The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon
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Amazon Exclusive: John Grisham Reviews The Lost City of Z

Since first publishing A Time to Kill in 1988, John Grisham has written twenty novels and one work of nonfiction, The Innocent Man. His second novel, The Firm, spent 47 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, becoming the bestselling novel of 1991. The success of The Pelican Brief, which hit number one on the New York Times bestseller list, and The Client, which debuted at number one, confirmed Grisham's reputation as the master of the legal thriller. His most recent novel, The Associate, was published in January 2009. Read his exclusive Amazon guest review of The Lost City of Z:

In April of 1925, a legendary British explorer named Percy Fawcett launched his final expedition into the depths of the Amazon in Brazil. His destination was the lost city of El Dorado, the “City of Gold,” an ancient kingdom of great sophistication, architecture, and culture that, for some reason, had vanished. The idea of El Dorado had captivated anthropologists, adventurers, and scientists for 400 years, though there was no evidence it ever existed. Hundreds of expeditions had gone looking for it. Thousands of men had perished in the jungles searching for it. Fawcett himself had barely survived several previous expeditions and was more determined than ever to find the lost city with its streets and temples of gold.

The world was watching. Fawcett, the last of the great Victorian adventurers, was financed by the Royal Geographical Society in London, the world’s foremost repository of research gathered by explorers. Fawcett, then age 57, had proclaimed for decades his belief in the City of Z, as he had nicknamed it. His writings, speeches, and exploits had captured the imagination of millions, and reports of his last expedition were front page news.

His expeditionary force consisted of three men--himself, his 21-year-old son Jack, and one of Jack’s friends. Fawcett believed that only a small group had any chance of surviving the horrors of the Amazon. He had seen large forces decimated by malaria, insects, snakes, poison darts, starvation, and insanity. He knew better. He and his two companions would travel light, carry their own supplies, eat off the land, pose no threat to the natives, and endure months of hardship in their search for the Lost City of Z.

They were never seen again. Fawcett’s daily dispatches trickled to a stop. Months passed with no word. Because he had survived several similar forays into the Amazon, his family and friends considered him to be near super-human. As before, they expected Fawcett to stumble out of the jungle, bearded and emaciated and announcing some fantastic discovery. It did not happen.

Over the years, the search for Fawcett became more alluring than the search for El Dorado itself. Rescue efforts, from the serious to the farcical, materialized in the years that followed, and hundreds of others lost their lives in the search. Rewards were posted. Psychics were brought in by the family. Articles and books were written. For decades the legend of Percy Fawcett refused to die.

The great mystery of what happened to Fawcett has never been solved, perhaps until now. In 2004, author David Grann discovered the story while researching another one. Soon, like hundreds before him, he became obsessed with the legend of the colorful adventurer and his baffling disappearance. Grann, a lifelong New Yorker with an admitted aversion to camping and mountain climbing, a lousy sense of direction, and an affinity for take-out food and air conditioning, soon found himself in the jungles of the Amazon. What he found there, some 80 years after Fawcett’s disappearance, is a startling conclusion to this absorbing narrative.

The Lost City of Z is a riveting, exciting and thoroughly compelling tale of adventure.

(Photo ?? Maki Galimberti)

A Q&A with Author David Grann

Question: When did you first stumble upon the story of Percy Fawcett and his search for an ancient civilization in the Amazona??and when did you realize this particular story had you in “the grip”?

David Grann: 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 intellectual stakes. 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.

Q: Tell us about the discovery of Fawcett’s previously unpublished diaries and logbooks.

DG: 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.

Q: 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?

DG: 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.

Q: 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?

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

Q: 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?

DG: 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.

Q: 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?

DG: 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.

Q: 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?

DG: No. Once was enough for me!

Q: 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?

DG: 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-a??stories that are all the more spellbinding because they are true.

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

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

Q: What are you working on now?

DG: 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.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

DG: 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.

