean Times)
    -REVIEW: of Lost City (Jonathan Miles, Mens Journal)
    -REVIEW: of Lost City (Kirsten Alexander, Open Salon)
    -REVIEW: of Lost City (ABC: Book Show)
    -REVIEW: of Lost City (Andrew Westoll, Globe & Mail)
    -REVIEW: of Lost City (Thom Gieir, EW)
    -REVIEW: of Lost City (Paul LaFarge, Barnes & Noble Review)
    -REVIEW: of Lost City ()
    -REVIEW ARCHIVES: of Lost City (Reviews of Books)
    -REVIEW: of The Devil and Sherlock Holmes by David Grann (Daily Beast)
    -REVIEW: of Devil and Sherlock Holmes (Keith Staskiewicz , EW)
    -REVIEW: of Devil and Sherlock Holmes (Nancy Kilenger, Miami Herald)
    -REVIEW: of Devil and Sherlock Holmes (Bilge Ebiri, Book Forum)
    -REVIEW: of Devil and Sherlock Holmes (Edward Morris, Book Page)

Book-related and General Links:

    -REVIEW ESSAY: Reading the Travelogues of Percy Fawcett, Explorer of the Lost City of Z: A.J. Lees on Exploration Fawcett (A.J. Lees, October 6, 2020, Lit Hub)