The Lost City of Z – David Grann

Posted 24 June, 2009 by Trish in Reading Nook, Review / 26 Comments

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The Lost City of Z Title: The Lost City of Z
Author: David Grann
Published: 2009 Pages: 299
Genre: Non-Fiction
Rating: 4.25/5

I’m not entirely sure how I ended up getting my hands on this one-or how I let it sit on the shelf for so long, but I’m glad I finally took the time to read this one. What an exciting book/adventure/story/legend!

In the early twentieth century (1920s), Percy Fawcett led a number of expeditions into the depths of the Amazon in South America in search for the lost city of El Dorado, a city he coded as “Z.” In 1925 Fawcett, along with his son and other expedition party members, disappeared and were never heard from again. While the search for Z in many ways consumed Fawcett, his disappearance has caused such a buzz that it is estimated 100 people have also died in the search for Fawcett’s remains.

In The Lost City of Z, David Grann, a journalist and columnist, delves into the Amazon and searches for answers to the mystery surrounding Percy Fawcett’s disappearance. It is evident that Grann has done his research, not just on the life of Fawcett, but also on the numerous other expeditions into the Amazon before and after Fawcett’s disappearance. Grann must have looked at a ton of resources because the book is brimming with information, but one thing that I really appreciated was how Grann included his quotations and secondary information seamlessly. The facts and material he used never felt out of place or even superfluous—even the details about other sometimes non-related events occurring during Fawcett’s time were fascinating.

This book could not be more interesting—well, it could be, but if I explained then I’d be giving something exciting away and you want to find that out for yourself, don’t you? Even though the book is relatively short at 300 pages, there is so much crammed in—information about Fawcett and his explorations, information about the Amazon and the tribes that currently live there (what little is known), information about the flora and fauna of the Amazon and all over fascinating tidbits (lots of information about contemporaries of Fawcett including Arthur Conan Doyle whose The Lost World is loosely based on Fawcett and his search for Z). There are some aspects, especially near the end, that I would have liked to know more about, but I think the reason why Grann does not provide more information is because of the lack of information in general on said topic (my lips are sealed!).

Would you enjoy this book? Sure! I just passed it on to my mom and I hope she likes it. While it isn’t incredibly gripping, it isn’t dry either. Non-fiction sometimes gets such a bad rap for being boring—the author shoving too many facts in your face or not incorporating research material well or stilted writing—but this book is very readable. While I don’t think we will ever know just what happened to Percy Fawcett once he disappeared, Grann compiles and interprets all of his research in a way that posits a very realistic theory. Overall a very exciting book—you know those books you read and you want to tell everyone you see little tiny details? This is definitely one of those—especially when it comes to the bugs in the Amazon—my favorite being the “eye licker.” I found myself saying over and over, “Oh my gosh—listen to this!” If you’re on the fence about this one, check out David Grann’s website. Still on the fence? Did I mention a Lost City of Z movie in 2010 with….Brad Pitt??

What’s the most exciting non-fiction book you’ve read? (The Devil in the White City by Larson is probably mine).

26 Responses to “The Lost City of Z – David Grann”

  1. This book has been on my radar for a little while. It certainly is an interesting story, just the thing for someone who enjoys armchair adventures as I do.

    As for most exciting non-fiction, I’ve read quite a lot, but I think you mean page-turning excitement. I’m going to go with The Looming Tower about the road to 9/11 for now. It’s excellent, a page turner even though we all know how it’s going to end.

    My review of it is here
    http://readywhenyouarecb.blogspot.com/2009/03/looming-tower-al-qaeda-and-road-to-911.html

    I’ll probably think of something more exciting later today. You know how that goes.

  2. Eva

    Have you read Shooting the Boh?! If not, you should! It’s a travelogue/adventure story about the author who, just as menopause starts, signs up for the first ever tour run by an adventure company rafting the Boh River. But everything that can go wrong does, and they’re stuck in the rainforest, and it’s just crazy.

