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The Lost City of Z

Cover of The Lost City of Z

The Lost City of Z

A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon

A New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times, and Denver Post Bestseller

In 1925, the legendary British explorer Percy Fawcett ventured into the Amazon jungle, in search of a fabled civilization. He never returned. Over the years countless perished trying to find evidence of his party and the place he called "The Lost City of Z." In this masterpiece of narrative nonfiction, journalist David Grann interweaves the spellbinding stories of Fawcett's quest for "Z" and his own journey into the deadly jungle, as he unravels the greatest exploration mystery of the twentieth century.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

A New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times, and Denver Post Bestseller

In 1925, the legendary British explorer Percy Fawcett ventured into the Amazon jungle, in search of a fabled civilization. He never returned. Over the years countless perished trying to find evidence of his party and the place he called "The Lost City of Z." In this masterpiece of narrative nonfiction, journalist David Grann interweaves the spellbinding stories of Fawcett's quest for "Z" and his own journey into the deadly jungle, as he unravels the greatest exploration mystery of the twentieth century.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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  • Chapter One WE SHALL RETURN
    On a cold January day in 1925, a tall, distinguished gentleman hurried across the docks in Hoboken, New Jersey, toward the S.S. Vauban, a five-hundred-and-eleven-foot ocean liner bound for Rio de Janeiro. He was fifty-seven years old, and stood over six feet, his long arms corded with muscles.

    Although his hair was thinning and his mustache was flecked with white, he was so fit that he could walk for days with little, if any, rest or nourishment. His nose was crooked like a boxer's, and there was something ferocious about his appearance, especially his eyes. They were set close together and peered out from under thick tufts of hair. No one, not even his family, seemed to agree on their color-some thought they were blue, others gray. Yet virtually everyone who encountered him was struck by their intensity: some called them "the eyes of a visionary." He had frequently been photographed in riding boots and wearing a Stetson, with a rifle slung over his shoulder, but even in a suit and a tie, and without his customary wild beard, he could be recognized by the crowds on the pier. He was Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett, and his name was known throughout the world.

    He was the last of the great Victorian explorers who ventured into uncharted realms with little more than a machete, a compass, and an almost divine sense of purpose. For nearly two decades, stories of his adventures had captivated the public's imagination: how he had survived in the South American wilderness without contact with the outside world; how he was ambushed by hostile tribesmen, many of whom had never before seen a white man; how he battled piranha, electric eels, jaguars, crocodiles, vampire bats, and anacondas, including one that almost crushed him; and how he emerged with maps of regions from which no previous expedition had returned. He was renowned as the "David Livingstone of the Amazon," and was believed to have such unrivaled powers of endurance that a few colleagues even claimed he was immune to death. An American explorer described him as "a man of indomitable will, infinite resource, fearless"; another said that he could "outwalk and outhike and outexplore anybody else." The London Geographical Journal, the pre-eminent publication in its field, observed in 1953 that "Fawcett marked the end of an age. One might almost call him the last of the individualist explorers. The day of the aeroplane, the radio, the organized and heavily financed modern expedition had not arrived. With him, it was the heroic story of a man against the forest."

    In 1916, the Royal Geographical Society had awarded him, with the blessing of King George V, a gold medal "for his contributions to the mapping of South America." And every few years, when he emerged from the jungle, spidery thin and bedraggled, dozens of scientists and luminaries would pack into the Society's hall to hear him speak. Among them was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who was said to have drawn on Fawcett's experiences for his 1912 book The Lost World, in which explorers "disappear into the unknown" of South America and find, on a remote plateau, a land where dinosaurs have escaped extinction.

    As Fawcett made his way to the gangplank that day in January, he eerily resembled one of the book's protagonists, Lord John Roxton:
    Something there was of Napoleon III, something of Don Quixote, and yet again something which was the essence of the English country gentleman._._._._He has a gentle voice and a quiet manner, but behind his twinkling blue eyes there lurks a capacity for furious wrath and implacable resolution, the more dangerous because they are held in leash.

    None of Fawcett's previous expeditions compared...
About the Author-
  • DAVID GRANN is a longtime staff writer at The New Yorker. He has written about everything from New York City's antiquated water tunnels to the Aryan Brotherhood prison gang, from the hunt for the giant squid to the mysterious death of the world's greatest Sherlock Holmes expert. His stories have appeared in several Best American writing anthologies, and he has written for The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and The New Republic. A collection of his stories, The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness, and Obsession, will be published in spring 2010.

Reviews-
  • Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

    "Suspenseful. . . . Rollicking. . . . Reads with all the pace and excitement of a movie thriller. . . . The Lost City of Z is at once a biography, a detective story and a wonderfully vivid piece of travel writing that combines Bruce Chatwinesque powers of observation with a Waugh-like sense of the absurd. Mr. Grann treats us to a harrowing reconstruction of Fawcett's forays into the Amazonian jungle, as well as an evocative rendering of the vanished age of exploration."

  • The Los Angeles Times "Breathtaking. . . . Grann brings Fawcett's remarkable story to a beautifully written, perfectly paced fruition. . . . Any writer who can breathe life into letters written by scientists in the early 1900s deserves more than a hat tip."
  • The Boston Globe "Brilliant. . . . Impressively researched and skillfully crafted. . . . Grann makes abundantly clear in this fascinating, epic story of exploration and obsession, [that] the lethal attraction of the Amazon mystery remains strong."
  • USA Today "A smart biographical page-turner."
  • Details "Grann escapes death and tracks down Z, giving the reader the kind of Indiana Jones kicks best experienced vicariously."
  • John Grisham "A riveting, exciting and thoroughly compelling tale of adventure."
  • The Washington Post "Thoroughly researched, vividly told. . . . Grann recounts Fawcett's expeditions with all the pace of a white-knuckle adventure story. . . . A thrill ride from start to finish."
  • Malcolm Gladwell "The story of Z goes to the heart of the central questions of our age. In the battle between man and a hostile environment, who wins? A fascinating and brilliant book."
  • Dallas Morning News "A spellbinding tale that produces fresh surprises around each turn. . . . An amazing story."
  • Entertainment Weekly "A fascinating yarn that touches on science, history, and some truly obsessive personalities."
  • Christian Science Monitor "There is something about Fawcett's spirit and self-assurance that captivates. . . . To read The Lost City of Z is to feel grateful that Grann himself bothered to set out for the Amazon in search of the bones of an explorer whose body was long ago reclaimed by the jungle."
  • New York Observer "A blockbuster tale of adventure."
  • Bloomberg News "Marvelous. . . . [Grann] combines a colorful narrative of Fawcett's early life, military career, jungle treks, theories and even conversations with a biography of an extraordinary man and an overview of the last great and highly competitive age of exploration."
  • The Denver Post "A blood-stirring reading experience."
  • Erik Larson "A deeply satisfying revelation. . . . What could be better--obsession, mystery, deadly insects, shrunken heads, suppurating wounds, hostile tribesmen--all for us to savor in our homes, safely before the fire."
  • Simon Winchester, The Wall Street Journal "What makes Mr. Grann's telling of the story so captivating is that he decides not simply to go off in search of yet more relics of our absent hero--but to go off himself in search of the city that Fawcett was looking for so heroically when he suddenly went AWOL."
  • Cleveland Plain Dealer "Fast-paced adventure. . . . Grann delights us with the lure of obsession under a canopy of trees."
  • Richard B. Woodward, The New York Times "Absorbing and fair-minded. . . . In restoring a life that history has swallowed from general view, and vindicating a crackpot theory, Mr. Grann has also exposed the toll that explorers often took on those who loved or depended on them."
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