The Lost City of Z

Suggested by Brad Nelson • In 1925, British explorer Percy Fawcett ventured into the Amazon jungle in search of a fabled civilization. He never returned. Over the years, dozens perished trying to find evidence of his party and the place he called The Lost City of Z.
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72 Responses to The Lost City of Z

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    If you’re an armchair explorer and like reading the Allan Quatermain stories of H. Rider Haggard (who has a connection to Percy Fawcett), you’ll feel at home with this book.

    David Grann does an excellent job collating a ton of facts, half-truths, and outright fabrications into a fairly concise and interesting tale. Although he’s known as a New York Times writer, the book is not a bunch of politically correct hand-wringing over the fate of the various tribes of the Amazon. Their fate is tough enough without exaggeration or virtue signaling.

    This book is rightly subtitled “A tale of deadly obsession in the Amazon.” There seems little doubt that Percy Fawcett was half out of his mind before taking off on his last expedition. I think the author soft-peddles this somewhat because he appears to have been given access by his family to papers that Fawcett left behind that no one else did.

    In order to try to discover the fate of Fawcett, Grann needed to know the exact route he took on his last expedition. But Fawcett was famous for handing out misinformation in order to disguise his route. He wanted to be the first to discover “The Lost City of Z.” And although it seems probable that he turned this into some kind of mystical quest, he had ample reasonable evidence that there was something there to be discovered.

    The early Conquistadors who first explored up the Amazon and its tributaries gave descriptions of some quite startling large and complex civilizations. Fawcett himself had discovered huge mounds of earth that always tended to be covered in shards of pottery. And some of the pottery that had been found (or at least reported to have been seen) was said to be of a quality on par with anything the Greeks did.

    Later, in 1911, Machu Picchu was discovered in southern Peru, thereby giving complete credibility to the idea that some wonders could still be hidden in the Amazon.

    Because all that modern explorers (including Fawcett) saw was small tribes who seemed to barely be able to scratch out a living, it was generally assumed that the Amazon rainforest was a sort of desert. Game was scarce. Rain bleached most nutrients from the soil. Poisonous plants and animals were everywhere. Fawcett, of course, believed otherwise.

    Read this book and you will learn of the hardships of an Amazonian expedition….which likely far surpassed anything encountered in either a true desert or the Arctic. T.E. Lawrence was scheduled to join Fawcett on an expedition but Fawcett declined to take him knowing that surviving in the desert was a piece of cake compared to the jungle. And he already had the experience of the great polar scientist, James Murray, who quickly crumbled and wilted as a member of one of his expeditions in the Amazon. The realities of the hardship are brought forth in gruesome detail.

    One explorer mentioned in this book is Alexander Hamilton Rice who was a multimillionaire. He mounted well-funded expeditions in the north part of the Amazon (Fawcett was mainly in the south and far west), complete with a newfangled thing called a radio as well as a small airplane. But that cost money. Fawcett and others had to make due on a mere few thousand dollars of funding.

    And if Fawcett was obsessed, it could certainly be said that he and others were extremely reckless. It’s estimated that perhaps as many as a hundred people died simply while searching for the lost Fawcett expedition. His last expedition was a small one — just himself, his son Jack, and Jack’s best friend (and some hired animals and porters). It was assumed that Percy’s son, Jack, would have the unusual (almost super-human) constitution that had allowed his father to avoid most jungle diseases as well as an endurance that probably has never been matched by any other explorer of athlete of any kind.

    But in reading about this final expedition, you realize how slap-dash it was. Jack’s friend (I forget his name) was at the last grungy outpost before the actual jungle when he thought it a good idea to break in his new boots. I mean, this is just suicidally stupid. You break those boots in well ahead of time.

    And he and his friend, Jack, spent dozens of bullets practicing target shooting even though Jack’s father cautioned them to save their ammunition. Did no one bother to do even the most fundamental preparations for a hard and dangerous quest through the Amazon jungle? Apparently for Jack’s father, and expedition was a function of will alone. And for him, this had always been enough.

    The real surprise is not that he was lost in the jungle but that it hadn’t happened a decade before. Percy had an almost magical ability to endure the hardships as no one else could and to make friends with the local natives who would often shoot their poison arrows first and ask questions later.