    Ok, I’ll stop freaking out now, lol. I read a lot of nonfiction, so it’s difficult for me to pick out the ‘most exciting’ ever, but Shooting the Boh popped right into my head. Will Storr vs. the Supernatural is awesome too.

  3. Ah, you’ve brought out the quarter stars!

    I don’t like a lot of nonfiction. It’s just not my thing. But I loved Harry, a History, because it was talking about a topic I already loved. That made all the difference in the world for me.

  4. This sounds sooooo good, Trish! Yepperee, I think I’m going to have to get this one…and I think it’s one both Rich and I might read. I truly do love non-fiction! And I love, love, love hearing about non-fiction I’ve never heard of before. Thanks!

  5. I don’t know if I can see Brad Pitt playing this guy. Too skinny. I don’t imagine him so pretty, more well-aged, in a Marlboro man/ranch foreman sort of way. Brad Pitt sweats off too much of his weight with Angelina. He’d never bulk up enough, but I guess he could get the spent look down…

  6. *CB – I’ll definitely look into The Looming Tower! And yes, a lot of non-fiction is really exciting and it seems to me that it is starting to be written in a way that is more accessible for the average reader.

    *Bermuda – I hope you enjoy it! I try to fit in at least one NF book a month.

    *Eva – I haven’t read Shooting the Boh, but how can I resist after your rave? :) Seems like I just heard something about Will Storr vs. the Supernatural, but I’m drawing a blank–thanks for the recommendations!

    *Amanda – I know I know. I teetered between 4.25 and 4.5. Sometimes the narrative wasn’t quite as linear as I would have wanted it to be (something I was going to talk about but decided I was being nitpicky)–he would bring up a subject and then drop it for a few chapters and then bring it back up again. But overall, a really fascinating book.

    *Debi – Oh ya–I think both you and Rich would get a kick out of this one. This one is fairly new, but it’s all over the shelves at the stores, so I bet your library has a few copies. Seems to be doing pretty well.

    *Lula O – LOL! I don’t think I picture Fawcett as big and bulky–there were times when he was famished in the jungle. What I have a hard time picture is Brad Pitt with one of those moustaches that curls at the ends. :)

  7. cj

    I really need to get back to reading non-fiction like this. I’m still plugging away with my selections for the non-fiction five challenge but they’re not like this.

    As for an answer to your question – the most exciting non-fiction book I’ve read is Endurance, which is about the Shackleton expedition to the South Pole.

    cjh

  8. I absolutely loved this book too! I’m wondering how Brad Pitt is going to fit into the movie though. Is he going to be the author? Because so much of the book is about Percy Fawcett and he’s an old man by the time he’s searching for Z. I’m not sure having Pitt as Fawcett and “aging” him is going to do it for me. Oh well we’ll just have to see.

    The most exciting non-fiction. Now that’s a hard one. Ummm. I like to read Victorian true crime and they are all very exciting but I’ll pick “The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher” by Kate Summerscale. Review here:
    http://back-to-books.blogspot.com/2008/07/132-suspicions-of-mr-whicher.html

  9. Yes, finally! Someone reviewed this book. I’ve been eyeballing it for months and wondered if it was going to be too dry. Thanks for the great review, Trish, I can now put it into my TBR pile!

    BTW, I hadn’t heard about the movie. Interesting.

  10. *Linda Ellen – Thank you!! Hope you’re having a great day.

    *CJ – I’m pretty finicky about my non-fiction. I had to read so many dry books on literary criticism during graduate school and the random history book here and there that I’m all about the exciting books now. I’ll have to look up Endurance—after reading this one I’m in the mood for more exploration!

    *Natasha – This was a really exciting book—especially the implications at the end (no! Can’t tell!!). :) NF can really be hit or miss with me, but this was a definite winner. And Brad Pitt? Ya!!

