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Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Lost City of Z--David Grann




I had read about this book last year when there was a huge amount of hype.  I'm highly allergic to hype--I break-out in all sort of unpleasant spots and rashes.  I stayed far, far away for fear of the hype-allergens.

Strolling through the Library looking for books to support my son in his study of the civilizations of Peru, I saw this.  The hype had died down, everything was safe for approach, so I grabbed it off the shelf opened it up and fell in.

Fell in completely--so much so that midway through reading I went out and purchased the book.  For those of you who as children read the "lost worlds" novels of Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and most prominently H. Rider Haggard, this is a treat beyond imagining.  It tells the true story of a Amazon explorer who was dedicated to the task of finding the legendary lost city of Z.  Sometimes called El Dorado, sometimes thought to be completely impossible, the Lost city of Z became the personal obsession of Percy Harrison Fawcett and his family.

Fawcett had spent many years and had taken many trips to the Amazon river basin--one to map the boundary between Bolivia and Brazil.  In the course of his explorations he encountered all of the horrors of exploration (something often glossed over in the more romantic versions we're used to)--insects, predators, disease, and near starvation.

I think if anything came as a kind of ah-ha moment to me (though given my training it shouldn't have) it was the paucity of food available in the green darkness.  It is a kind of anti-paradise--so much so that many anthropologists concluded that no sophisticated civilization could have taken root in the hostile environment.

Normally I read non-fiction exceedingly slowly and in measured amounts so as to take notes and fully absorb what I am reading.  I read this one in big gulps and relished every moment.

In this case, the hype was right--good writing, good adventure, remarkable conclusion--satisfying all round.

*****  Highly, highly, highly, highly recommended to everyone who has enjoyed a lost-race novel and who has relished the thought of being an explorer themselves.

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