(Photo ?? Matt Richman)

Look Inside The Lost City of Z

Click on thumbnails for larger images

Percy Harrison Fawcett was considered “the last of the individualist explorers”a??those who ventured into blank spots on the map with little more than a machete, a compass, and an almost divine sense of purpose. He is seen here in 1911, the year of his fourth major Amazon expedition. (Copyright ?? R. de Montet-Guerin)
Fawcett mapping the frontier between Brazil and Bolivia in 1908. (Courtesy of the Royal Geographical Society)
Dr. Alexander Hamilton Rice, Fawcett’s main rival, was a multimillionaire “as much at home in the elegant swirl of Newport society as in the steaming jungles of Brazil.” (Courtesy of the Royal Geographical Society)
A member of Dr. Rice’s 1919-20 expedition deploys a wireless telegraphy seta??an early radioa??allowing the party to receive news from the outside world. (Courtesy of the Royal Geographical Society)

A grand mystery reaching back centuries. A sensational disappearance that made headlines around the world. A quest for truth that leads to death, madness or disappearance for those who seek to solve it. The Lost City of Z is a blockbuster adventure narrative about what lies beneath the impenetrable jungle canopy of the Amazon.

After stumbling upon a hidden trove of diaries, acclaimed New Yorker writer David Grann set out to solve "the greatest exploration mystery of the twentieth century:" What happened to the British explorer Percy Fawcett and his quest for the Lost City of Z?

In 1925 Fawcett ventured into the Amazon to find an ancient civilization, hoping to make one of the most important discoveries in history. For centuries Europeans believed the world’s largest jungle concealed the glittering kingdom of El Dorado. Thousands had died looking for it, leaving many scientists convinced that the Amazon was truly inimical to humankind. But Fawcett, whose daring expeditions helped inspire Conan Doyle’s The Lost World, had spent years building his scientific case. Captivating the imagination of millions around the globe, Fawcett embarked with his twenty-one-year-old son, determined to prove that this ancient civilization--which he dubbed “Z”--existed. Then he and his expedition vanished.

Fawcett’s fate--and the tantalizing clues he left behind about “Z”--became an obsession for hundreds who followed him into the uncharted wilderness. For decades scientists and adventurers have searched for evidence of Fawcett’s party and the lost City of Z. Countless have perished, been captured by tribes, or gone mad. As David Grann delved ever deeper into the mystery surrounding Fawcett’s quest, and the greater mystery of what lies within the Amazon, he found himself, like the generations who preceded him, being irresistibly drawn into the jungle’s “green hell.” His quest for the truth and his stunning discoveries about Fawcett’s fate and “Z” form the heart of this complex, enthralling narrative.

Customer Reviews:

  • Ho hum
    I had great difficulty getting excited about this story. I suppose the main problem here is the subject itself, and not the author. I mean, how exciting can it be to learn about some "explorer" who got lost in the Amazon many years ago trying to find some "lost" city? It seems more like a story of pure stupidity and not a very interesting story at that....more info
  • Dogged
    David Grann presents parallel accounts of expeditions to the Amazon in his new book, The Lost City of Z. Most of the book presents Percy Fawcett, a British explorer, and his early twentieth century treks into uncharted depths of the Amazon. Grann supplements those expeditions with background information on the ups and downs of Fawcett's life. On Fawcett's 1925 expedition in search of El Dorado, which he called Z, neither he nor his son, Jack, returned. Other explorers who tried to retrace Fawcett's journey also never returned. The parallel story is Grann's own obsession with Fawcett and in trying to find out what happened, and where the city of Z might be. Unlike Fawcett who trained to be an explorer and who thrived in the wilderness, Grann hadn't even spent time camping. There's drama in both these stories, and Grann presents them with fine writing, backed by solid research. Better than most fiction thrillers, you'll want to keep turning pages to find out what happens.

    Rating: Three-star (Recommended)
    ...more info
  • No text to speech on Kindle
    I was going to buy this book on Kindle until I saw that text to speech is disabled. Although I may not use this feature, on general principle I will boycott the book and it's author. It is especially annoying since they are charging two and a half times a much for an audio version. This is obscene....more info
  • A Tale Of Obsession
    David Grann's parallel tale of his and famous explorer Percy Fawcett's search for a large population center in the Amazon, referred to as the City of Z.

    In 1925, Fawcett and his son trekked into the Amazon and were never heard from again. Grann covers the known facts well, but really brings nothing new to the tale. Grann's own obsession with the story is chronicled, but might have been better told if he had been the main character and more had happened. Something that would have provided the reader with the beginning, middle and more of an ending.