    *Nicola – Wasn’t this book great? I actually think Brad Pitt is going to play Fawcett. Wasn’t he in his 50s when they got lost? I’m assuming they’ll cover his first explorations and when he met his wife and such, so I would think he would be young for much of the movie? And I definitely definitely have Mr. Whicher on my list! Can’t wait to read that one.

    *Paxton – No, not dry at all. Some of the information is a tad repetitive, but it’s forgivable. Overall this is a really exciting book—I haven’t heard too many negative things about it from others either. Hope you like it!! And any movie with Brad Pitt is a good movie to me (except maybe Seven Years in Tibet. And Cool World. Um, and maybe Kalifornia.)

  11. I have never even heard of this one. While I am only mildly interested, this is exactly the Mike usually goes for hiking/Mt Everest settings, but I think I’ll suggest it to him anyway. Lately I just bring home random library books for him, I’ll have to see if they have it.

  12. Trish…I also have this sitting on my shelf and I have been dying to read it. Now after your fabulous review I have no excuse. Next week it is in the queue. LOL

  13. I have not read a whole lot of non-fiction yet! So I don’t have any suggestions here.
    But this really does sounds good! I must really try the book that You have mentioned in the end :)

  14. What a fun review and I’m busy adding this and Eva’s sug and a few more to my tbr.
    I love nonfiction and I’d have to list The Secret Life of Lobsters as a fave -maybe not fast paced adventure but thoroughly enjoyable and interesting. Also Out of the Flames – just fascinating.

  15. This sounds fantastic. I love discovering non-dry non-fiction. :-) It’s so hard to know which ones will be dry!! I haven’t read the Larson one either but have been meaning to for ages. :-)

  16. Thank you so much for bringing this to my attention, Trish! I had never heard of it before, and it mixes so many topics I’m interesting in! Explorers, native tribes, the Amazon, the 20’s… to the wishlist it goes!

    As for most exciting non-fiction read, my favourite of the year so far is Bad Science by Ben Goldacre. Everyone should read that book :P

  17. *Lisa – I think this one recently hit the bestseller list, so I’m sure your library will have copies. It’s pretty interesting reading–hope Mike likes it!

    *Wisteria – It is fairly quick reading, so no need to wait! Hope it interests you as much as it did me.

    *Veens – I used to be really timid of non-fiction, but I’ve found I really enjoy it. Maybe try some memoirs–they often read a lot like fiction.

    *bkclubcare – The Secret Life of Lobsters, huh? Sounds intriguing! I’ll have to look that one and Out of the Flames up.

    *Joanna – Oh my goodness–Devil in the White City is fantastic. It’s a little denser than this one, especially when it goes into the details of the World Fair, but the murder side is really great. :P

    *Nymeth – This one was really great and I love reading about post-colonial societies–this definitely had a lot to think about. I’ll have to add Bad Science to my list. I guess I’m included in “everyone” huh? :)

  18. I enjoy reading nonfiction as much or more as I enjoy reading fiction, Trish, so I always get a kick out of seeing how squeamish some people are about this genre preference thing that you alluded to (like there are no boring or dry fiction writers!). Anyway, thanks for the tip–sounds like an interesting diversion even if it does concern real life characters!

  19. Now that I think about it, I don’t often read books set in South America. Mostly I stay in the U.S.A., go north of the border or travel to Europe, Africa or Asia. This does sound like a compelling read. I’ll have to look for it. Thanks for your great review.

  20. *Richard – I’ll admit that once upon a time I was pretty squeemish about NF. Love it now, but like you said about fiction, there are good writers and bad. Good books and bad.

    *Literary Feline – There are only a handful of authors that I can immediately name from South America! Not sure why I don’t “travel” there more often. This was a really exciting book, though.

    *Kailana – It’s a fairly new book, so it hasn’t been around the blogosphere a ton. Definitely worth checking out if you like history!