Genre: Mystery, Adventure, Nonfiction
Book Jacket Synopsis: “In 1925, the legendary British explorer Percy Fawcett ventured into the Amazon jungle, in search of a fabled civilization located deep in the deadly wilderness. He never returned. In this masterpiece of narrative nonfiction, journalist David Grann tells the epic story of Fawcett’s quest for this “Lost City of Z,” as he unravels the greatest exploration mystery of the twentieth century.”
Review: The Lost City of Z starts off with a beautiful quote from Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities:
“At times all I need is a brief glimpse, an opening in the midst of an incongruous landscape, a glint of lights in the fog, the dialogue of two passersby meeting in the crowd, and I think that, setting out from there, I will put together, piece by piece, the perfect city… If I tell you that the city toward which my journey tends is discontinuous in space and time, now scattered, now more condensed, you must not believe the search for it can stop.”
From that point onward, The Lost City of Z delves deep into the life of the infamous Amazonian explorer, Percy Fawcett, and his ultimate disappearance in the forests he spent 2/3 of his life studying. As far as a novel based largely on investigative journalism is concerned, The Lost City of Z does an excellent job of thoroughly looking into the nuances of Percy Fawcett, the Royal Geographical Society, the Amazon, and exploration itself. This novel is painstakingly well-researched and certainly gives the reader a clear picture of what it was like to live as an explorer in the early 1900s. However, I found myself underwhelmed upon completion of this book, and I think the primary reason I was disappointed is because the “Book Jacket Synopsis” leads you to believe that The Lost City of Z will be (at least) equal parts discussion of Percy Fawcett and the mythical lost city. Instead, I felt like this novel would be more aptly named The Lost Explorer Named Percy Fawcett. The book overwhelmingly focused on every minute detail of Fawcett’s life, from his childhood to his marriage to his numerous expeditions. It becomes clear relatively early on that Fawcett’s quest will be fruitless, and that a lost city of the magnitude he imagines (complete with still-existing architecture) is highly improbable in the demanding Amazonian climate. While Grann initially seems to have discovered a new, promising trail (based on new notes he unearths that suggest Fawcett was so determined to prevent his competitors from following his trek that he provided false locations is his correspondences), it quickly becomes clear that very little novel information can actually be gleaned from the new notes. I also felt like The Lost City of Z did not deliver on its promise to unravel “the greatest exploration mystery of the twentieth century.” Altogether, very little unraveling actually occurs. Grann fails to determine what actually happened to Fawcett, his son, and his son’s best friend when they set out to look for Z in 1925. Grann should surely be commended on compiling what is likely the most definitive account of Fawcett’s adventures (and the subsequent attempts by many to locate him) to date. However, I don’t think this story deserves the title of “greatest exploration mystery of the twentieth century.” The Lost City of Z was an interesting book, but it was marketed in a slightly deceiving way that ultimately ended up disappointing me.