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Thursday, April 1, 2010

What I'm Reading: The Lost City of Z

The Lost City of Z by David Grann made it on to just about every best list of 2009 and then I heard Bard Pitt was starting in the movie version (filming now), so I moved it to the top of my to-read pile. Actually, I got the audio on this one, which worked well.

This book contains multiple storylines. The main story involves the life and adventures of legendary British explorer, Percy Fawcet, who went into the Amazon in 1925, with his son, and never was heard from again.  Many hundreds of people have gone into the South American rain forest to look for him or his remains, and no one has ever been successful; in fact, many have dies trying.

The other major storyline follows Grann as he researches Fawcet's life and eventually goes into the Amazon himself looking for lost traces of Fawcet and the elusive Lost City of Z, remnants of a highly cultivated society deep within the Amazon rain forest.

Gran had access to many primary documents and spoke to Fawcet's living relatives. As a result the book is part biography, part true adventure, and filled with lots of detail.  However, the pacing is not bogged down by the detail and extensive research because Grann writes this nonfiction book like a modern suspense novel.  He leads us up to a point of tension in the story and then pulls back, going back to discuss new characters or details in more depth.  We are racing to read and learn this new information so that we can get back to the cliff hanger and see what happened.  And of course, the entire time, we are also reading to see if Grann himself is successful.

The Lost City of Z is a fast-paced, yet academically sound, true adventure.  It is engrossing, interesting, and fun.  Readers who like to learn about eccentric historical figures and/or indigenous peoples will greatly enjoy this book too.

Three Words That Describe This Book: engrossing, historical, true-adventure

Readalikes: An obvious choice for people who enjoyed The Lost City of Z is River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey by Candice Millard, which is referred to in Grann's book and which my book club read and discussed here (Note: I have some more possible readalikes in that post too). Grann also has a nice bibliography in the back of the book for people who want to read more about Amazon explorers.

Grann's description of himself as a hapless explorer reminded me of Bill Bryson's attempt to hike the entire Appalachian Trail in A Walk in the Woods. Fans of Grann's person quest from city dwelling coach potato to Amazonian explorer will love Bryson's book too.

True adventure in general is a great readalike choice for fans of this book.  Try this link to see National Geographic's list of the 100 best try adventure.

For fiction options I have a few ideas about the different directions your readers may want to go.
  • Amazonia by James Rollins is a thrilling, supernatural adventure novel dealing with undiscovered areas of the Amazon and a search for a lost exploration party.
  • The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason is a literary tale of a novice exploring uncharted Burma. Mason's other novel, A Far Country, is set in South America, but The Piano Tuner is a better readalike match in terms of style and themes.
  • Ines of My Soul by Isabel Allende is a fictional history of the settling of Chile. My book group read it here. It will also give readers a female perspective on exploring (and settling) the wilds of South America

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