    Other explorer/expedition tales have been done much better: Shackleford's escape from the ice in Endurance and the controversial Long Walk by Slavomir Rawicz. ...more info
  • The Lost City of Z
    "Those whom the Gods intend to destroy they first make mad!" - Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett

    Everyone should read this book! Its like a good Indiana Jones movie, only true. Writen like a novel this book is a definite page turner. Its hard to believe this stuff is true, its so extraordinary (lost cities, hostile tribes, jungle disease, suicide, adventure and mystery). Not only did Fawcett and his party disappear but modern estimates put the death toll of those who have searched for him at 100, including a Hollywood actor and a man found hanging from a tree. What happened to Fawcett and is Z real! This is a great book!
    ...more info
  • The Story of Fawcett
    This is a great read for history lovers as well as adventure seekers. I expected the book to be more about "Z", or El Dorado, than Fawcett. This book is primarily an account of the life of English explorer Percy Fawcett and his obsession with finding El Dorado. As I got into the book, however, I really found myself more interested in Fawcett than the history of El Dorado. The story is truly focused on this obsession with finding El Dorado regardless of the cost to others, including Fawcett's own wife, Nina, sons Brian and Jack, and daughter Joan. This book is an easy read with short chapters. Very entertaining and a nice wrap up at the end for those wondering if Z really ever existed....more info
  • Beware, NON fiction
    I can't believe I missed this when I bought this audiobook. It was fascinating to me how a book could be vaguely interesting, and boring at the same time. I just kept waiting for something to HAPPEN. But now, I guess I can forgive it, because it is a true story. I'm so glad I'm almost through with it. The only reason I wrote this review is to spare someone else who might be intrigued with the premise, and think it's going to be an actual adventure story, not a series of ENDLESS mini-stories....more info
  • not what I expected and that's not a good thing
    This book was full of facts but it lacked the feel of adventure that the description had portrayed. Once again (seems to be happening a lot lately) the description provided for the book did not match the contents. This book was more about the explorer himself and every other explorer for that matter, than it was about his actual quest to find the Lost City of Z and his disappearance. It felt like the writer was trying to show off how much information he had obtained about Fawcett. Read at your own risk!...more info
  • A Great Read!!!
    I'm not one for nonfiction adventure books, but saw the author interviewed and gave this one a try. Loved it! Reads like a good mystery. The author did a great job weaving together the past and the present. ...more info
  • interesting
    This book was very interesting from the standing of historic fact. However, I believe a whole book dedicated to "what happened" to the party that disappeared was a little too much. There were over 100 men that lost their lives searching for this "lost party". Seems to me that it's simple. They lost their lives in the same manner that the search parties did.

    He did go into, toward the end, evidence of how civilized some of the tribes were years ago. I would have liked to see more of that. However, in whole, the book is an interesting read. ...more info
  • Fascinating and Spellbinding
    I loved this book so much I'm sure my family and friends have gotten tired of hearing about it. What they don't know is that several of them will be getting this book for Christmas / bithdays. I am always thrilled to stumble onto something that I really had no consciousness of until it is suddenly present in my life.

    David Grann makes the Amazon come alive in ways that kept me up late at night wondering how Fawcett and his fellow explorers must have felt to be miles from anywhere. I felt quite lucky and grateful that I could learn about the area from the comfort of my own home! ...more info
  • Perfect
    My book arrived when I was told it was and in perfect condition. A perfect transaction. Thank you!...more info
  • Review of service
    Excellent service and excellent book as well. Very well pleased with this purchase. D Kampel...more info
  • double story
    Excelent. Quite excelent! Mr. Grann brings us in his book two stories put together: Percy Fawcett's fascinating true adventures and the writter's own experience-which is not less fascinating- while following Fawcett's tracks, first on paper and then on the real itinerary in the so unfriendly environment of the jungle of Amazon. I haven't finished it yet but I read each day a bit, according to my free hours. I like the style, I like the author's approach to the subject,...I like every bit of this book, it's like a magnet. I can easily recomend it to every person who still likes to dream of great adventures! ...more info
  • Found a Great Read
    The Lost City of Z tells the story of early 20th century explorer Percy Fawcett and his trails and travails in the Amazon. What a fascinating read and unexpected ending as the author takes us both on Percy's adventures and his own....more info
  • Highly Recommend This One -- a review of The Lost City of Z
    I rather imagine that "The Lost City of Z " is going to be in my Top 10 Reads of 2009. I say this because it's a book that has so much going for it: Adventure, Mystery, Tantalizing Facts... not to mention that it is well written.

