The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon

The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon

by David Grann
The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon

The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon

by David Grann

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Overview

Notes From Your Bookseller

From the master of thrilling historical narratives, The Lost City of Z is as much the story of British explorer Percy Fawcett as an adventure to find a missing civilization. David Grann tells the story in riveting cinematic style packed with twists and turns that will keep you glued to the page.

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER• From the author of Killers of the Flower Moon and The Wager comes a masterpiece of narrative nonfiction “with all the pace and excitement of a movie thriller”(The New York Times) that unravels the greatest exploration mystery of the twentieth century—the story of the legendary British explorer who ventured into the Amazon jungle in search of a fabled civilization and never returned.

"[Grann is] one of the preeminent adventure and true-crime writers working today."—New York Magazine


After stumbling upon a hidden trove of diaries, acclaimed writer David Grann set out to determine what happened to the British explorer Percy Fawcett and his quest for the Lost City of Z. For centuries Europeans believed the Amazon, the world’s largest rain forest, 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. In 1925 Fawcett ventured into the Amazon to find an ancient civilization, hoping to make one of the most important discoveries in history. Then he vanished. 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, journalist David Grann interweaves the spellbinding stories of Fawcett’s quest for “Z” and his own journey into the deadly jungle.

Look for David Grann’s latest bestselling book, The Wager!

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781400078455
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/26/2010
Series: Vintage Departures
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 448
Sales rank: 2,303
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

About The Author
DAVID GRANN is the author of the #1 New York Times bestsellers KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON and THE LOST CITY OF Z. KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON was a finalist for The National Book Award and won an Edgar Allan Poe Award. He is also the author of THE WHITE DARKNESS and the collection THE DEVIL AND SHERLOCK HOLMES. Grann's storytelling has garnered several honors, including a George Polk Award. He lives with his wife and children in New York.

Read an Excerpt

1
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 with what he was about to do, and he could barely conceal his impatience, as he fell into line with the other passengers boarding the S.S. Vauban. The ship, advertised as "the finest in the world," was part of the Lamport & Holt elite "V" class. The Germans had sunk several of the company's ocean liners during the First World War, but this one had survived, with its black, salt-streaked hull and elegant white decks and striped funnel billowing smoke into the sky. Model T Fords shepherded passengers to the dock, where longshoremen helped cart luggage into the ship's hold. Many of the male passengers wore silk ties and bowler hats; women had on fur coats and feathered caps, as if they were attending a society event, which, in some ways, they were-the passenger lists of luxury ocean liners were chronicled in gossip columns and scoured by young girls searching for eligible bachelors.

Fawcett pushed forward with his gear. His trunks were loaded with guns, canned food, powdered milk, flares, and handcrafted machetes. He also carried a kit of surveying instruments: a sextant and a chronometer for determining latitude and longitude, an aneroid for measuring atmospheric pressure, and a glycerin compass that could fit in his pocket. Fawcett had chosen each item based on years of experience; even the clothes he had packed were made of lightweight, tear-proof gabardine. He had seen men die from the most innocuous seeming oversight-a torn net, a boot that was too tight.

Fawcett was setting out into the Amazon, a wilderness nearly the size of the continental United States, to make what he called "the great discovery of the century"-a lost civilization. By then, most of the world had been explored, its veil of enchantment lifted, but the Amazon remained as mysterious as the dark side of the moon. As Sir John Scott Keltie, the former secretary of the Royal Geographical Society and one of the world's most acclaimed geographers at the time, noted, "What is there no one knows."

Ever since Francisco de Orellana and his army of Spanish conquistadores descended the Amazon River, in 1542, perhaps no place on the planet had so ignited the imagination-or lured men to their death. Gaspar de Carvajal, a Dominican friar who accompanied Orellana, described woman warriors in the jungle who resembled the mythical Greek Amazons. Half a century later, Sir Walter Raleigh spoke of Indians with "their eyes in their shoulders, and their mouths in the middle of their breasts"-a legend that Shakespeare wove into Othello:
Of the Cannibals that each other eat,
The Anthropophagi and men whose heads
Do grow beneath their shoulders.

