Conrad Recommends: The Lost City of Z

The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon, is the latest episode in our Great Reads series. Conrad Combrink, Silversea’s Senior Vice President of Expeditions and Destination Management, shares the story of 1920s explorer Sir Percy Harrison Fawcett. The British explorer believed there was an ancient, lost city in the Amazon and was determined to discover it. Did he succeed? Join us as we read the book, written by David Grann.

The Gist: Why You’ll Want to Know More About The Lost City of Z

In 1924, British explorer Percy Harrison Fawcett ventured into the Amazon to find an ancient civilization, hoping to make one of the most important discoveries in history. Joined by his son and his son’s best mate, Fawcett’s obsession to discover the Lost City is a great 20th century exploration mystery that caused the loss of three lives. What happened to a man who was an artillery officer, a surveyor, an archaeologist, and most importantly, an explorer of South America?

Colonel Fawcett just before he ventured into the Xingu jungles, Brazil, 1925
/ ©Royal Geographical Society (with IBG)

Inspired by diaries that followed Fawcett’s early life, David Grann, a writer for The New Yorker, tracked Fawcett’s journey down to his final steps and yet ultimately he was neither able to find evidence of the man or the city.

This is, Combrink tells us, “a terrific adventure story, full of suspense and intrigue, and with lots of historical details to keep those of us who love to explore, and travel deeper, interested.  Adding history and geography, together this book will be entertaining as well as educating.”

It is, like so often when you travel, the journey that counts. And in this book, part of that journey is the window Grann offers on a part of the history of exploration, the sort of people who are drawn to it, the reasons, their personalities and the effect of their quests, or obsessions if you like, on their careers, their families and on the body of human knowledge.

Conrad Combrink
Last Caracca of the Aquery, Yorongas, Bolivia, 1907. Percy Harrison Fawcett/©Royal Geographical Society (with IBG)

Fascinating Facts about Sir Percy Harrison Fawcett

  • On Fawcett’s first South American expedition he was responsible for surveying the Bolivian/Brazilian border, which incorporated numerous rivers. The area he surveyed was also home to potentially hostile indigenous people and dangerous wildlife.
  • All told, Fawcett undertook seven expeditions to the Amazon basin between 1906 and 1924, according to the Royal Geographic Society, and his adventures helped to inspire Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World
  • The Los Angeles Times named his expedition effort “the most hazardous and certainly the most spectacular adventure of the kind ever undertaken.” Grann’s The Lost City of Z was ultimately turned into an adventure film, released in 2016.
  • The last contact from Fawcett was on May 29, 1925, when he warned friends that they may not hear from him for some time. He was about to enter uncharted territory, and felt that a long absence might therefore be more an indication of his success rather than his failure. The expedition then vanished without trace, passing out of history and into legend.
  • There were a number of supposed sightings of Fawcett in the following years, as well as a number of expeditions sent to discover what had become of the lost team. Fawcett’s disappearance remains a mystery.

This article has been produced in collaboration with Silversea’s Corporate Business Partner, the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) which enriches guests’ expeditions with over 500 years of travel and discovery. Find out more here.