Study Guide

The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon What's Up With the Title?

By David Grann

What's Up With the Title?

VisionZ of Z

We have some advice for you: don't try to find Z. It doesn't exist. At least, it doesn't exist at this moment. It's like Iggy Azalea's career: it was once thriving, but now it's basically extinct, with little evidence of its existence remaining.

This is a tough pill for many followers of Fawcett to accept, which is why they come up with ridiculously radical theories about Z—and Fawcett himself certainly got that Magic 8 Ball rolling by being secretive and paranoid. Grann writes, "In keeping with his secretive nature, he gave the city a cryptic and alluring name, one that, in all his writings and interviews, he never explained. He called it simply Z" (17.1).

The name "Z" only adds to the appeal. If Fawcett had called it something lame, like Fawcettville or Boston, no one would want to find it.

So it's not surprising that followers take Fawcett's near-mystical reverence for the unknown and run with it. Grann tells us, for example, about a cult leader who "predicted that the world would end in 1982 and said that his people must prepare to descend into the hollow earth" (25.2). Yep, dude thinks Z is a portal to another dimension.

Even Fawcett's rational son, Brian, wondered if the "whole conception of 'Z,' [was] a spiritual objective, and the manner of reaching it a religious allegory?" (24.15). Fawcett may have only been satisfied by finding something within himself¬—because really, all mysteries lose some of their appeal once they're actually solved—and we can only hope he did before dying.

In the present, Grann believes that many visions of Z were optical illusions. Brian and others, when exploring the jungle by plane, would see a city, but upon closer inspection would discover it was a natural formation. Grann also learns that a big advanced city with roads and more once existed, but collapsed. The people died—from conquistadors committing violence or infecting them with disease—and their reduced population couldn't maintain the city. The jungle consumed the city's structures.

But Grann learns that this culture still remains, albeit in a fragmented way. It's like if you put together a puzzle, but someone came along and scattered most of the pieces. Some are lost forever, but you still have portions of completed scenes. Grann enjoys his time with a tribe he believes descended from the citizens of Z. CitiZens, perhaps? Anyway, he images Z as it may have stood and writes, "The finished story of Fawcett seemed to reside eternally beyond the horizon: a hidden metropolis of words and paragraphs, my own Z" (25.23).

Fawcett may or may not have found contentment within himself, but we know for sure that Grann has achieved it. As a result, he returns from the jungle alive, to tell his tale.

Good. We don't need any more mysteries.