What was true about the region-serpents as long as trees, rodents the size of pigs-was sufficiently beyond belief that no embellishment seemed too fanciful. And the most entrancing vision of all was of El Dorado. Raleigh claimed that the kingdom, which the conquistadores had heard about from Indians, was so plentiful in gold that its inhabitants ground the metal into powder and blew it "thorow hollow canes upon their naked bodies untill they be al shining from the foote to the head."

Yet each expedition that had tried to find El Dorado ended in disaster. Carvajal, whose party had been searching for the kingdom, wrote in his diary, "We reached a [state of] privation so great that we were eating nothing but leather, belts and soles of shoes, cooked with certain herbs, with the result that so great was our weakness that we could not remain standing." Some four thousand men died during that expedition alone, of starvation and disease, and at the hands of Indians defending their territory with arrows dipped in poison. Other El Dorado parties resorted to cannibalism. Many explorers went mad. In 1561, Lope de Aguirre led his men on a murderous rampage, screaming, "Does God think that, because it is raining, I am not going to_._._._destroy the world?" Aguirre even stabbed his own child, whispering, "Commend thyself to God, my daughter, for I am about to kill thee." Before the Spanish crown sent forces to stop him, Aguirre warned in a letter, "I swear to you, King, on my word as a Christian, that if a hundred thousand men came, none would escape. For the reports are false: there is nothing on that river but despair." Aguirre's companions finally rose up and killed him; his body was quartered, and Spanish authorities displayed the head of the "Wrath of God" in a steel cage. Still, for three centuries, expeditions continued to search, until, after a toll of death and suffering worthy of Joseph Conrad, most archeologists had concluded that El Dorado was no more than a delusion.

Fawcett, however, was certain that the Amazon contained a fabulous kingdom, and he was not another soldier of fortune or a crackpot. A man of science, he had spent years gathering evidence to prove his case-digging up artifacts, studying petroglyphs, and interviewing tribes. And after fierce battles with skeptics Fawcett had received funding from the most respected scientific institutions, including the Royal Geographical Society, the American Geographical Society, and the Museum of the American Indian. Newspapers were proclaiming that Fawcett would soon startle the world. The Atlanta Constitution declared, "It is perhaps the most hazardous and certainly the most spectacular adventure of the kind ever undertaken by a reputable scientist with the backing of conservative scientific bodies."

Fawcett had concluded that an ancient, highly cultured people still existed in the Brazilian Amazon and that their civilization was so old and sophisticated it would forever alter the Western view of the Americas. He had christened this lost world the City of Z. "The central place I call 'Z'-our main objective-is in a valley_._._._about ten miles wide, and the city is on an eminence in the middle of it, approached by a barreled roadway of stone," Fawcett had stated earlier. "The houses are low and windowless, and there is a pyramidal temple."

Reporters on the dock in Hoboken, across the Hudson River from Manhattan, shouted questions, hoping to learn the location of Z. In the wake of the technological horrors of the Great War, and amid the spread of urbanization and industrialization, few events so captivated the world. One newspaper exulted, "Not since the days when Ponce de Le—n crossed the unknown Florida in search of the Waters of Perpetual Youth_._._._has a more alluring adventure been planned."

Fawcett welcomed "the fuss," as he described it in a letter to a friend, but he was careful about how he responded. He knew that his main rival, Alexander Hamilton Rice, a multimillionaire American doctor who commanded vast resources, was already entering the jungle with an unprecedented array of equipment. The prospect of Dr. Rice finding Z terrified Fawcett. Several years earlier, Fawcett had watched as a colleague from the Royal Geographical Society, Robert Falcon Scott, had set out to become the first explorer to reach the South Pole, only to discover, shortly before he froze to death, that his Norwegian rival, Roald Amundsen, had beaten him by thirty-three days. In a recent letter to the Royal Geographical Society, Fawcett wrote, "I cannot say all I know, or even be precise as to locality, for these things leak out, and there can be nothing so bitter to the pioneer as to find the crown of his work anticipated."