    There’s no question that the author of this book includes the basic information on all this. But I once again find that modern authors seem afraid to “judge” anyone or anything. But the conclusions are there for anyone to draw. But what is extraordinary is now many people willingly journeyed into the jungle looking for the lost Fawcett expedition. Most were ill-prepared. All were foolish. None seemed to have been organized to do the job. The author himself was sucked into this same vortex. Given that this, and later books by him, exist, it’s spoiling nothing to say that he did indeed make it out again.

    This was a big story at the time, and one that dragged on for years. There was surely a fortune to be made if one could become the next Stanley and find his Livingstone. The book itself is not just a recitation of facts but is very competently written in the form of an unfolding story. It’s basically a real-life mystery novel. And I won’t give away the mystery. It’s well worth reading.

  2. Timothy Lane says:

    Apparently Grann isn’t considered all that accurate, although this may be somewhat like James Bruce, whose reports on exploring Ethiopia were doubted because they didn’t match what people expected — until, decades later, they turned out to be true. Much the same thing also happened with Marco Polo.

    The southern Amazon includes the northern Mato Grosso, though Fawcett may have been west of there. One river there is the Roosevelt River, named after that great US adventurer Teodoro Roosevelt.

  3. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Apparently Grann isn’t considered all that accurate

    I have nothing to compare it to. But assuming he wasn’t writing for Der Spiegel, one of the virtues of the book is that it gives a good overview of the period, including notes about Teddy Roosevelt. This is history combined with adventure and it makes the history aspect go down smooth.

  4. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Apparently Grann isn’t considered all that accurate

    On second thought, I wonder if you read something about the movie written and directed by James Gray that is based on Grann’s book? I just watched 45 minutes of it and there is very little resemblance between the two. And there’s no reason to continue watching the movie because it would appear to be fanciful rubbish.

    Again, do read the book. I found it informative, enjoyable and mostly free of what appears to be an entirely fabricated story in the movie whose purpose is virtue-signaling.

    If one wishes to skip ahead (spoiler alert…I do recommend you read the book which does unfold like a good mystery), the natives indeed were treated very badly….particularly by the Brazilian government which tried to forcibly modernize them, including giving people new names. Later they dropped this policy and are now actively instructing the natives about their own lost culture. But it may be too late. There are hints in this book that the draw of modern civilization is just too great. Pandora’s box has been opened.

    But that is based on the idea that we know what the authentic lfe of the native is/was. There are many book suggestions listed in this one that would surely fill in some of the blanks. They are apparently gaining some good archeological results now. Grann cites Heckenberger’s The Ecology of Power. (Amazon reviews suggests this is an opaque technical academic work.)

    Heckenberger made some discoveries reminiscent of another book I recently read about major discoveries made in Central America. (I couldn’t stay with that book because it just go too meandering.) As in that book, the gist of it is that there were very large and organized native cities which left almost nothing behind because their structures were not made of stone. At the end of this book, Grann meets Heckenberger very deep in the Amazon. Heckenberger shows him signs of immense villages or cities with vast networks of roads. But there isn’t much left. What had been a humongous mote a mile in diameter is now a barely-detectable hollow in the ground. If you dig into the soil, you get even more evidence. But there isn’t much for the naked eye to see.

    What we can be very sure of is that the early Spanish explorers inadvertently brought smallpox and other diseases which wiped out the cities as surely as was done in the rest of the Americas — as much as 90% or more. There is little doubt that the Spanish, in particular, were bastards (and the natives themselves were often brutal and savage). But the genocide was purely an accidental one. And it was amazing in scope.

    This is almost certainly why a century later that all that the Europeans could find of the native Amazonians were small isolated tribes. Their numbers were so reduced (and surely, as in central America, this die-off was a shock to their culture and belief systems as well) that they could not maintain their existing level of sophistication….whatever that was.

    As for the bones of Percy Fawcett, they never find them. The best guess is that he wandered into a particularly vicious tribe and was killed. Particularly sad is the idiot friend of Jack Fawcett who met and fell in love with a girl on the ship on the way to South America. He wanted to forgo the expedition but Jack talked him into forgetting his girl. In fact, Jack and his best friend, Raleigh Rimell, are described as being so close, you begin to wonder about them. I was actually surprised to read that Raleigh was interested in a girl.

