You last saw Percy Harrison Fawcett with Indiana Jones in the 1981 movie Raiders of the Lost Ark. His English family last saw him and his young son Jack on December 3, 1924, before his small party walked into the Amazon to find the fabulous City of Z. If he was not for real in every astonishing detail, you would think he was a Hollywood production for summer viewing.
Of a late Victorian cut, self-educated in the craft of Amazonian exploration, he did important mapping of South America for the Royal Geographical Society in London when it was their charge to complete the mapping of the world. There was something in him that prevented him from ever understanding risk and mortal harm in the way others, both sane and some slightly less, understood it. Once he had experienced the purulent extremes, starvation, hostile natives, and assorted agonies of the rain forest he was addicted. He could not stay away.
Many early explorers had written of a city of gold somewhere in the Amazon. The idea obsessed PHF, first in a rational way but before long it had in his mind become a vast city beyond description. He thought the city was built of stone even though he found little in the rain forest. The grain of truth in what he envisioned caused his and many other needless deaths. Today the grain is being scientifically studied by Michael Heckenberger who has written a ground-breaking account in The Ecology of Power.
David Grann has taken the life and aftermath of PHF and put it into a breezy The Lost City Of Z: A Tale Of Deadly Obsession In The Amazon. The book will not take you long to read as it sticks to your hand. A little bit of PHF”s Z seems to have rubbed off on Grann or he had it in him from the beginning. After reading all the published material, all the Royal Geographical Society archives, tracking down members of PHF”s family, reading unpublished family papers, he did what you may have guessed. He went in search of the last place the PHF party was known to be alive. He went to find the true bones. So you are warned, this book may cause you to at least fantasize about something too bizarre to mention to employer and family.
Once I read Charles Mann,1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, and then John Hemming, Tree Of Rivers: The Story Of The Amazon, all great books, I thought I had that part of the world covered. Not true. These three books seem to have whetted my appetite. It is nice to have a mild obsession that can be controlled through amazon.com unlike old PHF and the others who make up our entertaining history. Charles Marlin