He was also afraid that if he released details of his route, and others attempted to find Z or rescue him, it would result in countless deaths. An expedition of fourteen hundred armed men had previously vanished in the same region. A news bulletin telegraphed around the globe declared, "Fawcett Expedition_._._._to Penetrate Land Whence None Returned." And Fawcett, who was resolved to reach the most inaccessible areas, did not intend, like other explorers, to go by boat; rather, he planned to hack straight through the jungle on foot. The Royal Geographical Society had warned that Fawcett "is about the only living geographer who could successfully attempt" such an expedition and that "it would be hopeless for any people to follow in his footsteps." Before he left England, Fawcett confided to his younger son, Brian, "If with all my experience we can't make it, there's not much hope for others."

As reporters clamored around him, Fawcett explained that only a small expedition would have any chance of survival. It would be able to live off the land, and not pose a threat to hostile Indians. The expedition, he had stated, "will be no pampered exploration party, with an army of bearers, guides and cargo animals. Such top-heavy expeditions get nowhere; they linger on the fringe of civilization and bask in publicity. Where the real wilds start, bearers are not to be had anyway, for fear of the savages. Animals cannot be taken because of lack of pasture and the attack of insects and bats. There are no guides, for no one knows the country. It is a matter of cutting equipment to the absolute minimum, carrying it all oneself, and trusting that one will be able to exist by making friends with the various tribes one meets." He now added, "We will have to suffer every form of exposure._._._._We will have to achieve a nervous and mental resistance, as well as physical, as men under these conditions are often broken by their minds succumbing before their bodies."

Fawcett had chosen only two people to go with him: his twenty-one-year-old son, Jack, and Jack's best friend, Raleigh Rimell. Although they had never been on an expedition, Fawcett believed that they were ideal for the mission: tough, loyal, and, because they were so close, unlikely, after months of isolation and suffering, "to harass and persecute each other"-or, as was common on such expeditions, to mutiny. Jack was, as his brother Brian put it, "the reflection of his father": tall, frighteningly fit, and ascetic. Neither he nor his father smoked cigarettes or drank. Brian noted that Jack's "six feet three inches were sheer bone and muscle, and the three chief agents of bodily degeneration-alcohol, tobacco and loose living-were revolting to him." Colonel Fawcett, who followed a strict Victorian code, put it slightly differently: "He is_._._._absolutely virgin in mind and body."

Jack, who had wanted to accompany his father on an expedition since he was a boy, had spent years preparing-lifting weights, maintaining a rigid diet, studying Portuguese, and learning how to navigate by the stars. Still, he had suffered little real deprivation, and his face, with its luminescent skin, crisp mustache, and slick brown hair, betrayed none of the hardness of his father's. With his stylish clothes, he looked more like a movie star, which is what he hoped to become upon his triumphant return.

Raleigh, though smaller than Jack, was still nearly six feet tall and muscular. (A "fine physique," Fawcett told the R.G.S.) His father had been a surgeon in the Royal Navy and had died of cancer in 1917, when Raleigh was fifteen. Dark-haired, with a pronounced widow's peak and a riverboat gambler's mustache, Raleigh had a jocular, mischievous nature. "He was a born clown," said Brian Fawcett, the "perfect counterpart of the serious Jack." The two boys had been virtually inseparable since they roamed the Devonshire countryside around Seaton, England, where they grew up, riding bicycles and shooting rifles in the air. In a letter to one of Fawcett's confidants, Jack wrote, "Now we have Raleigh Rimell on board who is every bit as keen as I am._._._._He is the only intimate friend I have ever had. I knew him before I was seven years old and we have been more or less together ever since. He is absolutely honest and decent in every sense of the word and we know each other inside out."

