Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Book Review: The Lost City of Z

This is as close to Indiana Jones as you'll get in the non-fiction section. David Grann is a New York reporter who started writing a story about Percy Fawcett, perhaps the last famous British explorer (think khaki outfit and pith helmet), who explored the Amazon basin several times in the early 20th century and disappeared without a trace on one of his expeditions, in which he was looking for a fabled lost city -- El Dorado, really, but he called it Z. With the help of a few only-recently-made-public clues, Grann traces Fawcett's path and finds more than a few new things that help us end his story ... and answer the question of El Dorado.

The best thing and the worst thing about this book is its pacing. Grann jumps back and forth between the past and the present, tracing Fawcett's life and Grann's search for answers in parallel. He pulls it off nimbly, but the problem is it saves all the truly interesting scientific stuff for the very end, when he finds hints of the Lost City of Z. Now, this stuff is cutting-edge archaeology and is only now being figured out ... but surely there's more to say than can be crammed into 5 pages at the very end of the book?! This book is about the journey, not the destination ... but the destination is very, very interesting and I want to know more.

In any case, at least his way of doing it keeps you in suspense, and there is an amazing payoff at the end. I'm sure there's people who will like this book more than the recent Indiana Jones movie (I liked that movie just fine, myself). It is very diverting and a great story, and best of all, it's true. So even though I'm kind of sick of non-fiction with my recent reading list, I enjoyed this book immensely, and it's just the scientist in me that wants to know more about the science. Guess I should read the journal articles, then.

And yes, my next book review will probably be fiction. :)

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