Study Guide

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

By David Grann

Ambition

Fawcett, however, was certain that the Amazon contained a fabulous kingdom, and he was not another soldier of fortune or a crackpot. (1.10)

Many men have comparatively easy missions into the Amazon, usually to take something from it, like rubber or wood. Fawcett has a much more difficult quest in mind: to find a lost civilization. You wouldn't think an entire city could go missing. Maybe it's in the couch cushions? That's where we always find out phone.

Fawcett and Chivers eventually abandoned their pack animals for a raft made from sticks and twine and drifted into the Amazon frontier, a collection of Dodge-like towns with mocking names, such as Hope and Beautiful Village. (8.15)

You know you're driven when you're riding on a raft literally made from sticks and string. Fawcett has ambition and the confidence to succeed. Even when the only hope is a crappy ramshackle town, he keeps going.

Despite cutting, chopping, pulling, and pushing through jungle from morning till night, they usually advanced no more than half a mile per day. Their legs sank in mud. Their shoes disintegrated. Their eyes blurred from a tiny species of bee that is drawn to sweat, and that invaded their pupils. (10.13)

Ambition + determination = success. Here we see the determination part of that equation. Fawcett's sky-high ambitions to find a lost city would mean nothing if he turned tail and ran at the first sign of an eyeball-eating bug.

The gun didn't fire, but Brian had demonstrated, at least for an instant, that he was as daring as his older brother. (17.34)

Brian isn't quite as ambitious, and Fawcett recognizes that, which is why he chooses Jack over Brian. Just because Brian is daring, that doesn't mean he has the same goals as his father. Plus, there's a fine line between daring and recklessness, and we think Brian falls on the reckless side as a child.

Jack didn't hesitate. "I want to go with you," he said. (18.4)

We're not sure what Fawcett wants to do if he actually finds Z, but Jack appears to want fame. That's ambitious, too, if a different kind of ambition. Without reality TV, Jack thinks the ticket to fame is to find a lost Amazonian city. Hey, at least you had to do something to become famous back then.

"One learns little from a smooth life, but I do not like roping others into the difficulties which have dogged me so persistently… It is not that I want luxuries. I care little about such things—but I hate inactivity." (18.9)

Fawcett wants to achieve his goal so much that he gives up almost every life luxury on his quest. That shows us how determined he is. Finding Z is more important to him than anything else.

They were sure that the journey would make them rich and famous, but their fantasies remained more those of boys than of men. "We intend to buy motor-cycles and really enjoy a good holiday in Devon, looking up all our friends and visiting the old haunts," Jack said. (20.23)

Jack and Raleigh may have gone from Boyz II Men, but it's Jack's father who has reached the end of the road and still can't let go…of his dream of Z. Maybe one reason for that is that the quest for Z is Percy's last quest: he's getting old, and he won't be able to do much more. But seriously, what would Percy do after finding Z? Would he really just want to sit around basking in success? We doubt it. Part of the appeal of a quest is the quest itself, not the result of the quest.

After this point, Fawcett explained, there would be no way to carry him out. Raleigh insisted that he would see it through. Perhaps he remained loyal to Jack, in spite of everything. Perhaps he didn't want to be seen as a coward. Or perhaps he was simply afraid to turn back without them. (20.71)

Raleigh also has ambitions to become famous, but they crumble pretty quickly once he's in the jungle. As we said before, ambition + determination = success, and Raleigh doesn't have the same level of superhuman determination that the Fawcetts possess.

Resentful about not being chosen for the expedition, Briand had once professed little interest in his father's work. Now he was consumed by it. He decided to quit his job and stitch together the fragmentary writings into Exploration Fawcett. (24.11)

Brian shows ambition of a different stripe after his father disappears. Brian's goal becomes to find his family, and he goes to great lengths in his attempt to do it. His ambition is like Grann's: each one puts together a giant puzzle without a picture on the box to go by.

When I told Paulo, he gave me a quizzical look—it meant heading to the very place where James Lynch and his men had been kidnapped in 1996. (25.25)

Grann's wish to find Fawcett, Z, or both leads him to make some iffy decisions. It's easy to see how ambition can cloud a person's judgment. If this were fiction, we'd worry about Grann making it out of this thing alive.