    But Raleigh stayed with the expedition. But he had a rough time of it. They reached a natural point in the trip where some of the guides and the remaining animals were sent back…standard operating procedure. Percy suggested that Raleigh go back with the guides. Raleigh had been writing letters back home telling his family how miserable he was and how, because of his weakness (compared to the uber-robust Fawcetts) he was becoming estranged from his friend, Jack.

    But still he persisted. I understand that in high altitudes (such as climbing Everest) that one’s judgment can become severely impaired because of the lack of oxygen combined with the physical exertion. I’m not sure what Raleigh’s excuse was. He would write these letters about longing to be back home and becoming a mere shop keeper rather than suffer the miseries of what he (rightly) saw as a pointless journey. But still he persisted. It’s tragic, really.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      I might be able to get it; my sister gave me a $60 Amazon gift card for Christmas. Of course, I’ll want to discuss what to get with Elizabeth, but I can think of a lot of possibilities. It does sound interesting.

      I will remind you that Brazil (which would include most of Amazonia, especially the eastern portion) speaks Portuguese, not Spanish. Just a detail, but we as conservatives want to get our facts right.

      “How you gonna keep ’em down on the farm once they’ve seen New York City?” The lure of modern civilization is very powerful. Except for the Amish. Maybe they could be hired to teach primitive tribes how to resist that lure.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        Before you correct me, be sure to read the book. It mentions that Francisco de Orellana and his army of Spanish conquistadors descended the Amazon River in 1542. The river was discovered in 1500 by a Spanish commander, Vicente Pinzon. The predominant language that is spoken today in Brazil is irrelevant to these facts.

        Before spending dollars on a book, if you have a library card for your local library, this book may be available for free. I use the Libby app for this. This is one of two major apps that are conduits for checking out electronic books at your local library. I forget the name of the other. But the Libby app does work very well.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          Accessing the library would be very difficult. I would have to inform Elizabeth by a Rube Goldberg communication means, have her check it out, and then visit me to drop it off and later to pick it up and return it. We might see if this could be made workable. She could probably get things more easily there than in most bookstores.

          If the Spanish descended the Amazon in 1542, then that means they had crossed over the Andes in sufficient force to launch such an expedition by then — a decade after Pizarro conquered the Incas and the year after he was murdered.

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            You might be able to get a library card via phone or even online. It might be worth checking out.

            Fawcett’s first expedition was interesting in that it started in Peru, they climbed the mountains via a train. They then took a ferry across Lake Titicaca. Then a perilous journey down the other slopes via mule and horses (where they lost many) going from the cold to the tropical heat. What a great trip that must have been. I would have been glad to join in on that. But forget about going into the jungle. Not without an advanced armored vehicle that was bug-proof.

            • Timothy Lane says:

              And fish-proof, and not just piranhas. I recall that there’s an Amazonian fish that can swim up a stream of urine into the urethra, where it then wedges itself in and has to be cut out. Think about that when you want to have a nightmare.

              • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

                Yes, the author talks about that awful creature that can swim up your pipe. Unless you get him out, apparently you will die. Piranha were an ever-present menace. Jaguars were often lethal to their pack animals. And the flying insects were unimaginably bothersome. And there were some things even worse.

                Nope. Not booking my cruise up the Amazon anytime soon. I’ll stick to nature documentaries for that.

        • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

          The Treat of Todesillas (1494) agreed the demarcation between Portuguese and Castilian claims in the New World. The line only included about 1/4 of Brazil, the geography of which was not well know for a very long time. I am not sure that the mouth of the Amazon would have fallen within the Portuguese area until much later, i.e. after the Portuguese had spent years expanding their colony of Brazil.

          In any case, the “gentlemen” who did this type of exploring were generally not of the sort who adhered to strict legal principles, except maybe Columbus. Conquistadores were not a bunch of barristers.

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            It is assumed that the first Spanish conquistadors introduced the diseases that wiped out the natives. No doubt any later Portuguese expeditions would have added to this. This aspect of it is not covered well in the book because it’s likely not much is known. The first Spanish explorers wrote that they saw some grand sites. And then those things vanished.

