6 reviews

The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon
by David Grann

Published: 2009-02-24
Paperback : 528 pages
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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 ...
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(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, vowing to make one of the most important archaeological discoveries in history. For centuries Europeans believed the world's largest jungle concealed the glittering kingdom of El Dorado. Captivating the imagination of millions around the globe, Fawcett embarked with his twenty-one-year-old son to prove that this ancient civilization?which he dubbed ?Z??existed. Then he and his expedition vanished.

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, 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 enthralling narrative.

From the Compact Disc edition.

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Discussion Questions

1. Books about explorers, adventurers, and extreme risk-takers like Jon Krakauer’s Eiger Dreams and Into the Wild, Caroline Alexander’s The Endurance, Joe Simpson’s Touching the Void, Nathaniel Philbrick’s In the Heart of the Sea, Sebastian Junger’s A Perfect Storm, and many others, have become extremely popular in recent years. What are the appeals of such books? What qualities does The Lost City of Z share with books of this kind? In what ways does it differ from them?

2. After time away from the jungle, Fawcett wrote: “Inexplicably—amazingly—I knew I loved that hell. Its fiendish grasp had captured me, and I wanted to see it again” [p. 116]. What drove Fawcett to plunge himself again and again into the dangers of the Amazon? What is the main force that drives him—obsession with finding the lost city, desire to prove himself against his competitors, a need to escape the confines of civilization, a spiritual quest?

3. In what ways is Fawcett a symbolic figure? What values does he embody? In what ways does he represent many of both the best and worst qualities of the British Empire?

4. Grann notes that some anthropologists and historians consider Fawcett’s view of the Indians enlightened for his era while others saw him as unable to transcend the prevailing racism of his own culture. How does he regard the Indians he encounters? How does he treat them?

5. How do Fawcett’s expeditions affect his wife Nina? How does she see her role in relation to him? In what ways does she succumb to his obsessions?

6. In what ways does The Lost City of Z challenge conventional views of the Amazon? What does it suggest about the current state of archeological research in the region?

7. What are some of the most fascinating and/or dreadful features of the Amazon jungle revealed in The Lost City of Z? How has the jungle been changed since Europeans first made contact with it?

8. What does The Lost City of Z reveal about the power of obsession? In what ways does Fawcett’s obsession draw others into its deadly gravitational pull?

9. By what means does Grann maintain such a high level of suspense throughout the book? What does the interweaving of his own story—the story of his search for the truth about what happened to Fawcett and the story of his writing of the book itself—add to the total effect of The Lost City of Z?

10. After witnessing the mass carnage of World War I, Fawcett exclaims: “Civilization! Ye gods! To see what one has seen the word is an absurdity. It has been an insane explosion of the lowest human emotions” [p. 189]. In what ways does The Lost City of Z call into question conventional notions of civilization? What does it suggest about the supposed differences between advanced and primitive cultures?

11. What are Percy Harrison’s Fawcett’s most admirable qualities? What aspects of his character prove most troubling? Was James Murray right in accusing Fawcett of all but murdering him? [p. 139].

12. Near the end of the book, Grann writes about how biographers are often driven mad by the inability to fully comprehend their subjects. Of his own quest he says: “The finished story of Fawcett seemed to reside eternally beyond the horizon: a hidden metropolis of words and paragraphs, my own Z” [p. 303]. How well does Grann succeed in discovering and revealing the truth of Percy Fawcett?

13. Does Grann’s meeting with the anthropologist Michael Heckenberger in Kurikulo village confirm Fawcett’s belief in a lost ancient civilization? Is Fawcett’s search vindicated at last?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

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Member Reviews

Overall rating:
  "Felt as though I was trudging through the Amazon and couldn't wait to get out."by Melissa H. (see profile) 07/16/12

Learning about the Amazon itself was fascinating - it's a place that I never want to go to, as everything there can kill you, apparently!
But Grann's writing was not enjoyable. It was ofte
... (read more)

  "Too many Bugs"by Laurel H. (see profile) 03/29/11

This was a very informative history book about a topic that I have zero interest in. Too many bugs and ew for my taste. I wish there was more detail about the discoveries and passion for them. Left... (read more)

  "The last chapter was the best"by Anne Q. (see profile) 10/24/10

I should start my review by stating that I have never wanted to visit the Amazon and do not understand its lure. This book reinforced that for me, except for the last chapter. Ostensibly, the book is... (read more)

  "UGH"by Andrea V. (see profile) 10/01/10

Too history textbookish.

  "The Lost City of Z"by Deborah M. (see profile) 10/01/10

A great idea but poorly executed. I thought this book would be exciting and interesting but instead it was confusing and boring. However, some of the characters were memorable, Fawcett's wife for example,... (read more)

  "Lost City of Z"by Suzie M. (see profile) 08/19/10

  "The Lost City of Z by David Grann"by Kathryn S. (see profile) 08/17/10

A fascinating read about Percy Fawcett, a formidable adventurer. David Grann writes with candor and enthusiasm and draws the reader in from the first page. Highly recommended by all the book club members.... (read more)

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