What People are Saying About This

Erik Larson

"David Grann's Lost City of Z is a deeply satisfying revelation-a look into the life and times of one of the last great territorial explorers, P. H. Fawcett, and his search for a lost city in the Amazon. I mean, 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."--(Erik Larson, author of Thunderstruck, Devil in the White City and Isaac's Storm)

Nathaniel Philbrick

"The Amazon has had many chroniclers but few who can match David Grann's grasp of history, science, and especially narrative. Shifting seamlessly between the past and present, THE LOST CITY OF Z is a riveting, totally absorbing real-life adventure story."--(Nathaniel Philbrick, author of Mayflower and In the Heart of the Sea)

Walter Isaacson

"A wonderfully researched true story about an intrepid adventurer, a colorful cast, and an obsession that grips both him and the author."--(Walter Isaacson, author of Einstein)

Candice Millard

"A fantastic story of courage, obsession, and mystery, THE LOST CITY OF Z is gripping from beginning to end. In the pantheon of classic exploration tales, this stands out as one of the best."--(Candice Millard, author The River of Doubt)

Hampton Sides

"What a wild and adventurous life! In the deft storytelling hands of David Grann, explorer Percy Fawcett emerges as one of the most ambitious, colorful, just plain intrepid figures ever to set foot in the New World. Part Indiana Jones, part Livingstone, and part Kit Carson, Fawcett has found his perfect biographer in Grann, who has gamely endured every conceivable Amazonian hardship to piece together the story of this British swashbuckler and his crazed search for a vanished civilization."--(Hampton Sides, author of Blood and Thunder and Ghost Soldiers)

Charles Mann

"Few things are better than experiencing a horrendous adventure from the comfort of your own armchair. Hordes of mosquitoes, poison-arrow attacks, bizarre and fatal diseases, spies in starched collars, hidden outposts of Atlantis -- what's not to like? The Lost City of Z is like a wonderful 19th-century tale of exotic danger -- except that David Grann's book is also a sensitively written biographical detective story, a vest pocket history of exploration, and a guide to the new archaeological research that is exploding our preconceptions of the Amazon and its peoples."--(Charles Mann, author of 1491)

Goodwin Doris Kearns

"With this riveting work, David Grann emerges on our national landscape as a major new talent. His superb writing style, his skills as a reporter, his masterful use of historical and scientific documents, and his stunning storytelling ability are on full display here, producing an endlessly absorbing tale about a magical subject that captivates from start to finish. This is a terrific book."--(Doris Kearns Goodwin, author of Team of Rivals)

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."--(Malcolm Gladwell, author of Blink and The Tipping Point)

Reading Group Guide

"Suspenseful. . . . Rollicking. . . . Reads with all the pace and excitement of a movie thriller" —The New York Times

The introduction, questions, and suggestions for further reading that follow are designed to enhance your group’s discussion of David Grann’s gripping account of the mysterious disappearance of Great Britain's last great gentleman explorer, Percy Harrison Fawcett.

1. Books about explorers, adventurers, and extreme risk-takers like Jon Krakauer’s Eiger Dreams and Into the Wild, Caroline Alexander’s The Endurance, Joe Simpson’s Touching the Void, Nathaniel Philbrick’s In the Heart of the Sea, Sebastian Junger’s A Perfect Storm, and many others, have become extremely popular in recent years. What are the appeals of such books? What qualities does The Lost City of Z share with books of this kind? In what ways does it differ from them?

2. After time away from the jungle, Fawcett wrote: “Inexplicably—amazingly—I knew I loved that hell. Its fiendish grasp had captured me, and I wanted to see it again” [p. 116]. What drove Fawcett to plunge himself again and again into the dangers of the Amazon? What is the main force that drives him—obsession with finding the lost city, desire to prove himself against his competitors, a need to escape the confines of civilization, a spiritual quest?

3. In what ways is Fawcett a symbolic figure? What values does he embody? In what ways does he represent many of both the best and worst qualities of the British Empire?

4. Grann notes that some anthropologists and historians consider Fawcett’s view of the Indians enlightened for his era while others saw him as unable to transcend the prevailing racism of his own culture. How does he regard the Indians he encounters? How does he treat them?

5. How do Fawcett’s expeditions affect his wife Nina? How does she see her role in relation to him? In what ways does she succumb to his obsessions?