            One of the things mentioned in the book is that there is evidence of early man in South America before the supposed earliest “Clovis man.” This wouldn’t surprise me at all. Despite the various stories of man’s migrations that scientists paint, I don’t really think they have much of a clue at this point.

  5. Steve Lancaster says:

    “Conquistadores were not a bunch of barristers.”

    When you consider the numbers in any given area against the Spanish, so few of them were able to conquer such a vast empire in less than a generation was a remarkable accomplishment. Not even Alexander faced such odds with so few troops. Yes, they had superior technology, horses and disease, measles and smallpox killed hundreds of thousands. I give the Spanish of the early 16th century credit as the most dangerous men on earth. Needless to say, they were replaced by the US Marines in 1775.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      I give the Spanish of the early 16th century credit as the most dangerous men on earth.

      Perhaps true, but the were sorry rulers. Look at former Spanish Colonies and compare them with former British Colonies.

      • Steve Lancaster says:

        As Gandhi said, “If I must be a subject then the English are the very best masters, but why must I be a subject?”

    • Timothy Lane says:

      The efforts of Cortez in Mexico and Pizarro in Peru (though he was helped by the peculiarities of the Inca society) were remarkable. I would recommend looking up Randall Garrett’s “Despoilers of the Golden Empire”. It reads as a science fiction adventure tale all the way to the end, when it turns out to be straight history.

  6. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    After reading this book (and others like it, or parts of others like it), I wouldn’t want to go anywhere near the jungle. It is extremely hazardous for your health. You can pick up all kinds of nasties just by standing around. It doesn’t require trudging through miles of jungle. It is truly hell on earth.

    More than once Fawcett and others mentioned that underneath the canopy it was almost pitch black. I don’t know if that is an exaggeration or not. But I’m guessing there wasn’t much light that reached the forest floor.

    Absolutely huge areas of Brazil are now farmland instead of jungle. There are some preserves. And I don’t know how legally binding they are or how well protected they are. It would be nice if they could preserve most of it. It really is a wonder of the world. And a terror.

    Even in the Northwest, the forests are a relatively barren place in terms of human edible food. That’s surely why native Americans regularly burned forests in order to clear pasture land for the grazing animals. Acre for acre, forests just don’t have a lot of edible things.

    The book mentions near the end that there is evidence that native tribes did quite a bit of engineering of the forests. They apparently moved gargantuan amounts of earth in some places in order to create hills where the soil could be preserved and where they could cultivate their crops. Soil was likely enhanced by excrement and regular burning. It will be interesting to keep an eye on the latest archeology coming out of that region.

    Does anyone here have anything invested in your conception of native civilizations in South America? I don’t. If all they ever were was primitive savages, so be it. If they created relative large and organized cities, then great. But going by this book, it seems European man was apparently very much set against the idea of the natives in places such as South America being anything but savages.

    The interesting thing about Fawcett is that he was very much of the mind that there had been some great civilizations. As hard as he was on his men, he was the opposite of a conquistador. The book mentions only one time where he authorized opening fire on the natives. And he did this very reluctantly. He was known for being able to make peace with any tribe he came across. He was unique in this regard.

    The author said that Fawcett also helped to forward the idea of the “noble savage.” He meant well, but he really was often seeing things through rose-tinted glasses.

    • Steve Lancaster says:

      Mother Nature does not want you there. Even the environmental nuts seldom spend their lives among the rocks and foliage of the outback. They only want it kept pristine as Disneyland for their personal use. Man has spent thousands of years creeping out of the primeval moras and we are better for it.

      Like cities or not they are the centerpiece of civilization and in the long run the hope of man. Only in the city can there be hyper-specialization of labor and market allocation of resources, so that we do not need to build our own houses, or raise our own food.

      This is one of the things that is so disturbing about cities like Chicago, Detroit and Baltimore. These cities and others are returning to raw nature and the advance of civilization is the lesser for it.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        Mother Nature does not want you there.

        Steve, I watched an interesting documentary last night on Netflix. (I have dumped Netflix but am leaching off my brother’s account.) First Contact: Lost Tribe of the Amazon

        This is a highly unusual documentary in that it’s not been minutely shaped and crafted for a specific message. It’s not little more than non-stop virtue signaling.

