Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Pink-eyed Weaklings Need Not Apply

David Grann's adventure-biography The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon is as entertaining as the reader blurbs suggest.

Z traces the life of British explorer Percy Harrison Fawcett and his forays into uncharted territories, beginning in 1906. Fawcett was singularly headstrong, physically hearty, and for the most part successful in badgering the Royal Geographical Society to fund his journeys.

His work was not without real discoveries:
One Guarayo [Indian] crushed a plant with a stone and let its juice spill into a stream, where it formed a milky cloud. "After a few minutes a fish came to the surface, swimming in a circle, mouth gaping, then turned on its back apparently dead," [a companion] recalled. "Soon there were a dozen fish floating belly up." They had been poisoned. A Guarayo boy waded into the water and picked out the fattest ones for eating. The quantity of poison only stunned them and posed no risk to humans when the fish were cooked; equally remarkable, the fish that the boy had left in the water soon returned to life and swam away unharmed. The same poison was often used for toothaches. The Indians, Fawcett was discovering, were masters of pharmacology, adept at manipulating their environment to suit their needs, and he concluded that the Guarayos were "a most intelligent race of people."
In 1925, acting on his fascination for the fabled El Dorado, Fawcett entered the Amazon with his son Jack and Jack's friend Raleigh Rimell. They were never seen again.

And this is what prompts Grann, like countless others before him, to research Fawcett's story and ultimately travel into the Amazon.

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