What Happened to Percy Fawcett and his Lost City of Z?

What happened to Percy Fawcett and the Lost City of Z via @tbookjunkie

Do you consider yourself an explorer? If the answer is ‘yes’ and you haven’t yet read The Lost City of Z it really should be on your list.

Likewise, if you are someone that has been obsessed with something; wanted so much to discover the answer to a as yet unsolved puzzle this is something you should consider reading.

David Grann appears to be one such person. A person who has an itch he just needed to scratch even though it could end up with him losing his life like so many people that have gone before him.

Now that may sound dramatic but The Lost City of Z recounts his own exploration into the Amazon Rainforest to follow in the footsteps of Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett, a Victorian Explorer supported by the Royal Geographical Society.


Who Was Percy Fawcett?

Percy Fawcett was an English gentleman that spent his entire life seeking out new, untouched corners of the world.  Sent to the then unknown places around the world to map out boundaries, contours and landscapes for the Royal Geographical Society, Percy Fawcett was one of the earliest cartographers that actually mapped the world literally and not symbolically according to the stars and mythology.

“He was the last of the great Victorian explorers who ventured into uncharted realms with little more than a machete, a compass and an almost divine sense of purpose”

Often referred to as the ‘David Livingstone of the Amazon’ Fawcett has one big passion.  He wanted to discover the ultimate hidden city.  The place that he would always be remembered for: The Lost City of Z as he had come to name it.  In fact it became all consuming.  He had to plead for money not only from the Royal Geographical Society but also from anyone else that was prepared to listen to his outlandish plans.  Without his supporters there was no way he would ever have been able to fund such a trip himself.  In fact, he became so obsessed with his desire to find ‘Z’ that he even took guidance from Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, a psychic that others claimed to be a ‘consummate fraud’ and a ‘lunatic’.

The Lost City of Z

In 1925 Fawcett set off with his 21 year old son, Jack and his best friend Raleigh Rimell and what would turn out to be his last big adventure.  He wanted to be the first to discover the city of Z and felt that the smaller the party that went in the better.  Fawcett was a fit individual, who stayed away from meat and alcohol and therefore was only prepared to take others with him that he felt would be able to keep pace. 

Over the years he had undertaken many different trips into the Amazon and on each occasion someone would become ill, delirious thanks to infections caused by poor hygiene, a bad diet or an animal bite.  Therefore on such a momentous trip there was no way he was going to allow sickness to become a fact of failure.  So confident was Fawcett that he also stated should they fail and not return no-one should come in search of them.  If he couldn’t succeed he could not fathom that anyone else could and therefore he was not prepared to endanger the lives of others through a rescue attempt.

The Lost City of Z not only recounts Fawcett’s attempt but also Grann’s own attempt to find what the famed explorer failed to achieve as far as the outside world is concerned.  Grann is not the first to attempt to find this lost city, over the years that have been many, now known as the Fawcett Freaks, including Henry Savage Landor who climbed across the Himalayas without ropes and was nearly executed in Tibet but failed to find the lost city and Peter Fleming, brother of Ian Fleming. 



As you would expect, speculation has run high about what happened to this small group of British explorers.  Did they get lost and die of lack of food, were they taken ill or were they eaten? Cannibalism, even today, is pretty popular amongst certain tribes around the world so perhaps the group stumbled into the wrong camp and became someone’s dinner.  In fact, in 1951, the Kalapalos tribe did claim to have killed the three explorers but it turned out they had no proof.

Ultimately Percy Fawcett vowed to make the greatest discovery of the century, but “instead he gave birth to the greatest exploration mystery of the 20th century”.  A mystery that David Grann became so captivated with, so fixated with that he too put his own life on the line to try and discover what happened to the Fawcett party.

The Lost City of Z tries to undercover the enigma of the Fawcett expedition whilst also taking us on his own trip into the Amazon with no prior adventure travel experience and no real knowledge of what he is doing.

The Lost City of Z paints a stunning picture of a world now lost. A world of diverse, alien cultures, of vast unspoilt wilderness and explorers who endured terrible hardship and danger. It has put Percy Fawcett back where he belongs, among our greatest heroes. An intrepid adventurer, he should be remembered alongside the great explorers of our past; Drake, Cook, Mackenzie, Livingstone, Scott and Gertrude Bell.

 (Historian and Broadcaster, Dan Snow)

Would I Recommend The Lost City of Z?

If you are someone that enjoys reading about the adventures of others you will enjoy this book.  David Grann hasn’t pushed himself into the limelight but instead threaded his own experiences in alongside those of Percy Fawcett, making sure that it is the Fawcett story that is in the forefront until the very end.  Grann may not be the only person that has based a book on this jungle campaign (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is said to have drawn on Fawcett’s experiences in his 1912 book The Lost World as well as Evelyn Waugh using this idea in A Handful of Dust) but he has clearly spent a great deal of time researching every last detail.


While reading this all I could think about was how lucky explorers of the early 1900’s were.  Having the ability to traverse unknown lands and explore somewhere that very few, if any, would have had the opportunity to wander before you must have been a thrilling experience.  Imagine being remembered as the first ever person to visit somewhere that no-one else knows anything about. I love the fact that today I can research any country or city from the comfort of my own home with the aid of the internet but imagine living in a time where you are sent off to find out about a land that people have no idea about. 

While reading about the Fawcett expedition I will admit to becoming slightly jealous.  Don’t get me wrong, I would never want to undertake something if I thought my life was at risk, but I did like the idea of visiting somewhere that others knew very little about.  It makes one question whether there are still some parts of our world that very little is known about and whether perhaps a future trip could take me to one of these mysterious, anonymous places.

Have you read The Lost City of Z?  What other adventure books would you recommend?

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