        More or less it’s about this one tribe that suddenly appeared out of the Amazon jungle. This is apparently becoming a regular occurrence. Brazil has an entire government infrastructure to try to deal with it, including all kinds of Star Trekian “Prime Directive” laws. (Such as if a tribe comes out of the jungle and starts taking your stuff, you’re not to interfere….a policy that has caused some of the tribes already out of the jungle and into semi-civilization to begin taking the law into their own hands and weaponing up.)

        So a band of about 25 men, women, and children suddenly appear on the other side of the river. This is a true Star Trekian first contact moment. Their are some Brazilian professional bureaucrats there to help out, particularly this one fellow (he looks mostly white) who is an old hand at this. But they can only understand one word of what their leader is saying, and that word is “good.”

        But they have the whole initial interaction on film. Later, after having learned their language, then can go back and understand what they were saying during this first contact. (They show this translation and it is utterly fascinating.) Long story short, their tribe was the subject of a massacre — possibly by the Peruvian military but it could have been a band of illegal drug operators or illegal tree harvesters trying to get rid of the bothersome natives.

        There’s a large Ireland-sized piece of land that is supposedly an untouchable sanctuary for various tribes. This land includes parts of Peru and Brazil. But on the Peru side, tribes are increasingly not safe.

        Plus, there are also Really Bad Tribes that some of these more peaceful tribes are escaping from. The documentary gives a little background on this as well, although it focusses mostly on this one tribe we see at the start.

        Now here’s the interesting bit, at least for me. Although this tribe is wary (and potentially very dangerous….apparently 100 or so Brazilian aid workers have been killed during or soon after first contact episodes), this is a frightened tribe. Adding to their fear is apparently a practice amongst those who would kill them (mostly whites, I guess) who act like they’re going to give them free-stuff but then kill them when the tribe is within reach.

        There is little doubt that there are true savages. However, this tribe would better be described as being in a state of nature. They otherwise seemed like normal fellows who just happened to have grown up in the jungle. They themselves have no time for any notion of “the noble savage.” I was fascinated to hear them say how much they liked having clothes. The one fellow who is the leader and main spokesman for the tribe said he was ashamed to go around naked.

        You get a real sense of these people being people and not savages. And I have absolutely no doubt there are actual savages out there. Fawcett himself noted the huge variation in tribes he encountered.

        The main old-hand Brazilian government aid worker has much to say in this documentary. He basically says “What good is it for anyone to try to keep these tribes pristine? They want civilization and soon their sons and daughters will likely being going to college.” Still, there are plenty of rules in place to try to keep them pristine….and basically to try to keep them from being wiped out by the diseases they would pick up if they make contact with outsiders.

        It’s a complicated situation. And this documentary has no pat answers. It’s more a window into what is actually going on and how there are not perfect answers that apply to all cases. It does what a good documentary should do. It informs.

        Like cities or not they are the centerpiece of civilization and in the long run the hope of man. Only in the city can there be hyper-specialization of labor and market allocation of resources, so that we do not need to build our own houses, or raise our own food.

        Indeed. One thing that this documentary evoked was the need for a common culture. That the common culture is much of the world is material wealth or betterment isn’t such a bad thing. Libtards love to romanticize “the noble savage” but there isn’t anything particularly noble about it. Many of those living in a state of nature want nothing more to escape it. This documentary suggested that there is some kind of yute rebellion going on amongst these scattered tribes. They are losing the fear of civilization that their elders had (and which they had, rightly so). More and more, apparently the yutes want out. And I can’t blame them.

        And how true that large swaths of Chicago, Detroit, and Baltimore are returning to a state of raw nature. This is so in part because of the libtard’s arrogant belief in “the noble savage.” But what blacks in these cities need isn’t “authentic blackness.” They need civilization. White liberals are their worst enemy and perhaps one day they will figure this out.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          To a great extent, I would favor leaving it up to the tribes if they would prefer retaining their traditional culture or becoming modernized. An interesting fictional treatment of trying to maintain a traditional culture artificially can be seen in Mike Resnick’s excellent collection Kirinyaga.

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            To a great extent, I would favor leaving it up to the tribes if they would prefer retaining their traditional culture or becoming modernized.

            I got the general impression that this was sort of the official (or unofficial) policy of the Brazilian government, or at least of the aid workers who are there on the ground. The problem comes from whether they are “free” to come out of the jungle and plunder others and then return. (These seem like future Obama voters, I know.)

