Written by David Grann, a regular contributor to The New Yorker, this can be classified as a book that is not quite aimed at the mainstream. I liked it because it describes a period in anthropology that was still filled with mystery and adventure, Indiana Jones style. I’m a sucker for those movies, which in itself integrates a lot of the various adventure myths and tales of that era.
It’s been about three years since I read the book, but it still fills a place of esteem in my bookshelf for being a relatively unique tale about a man-made mystery, something there’s not enough of. I was reminded of it again through the many discussions about flight 370, with many people expressing shock that ‘in this day and age’ we can’t find a plane. This is a human tragedy of course, with many relatives and friends not being able to find closure about what happened to the passengers.
A mystery usually comes accompanied by plenty of tragedy. The Lost City of Z describes the many attempts of archaeologist-explorer Percy Fawcett, who (spoiler for real life) disappears on his quest for this mystical city hidden in the Amazonian jungle. It describes not only Fawcett’s attempts to fund his mission, his reasons for believing this city exists, the changes in anthropological exploration that became much more science-based (as opposed to travelling to a pin on a map), and what actually happened after he disappeared. The public perception of Percy can probably best be described as that of a ‘mad scientist’ in pursuit of an impossible dream (the best ones are) and if it wasn’t for this book, surely his name would have been forgotten. I’m glad this book exists for that reason as well.
We do live in an age where there’s no space for mystery anymore. It sometimes feels that the only unexplored realms are outer space, deep sea, and the human mind. Perhaps to some extent the possibilities of technology and science creating new life. But something like a city in a jungle, hidden for centuries? That’s something for the fairytales.
That’s why it was nice to read a true such tale for once.