    The book is about Sir Percy Fawcett. A member of the Royal Geographic Society, Fawcett was a remarkable explorer and a man who managed to captivate the attention of people around the world in the early part of the 20th Century. Newspapers and then radio shows reported on his many adventures, and he was the sort of person who people looked up to.

    Sir Percy is of interest today not so much for his discoveries, but because of his disappearance. Imagine if you will, a man who seems indestructible. He disappears frequently into the wilds of the Amazon on numerous expeditions, and when he reappears, he is one of the few who managed to survive the parasites, the lack of readily available food, disease, and the unfriendly natives. Scores of men who travel with him succumb to violence and pestilence, and yet Sir Percy seems to thrive on the environment-- very much like a tropical Lawrence of Arabia.

    Now imagine that he out in the middle of the tropical rainforest, he finds pottery. Not simple pinch-pots, but beautifully decorated shards of ceramics. This relics are found in huge piles, along what appears to be the remnants of roads. Such findings, along with observations of various trusted tribesmen, is what caused Sir Percy to conclude that somewhere out in the Amazon that there was a lost city. A city he calls Z.

    Driven by ego and the desire to be THE ONE to discover this lost kingdom, Percy then gathers supplies and his favorite son and heads out into the forest. He tells his wife that he will be gone for some time. The world holds it's breath, and waits. And ultimately no one returns. And despite expedition after expedition that is sent out, or which goes out despite warnings, no sign of him is ever found.

    Speculation went unbridled. Some were, and probably still are, convinced that Fawcett found Z. The question is how do you figure out if that is the truth, or if some horrible fate finally destroyed the man.

    If you want to find out whether Fawcett was a genius or a quack, you will have to read the book. I'll only say that "The Lost City of Z" was a great read and that I thought Grann's characterizations were brilliantly done. When I came to the last chapter I felt I not only knew about all the cast, but also had a good grasp of the times, and what it was like to explore the Amazon. [[I can assure you that however much medicine has progressed, and camping gear has improved, that heading out into that rain forest isn't going to pop up on my list of personal aspirations ever again-- I have no interest whatsoever in pinching maggots up from under my skin.]]

    Highly Recommend.

    If you are a person who enjoys history, or if you are a person who likes a good story with a mystery, I highly recommend "The Lost City of Z" for your TBR list.

    Pam T.
    reviewer for Page In

    ...more info
  • Very poor formatting (Kindle)
    While I enjoyed reading this on vacation, I must say I'm starting to see more and more typo's in the Kindle versions of the books I buy. This one is full of them! Run on words (two or more words with no spacing), words being hyphenated that shouldn't (Faw-cett) etc (lots of these type of errors).
    Because of this I'm only giving it a 3.
    Amazon, please clean-up your act and start ensuring that the Kindle versions receive the proper editing they deserve ...more info
  • Incredible
    Though often overused, this is one of the times where reality rivals fiction. There are many mysteries and legends such of the lost city of Atalntis and this book covers the true story of an explorer looking for the lost city in the Amazon.

    A great tale of early 1900s explorers, unexplained dissapearences and the relentless pursuit of the explorer's path and the city by the author.

    A true story that is a real page turner that I was not able to put down. It is similar to a real life Raiders of The Lost Ark....more info
  • Interesting Adventure that ends with a mystery
    I have to admit that I really love books that tell the tale of the early explorers. Livingston, Stanley and Shackleton, to name a few. This book is on par with any of the other tales of exploration and discovery that you will read.
    ...more info
  • Fun, not great
    With every passing chapter, I expected more from this book. In my opinion, it read more like a college paper than a well written/well researched non-fiction book about a thrilling topic.

    I think the writer should be commended for trying to bridge past and present forays into the unknown, using first character descriptions, but he ultimately fails as it becomes evident that he is doing so just for effect and more pages rather than for real purpose.

    Had the last chapter and its contents (do not want to ruin it for those who have yet to read it) presented the core theme of the book, this could have been a ground breaker, for those of us with little or no knowledge of the Amazon, The Lost City of Z or Fawecett. Instead I felt it was just thrown in there to find a way to end the book, when in reality, it should have been the core of the book.

    I give it only three stars, because it was enjoyable and good, but should have been great....more info