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  1. This book tells the story of Percy Harrison Fawcett, who undertook many explorations of the Amazon in the early 20th Century, most under the auspices of the RGS. Even today, this part of the Amazon (sort of smack in the middle of the fat part of South America) is unexplored and unknown, although the exploration and knowledge (and destruction) increase every day. But back then--explorers went off to explore and weren't heard from again until they emerged. Or didn't. Fawcett emerged many times until his last expedition, in 1925, with his son and his son's best friend, none of whom were heard from again. Many explorers went looking for them and most of them disappeared as well. There's a whole subculture of people who are itching to go and see what happened to them. And this author, who is not a physically prepossessing, joins the throng, although with a bit less compulsion than the others. I think the author's search is just a framing device. He tells us all about Fawcett's exploration history and his "rivals" in the exploration game. He talks about the changes on the horizon even then that makes amateur explorers a thing of the past. And he gives us more insight than I would have really liked about the physical challenges of exploring in that area, all very gross, unless you like reading about maggots growing in someone's arm and just popping their heads out from time to time. Ugh. Even the author ended up plunging through water up to his chest trying to join up with his guide when they got separated (my father used to do things like that in the Everglades and his descriptions of the things he encountered--some of which may have been exaggerated for effect--made me realize how much I mostly enjoyed gentle roughing it). Fawcett seemed unusually immune to those challenges, to the point of being contemptuous of those who succumbed. He also had figured out a way to make his encounters with native tribes less fraught, which was very admirable and led to some great interactions. At the end of his explorations, though, Fawcett got very involved with spiritualism, which was having a big moment in the U.K. after the horrors of the Great War, and so he became laser-focused on what he called the "Lost City of Z." He had always thought there had been advanced societies in the Amazon, with large populations (which modern archaeology is beginning to suggest is true). He believed there was a lost city that proved his point. He wanted to find that lost city before anyone else did. By this last expedition,though, he became convinced that it was connected to a different spiritual plane and if he found the city, he could access that plane, etc. It didn't make him any more naive as an explorer, but it did make him very single-minded and probably unwilling to stop when he should have. There aren't really any answers to the mystery of what happened, although it's clear that the author thinks that his luck with hostile native tribes didn't last and they killed him. I think that's probably what happened, too, but it's still fascinating reading.
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