Why do I read non-fiction? The primary reason is to be educated. I rarely read non-fiction to be entertained - that's fiction's function. David Grann's "The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon" changed my view of non-fiction.
The book, written in two parallel story lines, follows the author in his quest to discover the fate of the subject of the second story line, Percy Harrison Fawcett. Known as PHF to his friends and family (even his wife refers to him by his initials), Fawcett was an explorer of the Amazon during the early 1900s until he and his eldest son, Jack, disappeared in 1925. I'd never heard of Fawcett and I found the stories of his exploits leading up to the mystery behind his disappearance fascinating. Fawcett was convinced that a great civilization existed, or had existed, deep in the amazon jungle in one of the blank parts of the map that still existed back then. He called this city "Z".
The PHF story line reads like an action novel, something out of Indiana Jones. The descriptions of his seven amazonian expeditions, including cringe-inducing descriptions of infected body parts, insect swarms, and wounds leaking puss, kept me riveted.
Grann's story line is less exciting but it does include the pieces of the puzzle that he discovers along the way and develops a very plausible theory to the ultimate fate of Fawcett, his son Jack, and Jack's friend Raleigh.
The book reads like fiction and Fawcett's story sounds like the plot of some old movie serial. I zipped through this 319 page book. It was fascinating to watch Fawcett succumb to obsession while racing to find Z before adventurers like him became obsolete. With satellite imagery, GPS, and Google maps, it is unlikely that we will see another larger than life explorer like Fawcett. A pity as the world is in desperate need of larger than life figures.