Study Guide

The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon

By David Grann

The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon Introduction

The Amazon jungle is filled with strange and unusual creatures. Like the candiru fish that might swim up your unmentionables. The group of piranhas that might eat you alive. A snake with an insatiable appetite for Jennifer Lopez lookalikes. And a rare vine-swinging monkey that looks like Shia LaBeouf.

Those are the just the things we can see—and some of them we wish we could unsee. But what about the creatures we can't see? The Amazon jungle is a harsh and unforgiving environment that brutally punishes any outsider who cannot quickly adapt. Heck, even skilled explorers are prone to disappearing into the jungle, never to be seen again.

That's what happened to Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett, who disappeared in 1925. Fawcett, credited with mapping a respectable amount of the huge Amazon jungle, was a worldwide sensation. His disappearance made headlines across the globe, much like what would happen today if Taylor Swift missed a day on Instagram. In fact, the case of the missing 20th-century explorer inspired many amateur pith-heads to follow in his footsteps and hunt him down. There were few survivors.

One of the reasons Fawcett's journey and disappearance struck a chord was the dude's strong belief in the existence of a mythical city in the Amazon. He named his El Dorado-wannabe metropolis simply "Z." He took many trips into the jungle searching for Z, but he never found it.

Or did he?

New Yorker writer David Grann entered the Amazon in 2005 sniffing out Fawcett's trail to Z. In The Lost City of Z, the book he wrote about his journey, Grann describes himself as out of shape and prone to misdirection, and as someone who really likes air conditioning. What can a pampered pudgy writer do that many hardened explorers could not? Will Grann find Fawcett's whereabouts? Most importantly, will Grann make it back alive?

Spoiler alert: he makes it back alive. Otherwise we wouldn't have The Lost City of Z, would we?

Even though Fawcett disappeared in 1925, his legacy lives on almost one hundred years later. Grann's book started as an article published in the New Yorker in 2005. Grann expanded it into the book in 2009. A movie is scheduled to be released in 2016. Fawcett is like the Energizer Bunny of explorers, going and going and disappearing and going and going…

The film features Sons of Anarchy star Charlie Hunnam, who will be causing anarchy in the Amazon as Fawcett; Robert Pattinson playing some dude who is barely in the book; and Sienna Miller as the one woman in the story (source). While the men are exploring the jungle, she gets to explore her house. Womp womp.

If you're exploring your house and stumble across a copy of World War Z… well, that's a different book entirely. But if you come across The Lost City of Z, crack it open and take a trip inside. It's safer than heading to the jungle (there are fewer genital-eating fish and fewer zombies), and you can try to find Z from the comfort of your own living room.

What is The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon About and Why Should I Care?

Hey, we all have a tendency toward obsession. For some, it's trying to collect all 721-and-counting Pokémon. For others, it's perfecting a free throw. And don't forget that one guy who set out to build the tallest pyramid of cans at a sporting event.

In 1925, Colonel Percy Fawcett didn't have Netflix, so he couldn't obsess over Dragon Ball Z and marathon every single episode of it to feed his obsession. Instead, he obsessed over something else: finding the Lost City of Z.

We can only speculate why Fawcett became so fixated on Z.

We know he felt confined by the limitations of society and longed to be in the wilderness, but that was only the start. Like watching the same episode of Sesame Street over and over again, his existence became brought to us by the letter Z. His obsession led to his death, hence Grann's subtitle A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon.

Fawcett's son, Brian, suggested that his father had a spiritual motivation for finding Z. The elder Fawcett believed it to be a magical place that perhaps, if he found it, it would complete him. Whatever the reason, Fawcett had a Z-shaped hole in his soul, and he was desperately trying to fill it, even at the risk of his own life.

Grann has an obsession once removed: he's obsessed with unlocking the secrets of Fawcett's obsession. While he doesn't quite get there, he learns much about himself, and about how to temper his obsessive tendencies before they get him in deep doo-doo…or whatever he's wading in down in the Amazon.

Whether it's TV, dance, books, or selfies, The Lost City of Z shows us the dangers of taking your obsession too far. But it also demonstrates how something good can come of your obsession—when you're able to rein it in.

The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon Resources


Z Marks the Spot
If you're lost on your way to Z, we can't help you. But if you're lost trying to picture what's going on in the book, Grann's website is chock full of maps and photos to help your imagination on its way.


Finding Z
It gets hot in the jungle, so it's good to have an enthusiastic fan. This fan has all the news on the movie that's fit to print.


You Must Be This Tall to Go on the Expedition
In this interview, Grann reveals a pretty good reason not to take your kids into the jungle.

The Age of Exploration
Age isn't just a number, at least not when it comes to the age of exploration.

Elementary, Our Dear Fawcett
In this interview, Grann basically reconstructs his entire writing career for you. It's like CSI: David Grann.


Tale as Old as…2009
Grann unravels his tale in this interview.

In a Lost World…
The movie trailer gives you a taste of the jungle. Be careful: it bites back.


Z on the Radio
The Amazon has never sounded jazzier than in this easy-listening MPR interview.

Talk of the Amazon
The jungle talks, and so does David Grann on NPR.


Let's Talk about Sextant
This tool used by Fawcett is totally safe for work.

Using 'Roids
An aneroid is not, in fact, something that could get you booted from the Olympics.

Chrono Trigger
An ancient Apple Watch measuring temperature, humidity, time, and longitude.