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In April 1925 explorer Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett set off into the Amazon jungle, highly skilled but ill-equipped, all stiff upper lip and unwavering purpose, determined to locate a legendary city of gold.This wasn’t the first time Fawcett had hacked his way through the jungle but this time he had his 21-year-old son Jack and the boy’s strapping friend Raleigh with him. Stories of Fawcett’s adventures filled the newspapers in his day, and he has inspired radio plays, novels, and documentaries, but for some reason he is not as famous now as Earnest Shackleton or David Livingstone.American writer David Grann stumbled across Fawcett’s name while researching a story for the New Yorker, and was captivated.Grann’s new book, a biography and adventure story titled , may go some way to putting Fawcett back in the spotlight.Grann is an unlikely author for this tale: an urbane, self-deprecating, widely published Manhattan resident, he’s a novice when it comes to jungle exploration.

The jungle is vast and the river that cuts through it all is, as Grann says, the mightiest in the world, ‘mightier than the Nile and the Ganges, mightier than the Mississippi and all the rivers in China.’ Part of Fawcett’s legendary status came from his near inhuman resistance to disease and physical hardship. He had no sympathy for those who succumbed to illness or displayed unmanliness, describing one companion who struggled as a ‘pink-eyed weakling’.Studies at the Royal Geographic Society had taught Fawcett tricks to cope with ‘the horrors of thirst and starvation’, how to deal with savages, and how to treat a wound with hot grease.He ventured into the wilds armed with tea, sardines, rifles, opium, and a copy of Rudyard Kipling’s poem ‘The Explorer’.One wonders why Fawcett felt compelled to repeatedly enter a place he describes as ‘green hell’.

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