Before I begin this review, I have to admit something a little embarrassing. For a very long time, I thought this book was a zombie novel. I mean, “The Lost City of Z” just sounds like a zombie novel, right? I think I was getting it mixed up with all those World War Z sorts of books. Then, a couple months ago, Jason mentioned it to me as a nonfiction book about South America and the Amazon. I was floored. I had no idea! It sounded fascinating, so I got the audiobook from the library and decided to listen to it.
The book is sort of a mixed biography, history lesson, and travelogue all in one. The primary focus is on an explorer from the late 19th/early 20th century, a man named Percy Fawcett. Fawcett was apparently pretty famous in his time and his explorations were the inspiration for a whole host of things, including books by many writers of the time (such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World). I, being really ignorant when it comes to history, had never heard of the guy and had a great time getting to know all about him and Amazon exploration.
David Grann sets this book up perfectly, alternating history lessons, biographical information on Fawcett and other explorers, and information from his own journey into the Amazon. He tells us how he did all his research, and instead of just presenting the research, he tells it as if it’s a story. To me, this is the best kind of history, and the kind I retain most easily. It’s focused on cultural and human aspects, rather than political or governmental. That’s not to say that politics and government played no part in the history or the book. They did. But they were integrated into the story of these people, rather than the reverse.
I learned so much from this book that I didn’t know before. South America fascinates me, though I’m not sure I would personally want to go into the Amazon, especially after hearing all the (really gross) tales of insects and parasites. Still, from a distance, all this fascinates me. I really felt immersed in the area and a time period in a way I rarely feel. I think it helped that I listened to the audio version, rather than just reading. Hearing it spoken added a whole new dimension for me, and I think I’ve decided that, whenever possible, I want to listen to my nonfiction in the future. Mark Deakins read the audiobook, and he was the perfect narrator, clear and precise. I highly recommend both the book and the audio production.