6. In what ways does The Lost City of Z challenge conventional views of the Amazon? What does it suggest about the current state of archeological research in the region?

7. What are some of the most fascinating and/or dreadful features of the Amazon jungle revealed in The Lost City of Z? How has the jungle been changed since Europeans first made contact with it?

8. What does The Lost City of Z reveal about the power of obsession? In what ways does Fawcett’s obsession draw others into its deadly gravitational pull?

9. By what means does Grann maintain such a high level of suspense throughout the book? What does the interweaving of his own story—the story of his search for the truth about what happened to Fawcett and the story of his writing of the book itself—add to the total effect of The Lost City of Z?

10. After witnessing the mass carnage of World War I, Fawcett exclaims: “Civilization! Ye gods! To see what one has seen the word is an absurdity. It has been an insane explosion of the lowest human emotions” [p. 189]. In what ways does The Lost City of Z call into question conventional notions of civilization? What does it suggest about the supposed differences between advanced and primitive cultures?

11. What are Percy Harrison’s Fawcett’s most admirable qualities? What aspects of his character prove most troubling? Was James Murray right in accusing Fawcett of all but murdering him? [p. 139].

12. Near the end of the book, Grann writes about how biographers are often driven mad by the inability to fully comprehend their subjects. Of his own quest he says: “The finished story of Fawcett seemed to reside eternally beyond the horizon: a hidden metropolis of words and paragraphs, my own Z” [p. 303]. How well does Grann succeed in discovering and revealing the truth of Percy Fawcett?

13. Does Grann’s meeting with the anthropologist Michael Heckenberger in Kurikulo village confirm Fawcett’s belief in a lost ancient civilization? Is Fawcett’s search vindicated at last?


(For a complete list of available reading group guides, and to sign up for the Reading Group Center enewsletter, visit www.readinggroupcenter.com)

Interviews

Q&A with David Grann, author of The Lost City of Z

When did you first stumble upon the story of Percy Fawcett and his search for an ancient civilization in the Amazon-and when did you realize this particular story had you in "the grip"?

While I was researching a story on the mysterious death of the world's greatest Sherlock Holmes expert, I came upon a reference to Fawcett's role in inspiring Arthur Conan Doyle's novel "The Lost World." Curious, I plugged Fawcett's name into a newspaper database and was amazed by the headlines that appeared, including "THREE MEN FACE CANNIBALS IN RELIC QUEST" and tribesmen "Seize Movie Actor Seeking to Rescue Fawcett." As I read each story, I became more and more curious-about how Fawcett's quest for a lost city and his disappearance had captivated the world; how for decades hundreds of scientists and explorers had tried to find evidence of Fawcett's missing party and the City of Z; and how countless seekers had disappeared or died from starvation, diseases, attacks by wild animals, or poisonous arrows. What intrigued me most, though, was the notion of Z. For years most scientists had considered the brutal conditions in the largest jungle in the world inimical to humankind, but more recently some archeologists had begun to question this longstanding view and believed that a sophisticated civilization like Z might have existed. Such a discovery would challenge virtually everything that was believed about the nature of the Amazon and what the Americas looked liked before the arrival of Christopher Columbus. Suddenly, the story had every tantalizing element--mystery, obsession, death, madness-as well as great intellectualstakes. Still, I probably didn't realize I was fully in the story's "grip" until I told my wife that I planned to take out an extra life insurance policy and follow Fawcett's trail into the Amazon.


Tell us about the discovery of Fawcett's previously unpublished diaries and logbooks.

Researching the book often felt like a kind of treasure hunt and nothing was more exciting than coming across these materials in an old chest in the house of one of Fawcett's grandchildren. Fawcett, who had been a British spy, was extremely secretive about his search for Z-in part because he didn't want his rivals to discover the lost city before he did and in part because he feared that too many people would die if they tried to follow in his wake. These old, crumbling diaries and logbooks held incredible clues to both Fawcett's life and death; what's more, they revealed a key to his clandestine route to the Lost City of Z.

