As a boy, David Grann eagerly devoured stirring adventure novels like Joseph Conrad's epic "Lord Jim." When Grann reached adulthood, he eventually became a staff writer for the New Yorker, telling his own stories now, though usually with an urban sheen.
That all changed when Grann stumbled upon the tale of Percy Fawcett, the last in a centuries-long line of intrepid British explorers who in 1925 marched into the Amazon jungle in search of a legendary ancient civilization and was never heard from again. Grann set out to solve the mystery of Fawcett's fate, researching the explorer's quest and the tragic rescue expeditions that followed him. In the process, Grann unearthed a treasure trove of Fawcett's papers that included clues to his jungle destination. And that prompted the urbane Grann, who hates to camp and has a flawed sense of direction, to march into the Amazon himself.
The result is his book "The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon," which contains all of those elements, along with recent scientific data strongly indicating that there indeed once was a major civilization deep in the rain forest, a finding that would validate at least the purpose of Fawcett's Phyrric quest.
In the book, Grann has an explorer's eureka moment that's decidedly more Isaac Asimov than Conrad: " 'There,' I said to my wife, pointing at a satellite image of the Amazon on my computer screen. 'That's where I'm going.' The image revealed the cracks in the earth where the massive river and its tributaries had ruthlessly carved the land. Later, I was able to show her the coordinates more clearly using Google Earth, which ... allowed anyone, in seconds, to zoom within meters of virtually every place on the globe." Soon, the satellite-based program zeroed in "on a blur of green: the jungle."
Grann will discuss his findings Wednesday, Feb. 25, at 7 p.m. at Boston's modern approximation of an explorers club, the Museum of Science, 1 Science Park, at the mouth of the Charles River.