The Writer's Life: Film & Book Reviews, Observations, and Stories
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The Lost City of Z

Scouting around for a non-fiction bestseller that would put his name in lights, David Grann, a staff writer for The New Yorker, hit upon the idea of tracing Percy Harrison Fawcett’s attempts to find a city he called Z in the jungles Brazil. Besides writing about Fawcett’s explorations, Grann also decided to make the trip himself. The contrast between Fawcett, one of England’s foremost explorers of the early part of the 20th century and Grann, an over-the-hill tenderfoot, is rather drool, as the author knew it would be.

The Lost City of Z is an important book, not because it presents Fawcett’s tragic quest in such well researched and graphic terms, or Grann’s own buffoonish one, but because it examines the roots and consequences of delusion and obsession in inescapable terms. Fawcett impoverished his wife and managed to kill both himself and his oldest son on his last trip to the Amazon in 1925. He became a raving maniac, adopting the tenets of Theosophy and occultism. Ironically, although he did not find his city, it may well have existed. Fawcett was not a trained scientist. The problem was that the jungle devoured it without leaving traces he was capable of seeing.