- David Grann stumbles on a hidden trove of diaries and the greatest exploration mystery of the 20th century. Explorers are engulfed in a mystique, a grand obsession in its own right. The wanderlust to explore new lands and terrains, and the magnificent obsession to solve the unsolvable in the exploration mysteries themselves. It has much in common with the unquenchable desire to travel inot psychedelic and mystery worlds of parallel universes. (see posts in Psychedelic culture.)
- The summary of the expedition to find El Dorado and the seeming inimical posture of the Amazonian jungles to civilized human endeavor is brought out.Thousands (not referred to) had died looking for the golden city. How did this quest orignate in his mind after discovering the troves of diaries?(Conan Doyle’s The Lost World).
- The greater mystery that Grann was drawn into,namely the Green Hell. He did not find a conclusive end to Fawcett's story,and came home with what he had. The two narratives are seamlessly interwoven by Grann and the stories complement one another.Grann prods beyond the surface of the larger than Fawcett and presents the real Fawcett beneath.Fawcett is a rarity in his thirst for adventure.
- Most obsessions such as Grann's are "unavoidable as being drawn irresistably. The incredible mystery is doing the drawing . We learn about the the beginnings of the Royal Geographical Society and about the fragility and danger of their world, and these features, out of the ordinary, could be part of the allurement. "...these accounts made me aware of how much of the discovery of the world was based on failure rather than on success - on tactical errors and pipte dreams.
My current read: The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann. You can read my first post about this book here, and my second post here. Synopsis from publisher:
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, hoping to make one of the most important discoveries in history. For centuries Europeans believed the world’s largest jungle concealed the glittering kingdom of El Dorado. Thousands had died looking for it, leaving many scientists convinced that the Amazon was truly inimical to humankind. But Fawcett, whose daring expeditions helped inspire Conan Doyle’s The Lost World, had spent years building his scientific case. Captivating the imagination of millions around the globe, Fawcett embarked with his twenty-one-year-old son, determined to prove that this ancient civilization—which he dubbed “Z”—existed. Then he and his expedition vanished.
Fawcett’s fate—and the tantalizing clues he left behind about “Z”—became an obsession for hundreds who followed him into the uncharted wilderness. 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, being irresistibly 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 complex, enthralling narrative.My final thoughts:This third and final portion of the book really felt like it became the author's story. Fawcett and his son have started out on their great mission to find the Lost City - and disappear. Fawcett's wife basically devotes the remainder of her life to talking people into searching for him, which eventually becomes quite sad. Not only does she refuse to consider that he might be dead, she lures a number of other explorers to their deaths in the jungle, searching for her lost husband. I said last week that I don't think I could have endured being the wife of an explorer like Fawcett - this just reinforced that in my mind. She literally spent her entire life trying to support her family on a pittance, and talking people - including herself - into believing he wasn't dead. She was consigned to wait for him for their whole marriage. Her own aspirations were never taken into account. I found her story much more tragic that Fawcett's - at least he got to live out his grand adventures. She was only allowed to imagine them.The author himself finally makes it to the jungle, only to have everyone who hears about his journey basically call him crazy. He does find a guide to take him to the place where Fawcett was last seen, and talks to several members of the Kalapalo tribe, including one who was alive when Fawcett was last seen. All the stories seem to agree that Fawcett and his small party ventured into territory that the Kalapalo's warned him against entering, and was never seen again. Ironically, it appears Fawcett was nearly at the place he was searching - a vast civilization is being uncovered near the location Fawcett was trying to reach, that may be just exactly what he was looking for.Grann's own journey was dangerous, although modern technology made it quite a bit less impossible than when Fawcett attempted the same travel. I admit to being a little disappointed that he was not able to find a conclusive end to Fawcett's story, but his decision to accept what he had learned and return home was, honestly, the only logical decision either one of these men made, as far as I am concerned.I found this book to be completely compelling from start to finish. Grann weaves his dual narratives seamlessly together, and each story beautifully compliments the other. Fawcett is such a larger-than-life persona, almost mythological in nature, and yet Grann is able to prod beyond the surface to give readers a glimpse of the real man behind the myths. There are not many people in the world today with the same spirit of adventure and thirst for knowledge that Fawcett embodied, and reading about him was a fascinating experience.I definitely recommend this book - it will appeal to a wide range of readers, and a little escape into the jungle might be just what you need to warm your chilly winter night!
Percy Fawcett had a troubled upbringing, with each of his parents unable to provide any real affection. Fawcett later states that perhaps this lack of emotional support was good for him, as it forced him to turn inside himself for strength. A member of the British Artillary, it was at his post in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) that Fawcett met the love of his life, his wife Nina, and discovered an obsession with discovery that would last the rest of his life.Grann alternates Fawcett's story with his own tale, and each story is equally fascinating. Grann's wife is, understandably, skeptical when he proposes finding an explorer who disappeared 80 years before, but as he uncovers more details, he is unavoidably drawn into this incredible mystery.In this section of the book, we see the beginnings of Fawcett's life as an explorer in the Amazon jungle, and the start of Grann's search to find an explanation for Fawcett's disappearance. We also learn about the beginnings of the Royal Geographical Society, which had as its goal to map the entire surface of the world. I think this is the first book I've ever read about explorers, and I am struck by just exactly how fragile and dangerous their world was. Setting off into the unknown, many times with not much more than the clothes on their backs and what little food they could stuff into a pack, these men and women set out to see what the world held. Many - maybe most - never came back. Grann says, "...these accounts made me aware of how much of the discovery of the world was based on failure rather than on success - on tactical errors and pipte dreams. The Society may have conquered the world, but not before the world had conquered its members."