In an attempt to retrace Fawcett's journey, many scientists and explorers have faced madness, kidnapping, and death. Did you ever hesitate to go to the Amazon?

I probably should have been more hesitant, especially after reading some of the diaries of members of other parties that had scoured the Amazon for a lost city. One seeker of El Dorado described reaching a state of "privation so great that we were eating nothing but leather, belts and soles of shoes, cooked with certain herbs, with the result that so great was our weakness that we could not remain standing." In that expedition alone, some four thousand men perished. Other explorers resorted to cannibalism. One searcher went so mad he stabbed his own child, whispering, "Commend thyself to God, my daughter, for I am about to kill thee." But to be honest, even after reading these accounts, I was so consumed by the story that I did not think much about the consequences-and one of the themes I try to explore in the book is the lethal nature of obsession.

When you were separated from your guide Paolo on the way to the Kuikuro village and seemingly lost and alone in the jungle, what was going through your mind?

Besides fear, I kept wondering what the hell I was doing on such a mad quest.

Paolo and you made a game of imagining what happened to Fawcett in the Amazon. Without giving anything away about the Lost City of Z, I was wondering if you came away with any final conclusions?

I don't want to give too much away; but, after poring over Fawcett's final letters and dispatches from the expedition and after interviewing many of the tribes that Fawcett himself had encountered, I felt as if I had come as close as possible to knowing why Fawcett and his party vanished.

In his praise for your book, Malcolm Gladwell asks a "central question of our age": "In the battle between man and a hostile environment, who wins?" Obviously, the jungle has won many times, but it seems man may be gaining. What are your thoughts on the deforestation taking place in the Amazon?

It is a great tragedy. Over the last four decades in Brazil alone, the Amazon has lost some two hundred and seventy thousand square miles of its original forest cover-an area bigger than France. Many tribes, including some I visited, are being threatened with extinction. Countless animals and plants, many of them with potential medicinal purposes, are also vanishing. One of the things that the book explores is how early Native American societies were often able to overcome their hostile environment without destroying it. Unfortunately, that has not been the case with the latest wave of trespassers.

You began this journey as a man who doesn't like to camp and has "a terrible sense of direction and tend[s] to forget where [you are] on the subway and miss[es] [your] stop in Brooklyn." Are you now an avid outdoorsman?

No. Once was enough for me!

Early in the book, you write, "Ever since I was young, I've been drawn to mystery and adventure tales." What have been some of your favorite books-past and present-that fall into this category?

I'm a huge Sherlock Holmes fan, and every few years go back and read the stories again. I do the same with many of Joseph Conrad's novels, including "Lord Jim." I'm always amazed at how he produced quest novels that reflected the Victorian era and yet seem to have been written with the wisdom of a historian looking back in time. As for more contemporary authors, I read a lot of crime fiction, especially the works of George Pelecanos and Michael Connelly. I also relish books, such as Jonathan Lethem's "Motherless Brooklyn," that cleverly play with this genre. Finally, there are the gripping yarns written by authors like Jon Krakauer and Nathaniel Philbrick-stories that are all the more spellbinding because they are true.

Brad Pitt and Paramount optioned The Lost City of Z in the spring. Any updates?

They have hired a screenwriter and director and seem to be moving forward at a good clip.

What are you working on now?

I recently finished a couple of crime stories for The New Yorker, including one about a Polish author who allegedly committed murder and then left clues about the real crime in his novel. Meanwhile, I'm hoping to find a tantalizing story, like "The Lost City of Z," that will lead to a new book.

Anything else you'd like to add?

Just that I hope that readers will enjoy "The Lost City of Z" and find the story of Fawcett and his quest as captivating as I did.

Introduction

"Suspenseful. . . . Rollicking. . . . Reads with all the pace and excitement of a movie thriller" —The New York Times

The introduction, questions, and suggestions for further reading that follow are designed to enhance your group’s discussion of David Grann’s gripping account of the mysterious disappearance of Great Britain's last great gentleman explorer, Percy Harrison Fawcett.

From the B&N Reads Blog

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