            One group who was doing this had their weapons taken away by the government. (This is not shown how this was done.) The documentary left it up in the air as to whether or not this more hostile tribe could be pacified without breaking their own rules of minimal interference. There are some signs near the end of the documentary that at least some of the tribe members want the benefits of civilization. Like I said, it’s complicated. This is no easy task for any government to handle. With apparently 100 aid workers killed over the years, one suspects the rose-tinted glasses are not usually worn.

            Imagine if 100 liberals were killed on the streets of Detroit while trying to deliver aid. Would they keep coming back? Almost certainly no. But the aid workers in Brazil must keep coming back despite the risks. I’d love to see an entire ongoing documentary series made out of this situation.

            But at least regarding this one tribe, they did not seem to be irredeemable savages. One boy there (about 12 or so) was having a blast using someone’s digital camera to take a lot of photos. This was not the Hollywood image you have of the savage scared to death that the camera is going to take his soul. This kid could be (perhaps should be) trained as a professional photographer. He could chronical many things in a way that no other could.

        • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

          He basically says “What good is it for anyone to try to keep these tribes pristine? They want civilization and soon their sons and daughters will likely being going to college.”

          This is the reaction I had reading your review and the various comments about it. On what basis does one determine that these primitives should be left alone to go on in their “state of nature?” One can’t help but despise types such as Margaret Mead who study these people, for less than pristine reasons, and add and subtract from their findings, depending on how these fit with the leftist narrative.

          Hobbes had it right when he wrote concerning the “state of nature” which he called “time of warre”.

          In such condition, there is no place for industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and removing things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continuall feare, and danger of violent death; And the life of man solitary, poore, nasty, brutish and short.

          Poor and backward people are quite happy to pick up some of the conveniences of modernity regardless of what they might think about modernity. Almost 40 years ago, I moved to Asia and I recall seeing poor farmers, fisherman and others who lived in thatched huts quite happy to avail themselves of indestructible and cheap plastic cartons in a multitude of colors because they made lives easier. I remember seeing these same people use those garish turquoise and aqua colored tarps to cover their roofs as they were simple to use and lasted longer than palm leaves. It takes intellectuals and idiots, of which socialism is the party, to romanticize poverty, filth and backwardness. By the way, from now on that is going to be my go-to phrase for the Dims and other leftists, the Party of Intellectuals and Idiots.

          As to the American natives who European discoverers first encountered; for God’s sake, these were stone age peoples. Pretend all you want, they were primitives who had not figured out the basic idea of smelting which began something like 6,000 years ago in the Middle East. And nobody should doubt that the knowledge of metallurgy was as important as the knowledge of agriculture for the ascent of man.

          This is why Western Civilization is so important. We all started out in a “state of warre” and it has taken millennia
          for us to create institutions which made life livable, brought material and spiritual advance and let mankind’s mind soar.

          Primitives are close to nature alright, they are having to struggle with it and fight it everyday of their difficult and short lives.

          • Timothy Lane says:

            Part of the difficulty is that many people don’t grasp the statistics of the matter. If a city of a million people has a thousand murders a year, that’s the same rate as a village of a thousand having a single murder a year. Someone who spends a few months studying the village might never encounter any violence even if it’s far more violent than the modern city,

            They also are as unconcerned with what the primitive natives want as they are with what Americans in rural areas of flyover country want.

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            It takes intellectuals and idiots, of which socialism is the party, to romanticize poverty, filth and backwardness

            Oh, this is so true, Mr. Kung. Well said. And the true racism is held by those who see people not as beings struggling for a better life but tokens who are there only to ratify their social prejudices.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      This European arrogance toward the natives was also seen after the discovery of Great Zimbabwe. It couldn’t possibly have been built by the locals. Or so they believed. No doubt they would have thought the same of the Anasazi if they had none of them.

  7. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I hope Steve can catch this because I know he has Amazon Prime Video. Last night I watched Amazonia: A Perilous Journey. This is about an expedition that is trying to retrace the steps of Percy Fawcett (at least some of them) on their way to finding the source of the Heath River.

    The Fawcett connection is rather thin. And this certainly looks at the start like this is going to be one of those obnoxious reality TV shows where the members play to the cameras, creating and exaggerating conflict.

