Based on his study of document in the National Library of Rio de Janeiro, British surveyor Col. Percy Harrison Fawcett named this mysterious city which had been described by a Portuguese explorer in his writings from 1753. The account described an advanced city seen from one of the many rivers in the Amazonian forest. While others dismissed the account, Fawcett became obsessed with discovering the city, and engaged in seven expeditions to the Amazon between 1906 and 1924, only to disappear on the last one, in the company of his son. The story captured the imagination of the world, while Fawcett’s wife maintained the home front, striving to mount rescue missions to find her lost family. Fawcett was never found, but the quest for finding him became passion for numerous people, all the way up to the recent past. And it was this obsession that Gann needed to explore for himself, tracing Fawcett’s exploration as best as possible, since he had maintained a secretive habit of hiding his maps to guard against competing explorers who might try to steal his glory.
A staff writer for The New Yorker, Grann’s book chronicles Fawcett’s, how he became an explorer, as well as his many journeys to the Amazon. As well, he also documents some of the explorers who went to find Fawcett, some of whom also never returned. Grann’s own experience in the jungle gave more of a vivid and intimate feeling for the reader to experience this fascinating, and wildly untamed world where the slightest misjudgment of where to step, or what to touch, could mean the different between life or death. The theme of a European’s obsession Amazonia also made me think of the documentary Burden of Dreams, the documentary of the director Werner Herzog’s filming of his obsession in the Amazon: Fitzcarraldo… and of course Herzog’s other epic of Amazonian obsession, Aguirre, the Wrath of God. The ending of the book also had a satisfying conclusion which included a visit to an archaeologist living native style among the indigenous tribes there, and his insight into the elusive lost city which Fawcett staked his and his son’s life on discovering.