Sunday, November 14, 2010

What I've Been Reading

In October I did manage to read one book. The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann. I loved it. Literally, from beginning to end, I couldn't put it down. It's about this Victorian explorer, Percy Fawcett, in the Amazon and how he disappears and over 100 people have died looking for him, (it's kind of an Amelia Earhart type obsession) and because he wrote articles for occult magazines and went to seances and that sort of stuff, many people still think he found his lost city and it's this otherworldly mystic place. I thought it fascinating in so many ways. First of all, it's a brilliant look at Victorian society, it's also interesting to learn how those explorers, ie Livingstone, Shackelton, Burton, etc., operated and how that morphed into the scientific expeditions you have now. Secondly, learning about the Amazon itself was crazy--I still think I have no comprehension of a forest that large. At first, after reading this book, I thought I really don't think I would go there, but then again, why not? Hee. Hee. Another part that I enjoyed was how this guy went into the Amazon with his 16 yr old son looking for traces of Fawcett in 1996, and barely made it out alive. Crazy! Basically the natives there said the same things to them as they had said to Fawcett 70 yrs before, that the natives that live to the east are pretty bad, you shouldn't travel in that direction. I mean, doesn't that make you just wonder whom that tribe of Indians are? And what do they know about Fawcett? Maybe there's still someone alive that could tell? What else do they know? I mean they still have no contact with the outside world at all. It kills me, I just want to pack up my bag and head out to ask them all sorts of things. I'd probably end up dead though. Anyway, lastly, my favorite part about the book was his discussion of archaeology in the Amazon. Basically I grew up believing that the Amazon was full of all sorts of tiny tribes that barely subsisted on hunting and gathering and that the Amazon was so sparsely populated and really not that interesting unless you liked eating bugs and getting nasty diseases. However, the conquistadors' accounts of the Amazon included that it was so populated that they would go days traveling on the Amazon with the banks being jam-packed with people and that huge bridges crossed it, and Amazonian women and the like. Well, everyone blew the conquistadors accounts off because they had good (monetary) reasons for exaggerating what they found in the Amazon. But now, archaeologists have actually found traces of huge civilizations in the Amazon complete with well-planned out right-angled streets, highways, and bridges that crossed the Amazon at points that were over a mile wide, etc. Now they think that diseases brought in by the conquistadors wiped out 90% of the population or more, so by the time anyone else came to explore they didn't find anything that the conquistadors had described. This is also due to the fact that there's very little stone in the Amazon, so everything was made with dirt and wood, which with flooding leaves very little traces. In fact, the native tribes made this kind of enriched soil, terra preta de Indio, (because of the Amazon's horribly infertile soil) and companies have started exporting it now because it's some of the most fertile soil you can find anywhere on the whole earth. Yet it's entirely man made and they made literally, TONS of it. Basically, any high ground in that part of the Amazon basin is man made, because it floods, so they built higher plateaus to keep above the floods and so they could grow crops during the flood season. Considering the engineering of it (technicalities and size), it's as grand as the pyramids of Egypt. Also in 2006 they discovered what's called the Stonehenge of the Amazon, believed to be anywhere from 500 to 2000 years old, which is a huge astronomical observatory tower made of huge granite blocks, each weighing several tons. Anyway, I think people still have a huge tendency to underrate ingenuity of other people. It also makes me think about all those BOM scholars and of their general belief that Guatemala and the central Americas are the "BOM lands." I personally think that's just what has been easiest to study in the past. Not saying they're necessarily wrong, maybe they're right, I just haven't seen any evidence given on why other places in the Americas should be eliminated from consideration. Anyway, just my thoughts on this cold, bleak, wintery day.


Kelly said...

Interesting! I'm putting it on my list to read!

Anonymous said...

This is a fascinating topic of which I knew little about. I am glad to see you are blogging about good historical fiction. I also want to thank you for listing my novel set in Iran, Anahita's Woven Riddle, among the books you plan to read.


Meghan Nuttall Sayres