    But despite a certain amount of this, the thin connection to Fawcett, and what seems to be a low budget and not all that much thought into creating a story with some depth, it’s an interesting look at an actual group of explorers.

    If you want to watch this without spoilers, stop reading. Only two people (and their cameraman) make it to the source of the river. The rest turn back because of a shortage of food. And why is there a shortage of food? I don’t know. They were supposed to have several weeks supply of food at whatever point they were on the journey. When they checked (after first having sent off the quartermaster on a task in order to momentarily get him out of the way), they find they have only four days of food left.

    Of course, you want to blame this on the guy who was in charge of the food. But you see immediately what the problem is. The leader of the expedition is so non-confrontational that instead of just telling the guy to do an inventory of the food right then and there, he has to send him away first so he can do it behind his back.

    Plus….if you’re the leader of an expedition, it would seem that keeping tabs on the food supply was YOUR JOB. I don’t know that I’d ever go on an expedition with this guy although he seemed like a really nice guy. I’d love to get Steve’s opinion on all this. Clearly when it comes to exploration, people don’t always put the kind of practical planning into it that they need. I think most of these guys just show up at REI, spend a couple thousand dollars, and think they are prepared.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Food spoilage is definitely a problem in tropical rain forests. Supplies can also be lost. They can also never be bought, with someone stealing the money instead. The Royal Navy used to have a lot of trouble with this.

      Joseph Major, a devoted student of Antarctic exploration (especially Shackleton), has noted that Scott was a bit slapdash about advance planning. You may recall what happened to him in the end. On the other hand, he did finally reach the South Pole, which Shackleton never quite did. But he paid for finally getting there — unlike Amundsen, who wasn’t slapdash and got there before Scott as well as surviving the journey back.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        I don’t think this documentary mentioned why there wasn’t enough food. It might have been because this fellow in charge of the food thought the journey was going to be much shorter. But if you watch this, I got from this whole affair the you need a strong leader who takes charge and communicates well.

        Apparently there was one subgroup of hired natives who were told that the expedition’s goals were entirely different from what they actually were. How does the leader let that slip through? Don’t they have meetings with all in attendance to sort this stuff out, even if in just a Q&A?

        What I’ve learned is that you have to have these things very well organized. For instance (and anyone knows this from simple experience): Break in your boots well ahead of the actual expedition. The dumb-ass Raleigh on the Fawcett expedition waited until the last minute to do that. And paid for it, I think.

        One native fellow on this Amazonian one — and at the very last moment — said he would go no farther because he feared the savage tribes who were up ahead. D’oh! Maybe telling us you weren’t going to go the distance would have been good to know before we hired you.

        There’s no accounting for the human factor. Another clear failing of this expedition is that the leader waffled at the last minute on the course. They were going to cut over from one river to another at a very specific point that was determined far ahead of time. But some dumb-ass raised a stink and thought some other route would be better. So they tried that. That didn’t work you so they literally had to drag their canoes and boats upstream to get back to where they had planned to take the cutoff all along.

        You just can’t make this stuff up. And from what I’ve read of Scott, he wasn’t even at the level of an amateur. But as Woody Allen once said: “Eighty percent of success in life is just showing up.” These explorers showed up. They were willing to follow the Nike slogan and “Just do it.” But Amundson, on the other hand, was a professional. He planned things out with care and used better methods. Fawcett, like Scott, had “destined to die far away from home” written all over him. There may even be a death wish with some of these explorers.

    • Steve Lancaster says:

      The average reasonably fit male can hump a pack of 70-80- lbs and a female 50-60-lbs. It is not possible, even with the best plan to carry everything you need for any extended stay in the boonies. Adding pack animals or vehicles adds to the complexity of the expedition, sooner or later you have so much that just packing up and getting going takes half a day. This is the reason our pioneers seldom traveled with more than one wagon per family and they walked not rode most of the trip. The most skilled person to pack for a trip to mars is someone who has packed a wagon for a trip from Kansas City to Sacramento in 1850. There are numerous accounts of the wagon trains; we could re-learn a lot from them.

