Saturday, February 25, 2012

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

In the early 1900's, a young man by the name of P. H. Fawcett began to explore what was still the great unexplored - the Amazon rain forest. Although only an amateur explorer, he became one of the biggest successes in mapping out parts of the Amazon, and becoming friends with the hostile native Indians along the way.

Because of stories of ancient cities told to him from the natives, as well as pottery he found, and other clues along the way, Fawcett believed there was once a great and ancient civilization, living in an El Dorado-like city, which he dubbed "Z," and he devoted his life to finding it. In 1925, he disappeared for the last time into the Amazon, taking with him his younger son, 21-year-old Jack, and Jack's best friend Raleigh Rimmel. 

Hundreds of people became obsessed, not simply with the idea of Z, but with what may have happened to Fawcett, a man who, for so long, had seemed invincible. Expeditions to follow Fawcett's footsteps also disappeared into the great unknown. 

David Grann, a journalist, delves into this story with a gripping narration. Using documents from the Royal Geographical Society, as well as correspondence to his wife, and even Fawcett's very own logs and journals, which he finds when visiting a remaining family member, Grann paints a portrait of a fascinating man, at once strong and very much alive, with a personality perfect for exploration - gung-ho and a little bit crazy.

While Grann doesn't quite answer the question "What happened to Fawcett?", he does give the readers so much information to consider on their own, as well as some new findings that suggest that the idea of the lost city isn't so out there after all.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Cleopatra: A Life

I've lately become interested in many different genres, including historical fiction and non-fiction. So when I came across Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff, I knew I had to give it a good reading.

In an effort to shed light on a life told and re-told a million times over, Cleopatra tells of Queen Cleopatra VII, beginning when she was merely a teen smuggling herself into Caesar's camp in a rug. While the author seems to think that Cleopatra has a story that should be told all on its own, without the omnipresent screen of sexuality, I found that telling Cleopatra's story, at least in this novel, was impossible without heavy leanings on the lives of both Caesar and Mark Antony.

Cleopatra came across as a smart, pragmatic queen of a wealthy, powerful and colorful kingdom, but I felt that often times the narration would meander off toward Caesar and his life, and later into Mark Antony's. No doubt these men had a huge impact in her own life story, but the narration seemed less focused on them together and more on just the men.

In all, I would give this book 3 out of 5 stars: fascinating and insightful, but I felt I should have known Cleopatra better once I finished this historical biography.