Weekly Reader: THE LOST CITY OF Z by David Grann


[Editor’s note: Sarah Weinman’s away on vacation this week, so this recommendation comes to you courtesy of Boldtype, our bi-monthy sister publication covering books worth reading. Enjoy!] In 1925, Col. Percy Fawcett walked into the jungles of the Amazon in search of a forgotten empire. He was known for setting off into unmapped places, only to emerge months, or even years, later with new discoveries. Those expeditions made Fawcett one of the most famous explorers of his day — so celebrated that he became the model for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s hero in The Lost World.

David Grann — who writes about the adventurer in his new book, The Lost City of Z — records that Fawcett was convinced “that an ancient, highly cultured people still existed in the Brazilian Amazon, and that their civilization was so old and sophisticated, it would forever alter the Western view of the Americas.”

Fawcett’s mission captured the popular imagination, generating international headlines. For weeks, the world tracked his journey, certain that a great discovery was about to be made. Then, after a final dispatch from somewhere near the Upper Xingu, he and his team disappeared, never to be heard from again. One after another, would-be rescuers tried to find Fawcett, or some sign of his fate. None succeeded, but dozens lost their lives in the attempt. Over time, his story became as much a thing of legend as it was fact, before slipping into fiction altogether.

Eighty years later, Grann — a writer for the New Yorker — finds himself obsessed with learning the truth. Eventually, he heads to the Amazon himself, following Fawcett’s trail. The historians and anthropologists of Fawcett’s day were convinced that his mission was a fool’s errand. They believed that the Amazon was too harsh a place to support anything but the most primitive of peoples. They were wrong.

As Grann searches for Fawcett’s remains, he meets an archaeologist with evidence that something approaching the Lost City of Z might well have existed (even if its streets were not paved of gold). For the reader, that discovery (along with the thrill of the story itself) will have to suffice, however, as Fawcett’s true fate still remains a mystery.