The Lost City of Z is the name given by Col. Percy Harrison Fawcett, a British surveyor, to a city that he thought existed in the jungle of the Mato Grosso region of Brazil. This mysterious city is referenced in a document known as Manuscript 512, housed at the National Library of Rio De Janeiro by a Portuguese explorer (Bandeirante) who wrote that he visited the city in 1753. The city is described in great detail without providing a specific location. Fawcett allegedly heard about this city in the early 1900s and went to Rio De Janeiro to learn more, and came across the earlier report. He was about to go in search of the city when World War I intervened. In 1925, Fawcett and his son Jack disappeared in the Mato Grosso.
Lost City found?
David Grann's The New Yorker article "The Lost City of Z" (2005) was expanded into a book The Lost City of Z (2009) and a forthcoming movie. It was reported that an archaeologist, Michael Heckenberger, might have found the city at the site known as Kuhikugu. He had discovered clusters of settlements (20 settlements in all) with each cluster containing up to 5000 people and said "All these settlements were laid out with a complicated plan, with a sense of engineering and mathematics that rivalled anything that was happening in much of Europe at the time."
Fawcett, Percy and Brian Fawcett. - Lost Trails, Lost Cities Funk & Wagnalls (1953)
Furneaux, Rupert. The World's Strangest Mysteries. Ace Books. New York. 1961.
The Guardian: Veil lifts on jungle mystery of the colonel who vanished. 21 March 2004, URL accessed 19 May 2007.
Smith, Warren. Lost Cities of the Ancients-Unearthed!. Zebra Books. New York. 1976.
Time: Fawcett of the Mato Grosso. 25 May 1953, URL accessed 18 May 2007.
Wisdom of Savages. Colonel Percy Fawcett first came to South America as a surveyor for the Bolivian government. Even then, at age 39, he was a stern, solitary man with childlike eyes and a mystical longing for primitive things. He found them: crocodiles everywhere, spiders that can catch birds, anacondas more than 60 ft. long that wail disturbingly in the jungle night, bloodsucking cockroaches, 2-in. biting ants, hordes of vampire bats, rivers full of stingrays, electric eels and shoals of tiny, man-eating piranha.
What the visible enemies left of a man, the invisible ones were ready to attack. Influenza, tertian fever, leprosy were all endemic, along with tapeworm and a mysterious intestinal infestation that made its victim long to eat earth. Read more:
Fawcett arrived in 1906, toward the end of the great rubber boom, when "every ton of rubber gathered cost a human life." One economical German farmer personally murdered more than 40 Indian slaves in a batch, simply because they were too sick to work. When the Indians murdered a white man, his brother set out some tins of poisoned alcohol in a jungle clearing for bait, and the next day surveyed his catch: 80 dead Indians. Fawcett knew of a sick Englishman who, because he lay still, was assumed by the Indians to be dead; having got this idea in their heads, they decided that his groans were those of his spirit, and buried him alive.
To the Indians, death seemed to be a laughing matter. They would roar with glee when their best friends came down with beriberi or were snapped out of dugouts by the giant anacondas. Everybody, Indian or white, drank incredible quantities of cachaça, the local cane liquor, ate maggoty rice and dried meat, and sank deeper into debt. Read more:
Only the "savages." the forest Indians, remained human. Fawcett came to love their primeval sweetness and wisdom. They track their game by scent. Fawcett recorded, as an animal does, and call it to be killed with strange, alluring cries that the creature cannot resist. They fish by lacing the water with a caustic sap called solimán, that stuns the fish but does not poison their flesh. Fawcett also solemnly accepted the story that the Indians know of a plant whose juices dissolve metal, and even make stone soft and workable.
The Jungle Grail. Fawcett rarely fell sick, never caught a serious disease. He had a close brush with a jaguar, but never, so far as he records, was bitten by a snake. Though often shot at, Fawcett was never hit by the 6-ft. poisoned arrows of the forest people; and once, when he and his mule fell off a log bridge into a rushing stream, he escaped, almost miraculously, without a scratchRead more:
From 1909, when he quit the British army, until his disappearance. Fawcett was eyelocked to a visionary goal: the discovery of the legendary city he called "Z." Stories of such a city are cherished by many Indian tribes, and there are also a few old travelers' tales which have some claim to be taken seriously. Most interesting to Fawcett was the account of a Portuguese (his name has been lost) who said that in 1753, after ten years of travels in the Amazonian wilds, he discovered a massive stone city of the sort built in Peru before the Spaniards came. Fawcett himself claimed that, on his next-to-last expedition, he had discovered an outpost of the city. Read more:
The man at the centre of the puzzle was born in Torquay in 1867 and first fell in love with South America when he helped the Bolivian government to survey its frontier with Brazil.
He served with distinction in the First World War, but today his real fame stems from the moment when, at the age of 58, he set out with his eldest son and his son's friend, Raleigh Rimmell, to look for a hidden 'city of gold', known in mythology as Z.
The last word was heard from the group as they crossed the Upper Xingu, a south-eastern tributary of the Amazon. Repeated rescue missions followed, as did rival theories about Fawcett's demise. Either he had been eaten by jaguars, was still living alone as a native, had starved or been killed by the indigenous people, the Kalapalo. Bones unearthed in 1951 proved on examination not to belong to Fawcett and the mystery grew.
'This is one of the great adventure stories of the past century,' said Williams, 'and at last we are finding out what really happened. Fawcett was a kind of Indiana Jones figure and his children have fought hard to keep his good name, in spite of interest from Hollywood and countless books.
'His secret plans for a new and unconventional way of life have only just emerged from the letters he wrote to friends.'