Monday, December 13, 2010

52 Books in 52 Weeks: Book 49

The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann is a non-fiction narrative of the mysterious disappearance of legendary British explorer, Percy Fawcett.
In the early 1900s, Fawcett was a leading explorer in the Amazon, helping to map and chart borders between countries in South America and unknown parts of the Amazon for the Royal Geographical Society. With the start of WWI, Fawcett gave up the jungle in order to help fight the war. The entire time he was at war, he dreamed of returning to the Amazon and finding a lost city hidden in the jungle – a city that he believed existed based on accounts of an El Dorado {the fabled city of gold}.
In 1925, Fawcett returned to the jungle with his son and his son's best friend. The party disappeared and were never heard from again. Many attempts were made to find them, but most perished while searching. David Grann picks up the trail in an effort to discover what happened to Fawcett.

This was a very intriguing story. Fawcett was among the last great explorers and he clung to the idea that an advanced civilization existed in the Amazon. I found this story to be exceedingly interesting, but the book was a little difficult to follow at times {it jumped back and forth between Grann's research in the present and a narrative of the past}.
Excerpts from the book:
In the wake of the technological horrors of World War I, and amid the spread of urbanization and industrialization, few events so captivated the public {as Fawcett's expedition to find the Lost City of Z}. One reporter exulted, "Not since the days when Ponce de Leon crossed unknown Florida in search of the Waters of Perpetual Youth... has a more alluring adventure been planned."

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 stated, "will be no pampered exploration party, with an army of bearers, guides and cargo animals... where the real wild starts, 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's 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. We will have to suffer from every exposure... we will have to achieve nervous and mental resistance, as well as physical, as men under these conditions are often broken by their minds succumbing before their bodies."

While looking into Z, I discovered that a group of revisionist anthropologists and archaeologists have begun to challenge these long-standing views, believing that an advanced civilization could have in fact emerged in the Amazon. In essence, they argue that the traditionalists have underestimated the power of cultures and societies to transform and transcend their natural environments, much the way humans are now creating stations in space and growing crops in the Israeli desert.

While the Society would serve as the handmaiden of the British Empire, what it was out for represented a departure from the previous age of discovery, when conquistadors, like Columbus, were dispatched strictly in the pursuit of God, gold and glory. In contrast, the Royal Geographical Society wanted to explore for the sake of exploration...

...these accounts made me aware of how much of the discovery of the world was based on failure rather than success – on tactical errors and pipe dreams. The Society may have conquered the world, but not before the world had conquered its members.

Financial ruin, destitution, starvation, cannibalism, murder, death: these seemed to be the only real manifestations of El Dorado.

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