Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Nonfiction Files

The Nonfiction Files is a weekly journal of my adventures reading my toppling piles of nonfiction books. I won't be posting reviews, but rather my thoughts about what I'm reading, while I'm reading it.

I'm joined in The Nonfiction Files by Jehara. If you would like to play along with us, let me know!

My current read: The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann

Synopsis from publisher:

After stumbling upon a hidden trove of diaries, acclaimed New Yorker writer David Grann set out to solve "the greatest exploration mystery of the twentieth century": What happened to the British explorer Percy Fawcett and his quest for the Lost City of Z?

In 1925 Fawcett ventured into the Amazon to find an ancient civilization, hoping to make one of the most important discoveries in history. For centuries Europeans believed the world’s largest jungle concealed the glittering kingdom of El Dorado. Thousands had died looking for it, leaving many scientists convinced that the Amazon was truly inimical to humankind. But Fawcett, whose daring expeditions helped inspire Conan Doyle’s The Lost World, had spent years building his scientific case. Captivating the imagination of millions around the globe, Fawcett embarked with his twenty-one-year-old son, determined to prove that this ancient civilization—which he dubbed “Z”—existed. Then he and his expedition vanished.

Fawcett’s fate—and the tantalizing clues he left behind about “Z”—became an obsession for hundreds who followed him into the uncharted wilderness. For decades scientists and adventurers have searched for evidence of Fawcett’s party and the lost City of Z. Countless have perished, been captured by tribes, or gone mad. As David Grann delved ever deeper into the mystery surrounding Fawcett’s quest, and the greater mystery of what lies within the Amazon, he found himself, like the generations who preceded him, being irresistibly drawn into the jungle’s “green hell.” His quest for the truth and his stunning discoveries about Fawcett’s fate and “Z” form the heart of this complex, enthralling narrative.

My thoughts:

I'm happy to say I'm back in the groove with this week's selection - once again, this is a great piece of nonfiction.

Percy Fawcett had a troubled upbringing, with each of his parents unable to provide any real affection. Fawcett later states that perhaps this lack of emotional support was good for him, as it forced him to turn inside himself for strength. A member of the British Artillary, it was at his post in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) that Fawcett met the love of his life, his wife Nina, and discovered an obsession with discovery that would last the rest of his life.

Grann alternates Fawcett's story with his own tale, and each story is equally fascinating. Grann's wife is, understandably, skeptical when he proposes finding an explorer who disappeared 80 years before, but as he uncovers more details, he is unavoidably drawn into this incredible mystery.

In this section of the book, we see the beginnings of Fawcett's life as an explorer in the Amazon jungle, and the start of Grann's search to find an explanation for Fawcett's disappearance. We also learn about the beginnings of the Royal Geographical Society, which had as its goal to map the entire surface of the world. I think this is the first book I've ever read about explorers, and I am struck by just exactly how fragile and dangerous their world was. Setting off into the unknown, many times with not much more than the clothes on their backs and what little food they could stuff into a pack, these men and women set out to see what the world held. Many - maybe most - never came back. Grann says, "...these accounts made me aware of how much of the discovery of the world was based on failure rather than on success - on tactical errors and pipte dreams. The Society may have conquered the world, but not before the world had conquered its members."

I am thoroughly engrossed in the stories of Fawcett and Grann, and can't wait to see where their journies take them next.


bermudaonion said...

I keep hearing great things about The Lost City of Z - I'll have to give it a try.

A Bookshelf Monstrosity said...

Always looking for more excellent nonfiction. This one's on my list :)

Florinda said...

I read an excerpt from this a few weeks ago via the Email Book Club, and I was quite intrigued. I'm glad you're enjoying the book so far!

J.S. Peyton said...

I've wanted to read this book for ages. I'm trying really, very hard to hold out for the paperback. Luckily, I have more than a few books to keep me busy, but I can't wait to my hands on a copy of this! :)

Zibilee said...

This book does sound intriguing. I am not very familiar with it, but I am interested in following these reviews and seeing if this does turn out to be something I'd like to read. Glad you are finding it so engrossing.

Kristen M. said...

I have a copy of this one at home but had sort of lost interest in reading it. Now I'm excited about it again! Thanks!

Luanne said...

I really liked this one Elizabeth - I had to keep reminding myself it was non fiction!

Anonymous said...

If you ever find yourself in Torquay on the so-called English Riviera in south Devon - drop into the local museum where they're very proud of local lad Fawcett and have displays about his various South American missions.