Subtitled: A Tale of Deadly Obsession In The Amazon. The title makes it sound like science fiction, but it isn’t.
One of the people in my office said, Why did you get this book? You read a lot of very different stuff, so I’m just wondering how you choose a book.
That’s true, and it’s actually a very good question that I didn’t really know how to answer in any kind of general way. I’m just interested in a lot of different subjects.
But in this case, I went to the library. They have various small tables set up with books on a particular theme. I love my library. To give you an example, when you first walk in the door, there’s a table called “Recently Returned”. And I have taken many books from that table, because what other people are reading intrigues me.
On the second floor, where the “new” books are housed–both fiction and non-fiction, there is usually a table honoring some monthly occasion, such as Black History Month. So because of that table, I read Toni Morrison’s “Beloved”, and I would have been a lot poorer in spirit if I hadn’t. So I pay attention to their tables.
So the last time I went, they had a special table set up for books about exploring. There were several books there about icy mountain climbing, mostly Everest, but among them there was “In The Heart of the Sea”, which I consider one of the best books I ever read. It’s the true story of the sinking of the whaleship Essex–by a whale. Pre-Moby Dick. It’s an incredible story of whaling, life on Nantucket (the whaling capital of the world at the time), and survival. And the aftermath of survival.
Now I’ve spent all this time on how I picked the book, and no time on the book. So here is the setting: One Percy Harrison Fawcett becomes convinced that there is evidence of a huge ancient civilization buried deep in the Amazonian forest. Nobody believes him. Scientists believe there is no way an advanced civilization could have existed in the Amazon. There are too many predators and diseases. (Now known as “environmental determinism”).
I learned something from this book I should have already known: Explorers have massive egos. Fawcett really believed he was invincible.
So invincible that on his final excursion in 1925, he took with him his 21 year-old son Jack and Jack’s best friend, Raleigh Rimell. Fawcett felt that Jack was ready because he was very fit and pure of heart. Meaning, he was a virgin. The relationship between Jack and Raleigh was very suspicious, if you ask me. To make a long story short, they all vanished.
Subsequently, about 100 people tried to find them, and they either vanished, went insane, or died.
So this writer for the New Yorker, David Grann, somehow decides that he will join the Fawcett hunters. (His wife says, you are a lunatic.) This is a guy who lives in New York City and admits he is very fond of air conditioning and takeout Chinese. There is a very hilarious chapter where he goes to an outdoor outfitters store, and the guy helping him says, You haven’t even ever been camping, have you? (Answer: No.)
I’ll have to do a Part II. This doesn’t even scratch the surface of all that’s in this book.