Percy Harrison Fawcett, renowned Amazon explorer, was most famous not for his many expeditions and contributions to the mapping of the Amazon but for his disappearance. Having departed along with his eldest son in search of the fabled city of “Z” in 1925 he was never heard from again. His absence resulted in various rescue expeditions with most invariably vanishing into the jungle, possibly leading to the deaths of up to 100 people with no one any closer to discovering the fate of Percy’s last expedition. Cut to 2009 when journalist David Grann also falls under the spell of Fawcett and the Amazon. He too lands in the jungle, determined to find out truth.
Much like “Into Thin Air”, author David Grann divides the book up into his own adventures and a history of Fawcett’s. This helps provide a background on the explorer as well as the challenges and perils of the Amazon.
Fawcett is a surprising character and largest than life. He was apparently the inspiration for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s character Professor Challenger in “The Lost World”. On expeditions he appeared practically immune to the diseases and illnesses that plagued his companions. Luck and speed helped bolster his reputation, earning him a Founder’s medal and a well-respected name among the Royal Geographical Society as an Amazonian expert.
His travels though were interrupted by World War I and he spent years planning and dreaming of finding traces of a lost civilization in the jungle on the same scale as Machu Picchu. All the while he’s getting older, technology is shrinking the world and he’s being slowly but inexorably pushed out of his field by men with degrees in the emerging field of modern anthropology.
The book was engaging despite the interruption in narrative to switch between Fawcett and Grann’s stories. It was also interesting to see how expeditions and the jungle changed over time due to the evolution of technology and modernization. While not every question was answered, Grann provides a satisfactory ending that would surely have pleased Fawcett himself.