20 October 2010
The Lost City of Z
In honor of today's trip to Amazon, I wanted to post about an intriguing book I read over the summer: David Grann's The Lost City of Z. Grann tells the true story of Percy Fawcett, a last-of-his-kind explorer whose goal of tracking the Amazon river to its course deteriorated into a fixation with a fabled city hidden in the jungle. After several failed excursions, Fawcett eventually disappeared into the Amazon forever, accompanied by his son and friend.
To risk sounding like a movie promo, this was a story of incredible courage and resolve, but also stubbornness of bordering on madness. Reading it was like going on Disney's Jungle Cruise, but without the corny jokes: complete with cannibalistic natives, killer animals (in this case, man-eating worms devouring explorers inside out), and an unfathomable amount of muddy water.
While this book was strictly about the Amazon, it made me think about exploration in general. When I taught modern American history, we always started with the closing of the frontier. In 1893, a famous paper was written, essentially saying that since there was no longer any unsettled frontier left in the United States, that we as a people would become soft and "go gently into that great night." No pioneers= all pansies.
At any rate, it makes me wonder: what is our frontier now? Under the ocean? The human genome? The human psyche? Technology? Or, dare I suggest, the final frontier?