Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Lost City of Z by David Grann

Doubleday, 2009

Sold as a narrative nonfiction title for readers of adventure stories, this book helped get me into the whole notion of reading nonfiction for pleasure.  Any sort of archaeological adventure is an easy sell for me, so I avidly listened to this book on unabridged audio CD.

While the main subject of the book, explorer Percy Fawcett (1865-1925?), was an interesting character, I was particularly fascinated by the descriptions of the Amazon jungle. Most notably the myriad insects, ticks, worms and other parasites that plague explorers of this "green hell." 

I was hoping for more descriptions of ancient ruins and lost civilizations, but the other details more than made up for it.  I found the author’s hypothesis regarding the nature of the lost city known as “Z” fairly compelling, although my imagination almost demands ancient stone zigurats and complicated death traps to confound explorers!  The author’s ideas are much more realistic and have a power of their own.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How was the jungle viewed and experienced in the age of Victorian explorers, and then in our modern age of deforestation and "civilization?"
  2. Would you ever want to explore undiscovered country far from the comforts of civilization?
  3. Do you think there are any untraveled or unexplored destinations left in the world?
  4. The author spent a lot of time describing the insects and other parasites that preyed upon the explorers, and all the other hardships they experienced.  Why would people want to subject themselves to that, and even do it again?
  5. What did you think of Percy Fawcett as described in this book?
  6. How well do you think the author portrayed the mindsets and prejudices of the explorers and the culture they came from?
  7. How were native peoples described in this book?
  8. This book has been billed as an adventure story.  Did you find that it read as such?


  1. Before this book, you never read nonfiction for pleasure? Is The Lost City of Z thus not a current read (it's actually a "listen")? How long ago did you read it? What is your ratio of nonfiction to fiction reads in a given period?

  2. I listened to this book about three years ago, and it was one of the first nonfiction books that I read for pleasure. Another one that also helped was Malcolm Gladwell's book "Blink." Which I will also post one day on this blog. I first started reading these two books to acquire information about their respective subjects, but then they proved fun to read for their own sake - i.e. they were enjoyable beyond the expected acquisition of knowledge that I would gain from them. My ratio of nonfiction to fiction reads in say a one month period is about 1:4 (nonfiction:fiction) - especially if the nonfiction book turns out to be both interesting in content, but dry in delivery (I will be posting about one such book soon). But regardless of type, if I don't like a book and I know that I don't want to bother posting about it, then I will not finish it.

    I will continue to post about books I have read in the past that I feel would make good book club discussions, interspersed with ones I read currently.

  3. My latest "reading assignment" is finally to read all the books I have about islands. The Mississauga Library System does not have these books in its collection, so I will have to delve deeper into my personal blog's vault to find archived reviews of nonfiction books that are available in the library for the public to borrow.

    The brief profile I have posted for myself here provides a link to my personal blog. There one can read recent reviews of books about the Channel Islands, Tristan da Cunha (my travel destination this summer) and the Åland Islands. I am currently reading another islands book, and over the course of this year will post more reviews about the following: the Faroe Islands, Tuvalu, Newfoundland, Corsica, the Isles of Scilly, Sable Island, Pitcairn Island, and the islands of the Great Lakes.

    I was on a "fiction kick" about three years ago, wherein I finally got around to reading almost all the novels I had accumulated yet, for a lengthy number of reasons, never read. Currently there are less than a dozen novels on my shelves that I have to read, compared to ten times that number of NF books covering a wide variety of topics.

  4. Hey James: To answer your #8 question: yes, it was a great adventure story to me.
    In the same venue is "Into Africa..." by Martin Dugard. I have a long list of adventure books posted on site as a listomania. Many from this list are in library: