Because I am not a fan of high heat, excessive humidity, or the sensation of having bugs feed, crawl, and otherwise carry out their life cycles all over me, I love to read about those who have the ability to ignore these conditions in the pursuit of a noble goal. Colonel Percy Fawcett was indeed an extraordinary individual: loved, admired, and held in contempt in fairly equal measure. Physically resilient and mentally tough, he had an intuitive feel not only for the men he led but for the native tribes he encountered. Exploration at the time was as daunting as it was popular; as Fawcett was delving into the Amazon, mapping much of it for the first time, Ernest Shackleton was making better-funded forays in the Antarctic. At one point, Grann mentions that a trip taking three days for him required more than a month for Fawcett. Conditions were brutal and a rather unbelievable number of men died either trying to explore the Amazon or trying to find its previous explorers. This excellent book illuminated the personalities, the politics, and the sacrifices behind the Victorian mindset to conquer all the dark spots on the maps of the world.
As an addendum: for the reader interested in the trials and tribulations of attempting this type of exploration, I strongly recommend Redmond O’Hanlon‘s “Into the Heart of Borneo” and “In Trouble Again: A Journey Between Orinoco and the Amazon”. Both are exceptional reads and O’Hanlon is brilliant at finding humor in the most disgusting details. At the same time, he manages to convey his respect for the cultures he encounters while warning of their imminent loss to ‘civilization’.