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

Cover for The Lost City of ZThe Lost City of Z by David Grann tells the story of a famous British explorer, Percy Fawcett, and his obsession with finding the fabled city of El Dorado in the Amazon. He was the last of the great Victorian adventurers and possibly the inspiration for Indiana Jones (and for the explorer in the movie Up).

Fawcett made a career of exploring the Bolivian and Brazilian Amazon, beginning with being hired by the Bolivian government to establish its border in the Amazon. He became convinced that there had been a large city, which he called Z, in the region of the Xingu River. Hundreds of expeditions had been made to find it, beginning in the 16th century, and many of them were never seen again.

In 1925 Fawcett set off on an expedition funded by the Royal Geographical Society with a small party that included his son and son’s best friend. He sent daily dispatches back from the jungle that were published in the newspapers and waited for with anticipation by the general public. Then the dispatches stopped, and he was never seen again.

But the story wasn’t over. Others went into the jungle to try to find out what happened to him, including a famous movie star. Many of them never returned, either.

Grann, a staff writer for The New Yorker, became interested in the subject, which he came upon while working on another project. During his research, he met with members of the Fawcett family and was given access to a some previously unpublished personal papers. He is able to provide insight into the explorer’s character and thought processes, which makes for a fascinating story.

Grann also became consumed with the fate of the Fawcett expedition and found himself deciding to follow in Fawcett’s footsteps. Although his trip through the Amazon in a jeep was no Victorian expedition, he himself is no explorer. He was surprised to find the Amazon almost as wild today as it was 100 years ago.

And maybe he solved the mystery of what happened to Fawcett’s expedition. The story of Fawcett’s adventures makes compelling reading, and the ending is unexpected.

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