Grann characterizes Percy Harrison Fawcett’s life as a tale of obsession. Fawcett’s obsession with the Amazon and later with Z led to his disappearance and likely a terrible a death as well. What is more, Fawcett spent nearly all of his savings on his penultimate expedition, and when he disappeared in 1925, his wife and children were left without a means of support. Finally, Fawcett’s son Jack and Raleigh Rimell disappeared and died alongside him. Perhaps ironically, Fawcett’s disappearance did not serve as a warning about the dangers of the Amazon but instead fueled the romance surrounding its exploration. Additional explorers went into the Amazon searching for Fawcett, but not all of them survived.

Grann also admires Fawcett for his determination. To some extent, Fawcett has attained a measure of greatness for his exploits. Although he was unable to prove the existence of Z, Michael Heckenberger’s work suggests that Fawcett’s defiance of conventional academia was well founded. Grann himself is aware that his decision to explore the jungle in search of Fawcett is absurd, yet he is perhaps powerless to stop himself. Perhaps there is a place for risk and obsession if progress is to be made.

The Amazon as Paradise and as Hell

By the end of his life, Fawcett had become obsessed with the idea of a lost city hidden within the Amazon. Reports from the early European explorers suggest that there were great populations and cities within the Amazon, and the myth of El Dorado, a city of gold, soon took hold in Europe. However, by the twentieth century, only scattered tribes remained. Could a civilization graced with complex agriculture and monumental architecture have existed in the Amazon? The academic consensus had long been to deny this possibility. These environmental determinists would no doubt turn to Fawcett’s early expeditions into the jungle to argue that it is a “counterfeit paradise.”

Fawcett’s early expeditions were risky and dangerous. It seemed that the jungle had bred its own biological arms—everything was poisonous, including plants, insects, and vipers. Although Fawcett seemed immune to these attacks, his companions often fell dangerously sick, and Grann explains how men would squeeze living maggots out of their sores. It was as though the jungle were trying...

(The entire section is 970 words.)