      There are many outdoorsmen today that have the skills necessary to survive in the wild, but they are the exception and not the rule. I keep bug-out-bag(s) in my house and car. They contain basics for about a week and, I must confess, they are heavy on weapons of all types. In a situation where use of the bag is necessary. I assume the only law and order will come from the barrel of my gun. My wife and I will not be victims.

      The rule of 3 is unbreakable–humans can go 3 weeks without food, 3 days without water and 3 minutes without air, break any one and survival becomes problematic at best.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        The only wagon train I’m familiar with in any detail is the Donner Party, courtesy of George Stewart’s Ordeal By Hunger. They seem to have more than one wagon for the richer families, such as the Donners and Reeds, and maybe some others. As the journey continued and oxen died for various reasons, the train got smaller.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        The average reasonably fit male can hump a pack of 70-80- lbs and a female 50-60-lbs.

        One of the fellows who made it all the way to the source of the Heath River was a stocky guy. I didn’t like him at first. But he proved to be a bulldog and just the sort of guy you’d want on your side. He wasn’t a complainer. He was a doer. Point him in a direction and he’d go.

        And if the particulars spoken of are true, when they had to split up the group and just the three of them went on, he put on a pack that weighed 110 lbs.

        But you never know what’s real land not real in these kinds of documentaries. I *think* what you get are those who are serious about it and then those for whom adventure is a romantic idea. And when reality sets in, it’s quickly not for them.

        I’ve had enough purely moderate (nothing hardcore) time in the outdoors to perhaps know what my limits are. But having watched a few of these kinds of documentaries, and read a few books, I know I wouldn’t want to place my life in the hands of a zealot, an idealist, or a bureaucrat. I’d follow Teddy Roosevelt (if I could…I likely could not) but not most of these weekend warriors whose reach exceeds their grasp.

        I don’t mind a certain amount of outdoor suffering. The cold and heat I can take. I can take the physical exertion. It’s the bugs that would be my weakness and I know it.

        The rule of 3 sounds like a good thing to remember.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          My outdoor experience basically came as a Boy Scout. I did my share of hiking and camping. We even did the Marathon — on the original route. I made 12 miles in 5 hours, by which time some were already done.

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            My father was an Eagle Scout. I’m not sure why he never encouraged me to do that as well. Maybe he did and I declined. But it was something he was very proud of. And certainly in his time there was no merit badge for “diversity” or whatever they may have now. They had to learn real skills that were of use.

            • Timothy Lane says:

              I made it to a Star Scout. Most of my scouting experience came in Greece, though I believe it was as a Cub Scout in Alexandria that I went on a field trip to the First Bull Run battlefield.

              • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

                I was briefly a Boy Scout, but since my mother would not let me go on camping trips, since that would have interfered with Sunday church, I left the Scouts shortly after joining.

                I was a Cub Scout and earned Wolf, Bear and Lion badges along with eight arrow points. I know this because I am looking at my old Cub Scout shirt which my mother kept after I moved away. It was in among the personal things she kept from my childhood, like a Baby Book, lock of hair from my first hair-cut, etc.

              • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

                Very cool. I imagine that Greece was a place to grow up that stirred the imagination.

  8. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    It might be interesting to note that during WWII, the Japanese noticed that the Allied troops were generally afraid of the jungle, which was not the case with Japanese troops. I vaguely recall hearing on some TV program an old Japanese soldier, saying that the jungle was not so bad and if one knew what one was doing, there was enough in the jungle to survive.

    • Steve Lancaster says:

      KFZ, That was true at the start of the war but by 43 Marines and Army units in the Pacific were just as skilled in the jungle as the Japanese, perhaps more. By the time of the invasion of the Philippines I think we were the jungle predators. Ord Wingate in Burma also gave lessons to the Japanese about jungle warfare.

      You will hear the same thing about Nam, 2nd and 3rd tour soldiers were very expert at the same tactics the VC and NVA used.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        Of course, the Japanese had no background in jungle warfare, but they trained for it — just as the Navy trained for night fighting, with devastating results at Savo Island and Tassafaronga Point. But as usual with the Americans, they learned to fight in jungle and at night. Americans generally start their wars behind, but they’re good learners.

      • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

        I can believe that American units got better pretty fast. As to Wingate, he is a fascinating study. A British eccentric of the first order.

  9. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I was briefly a Boy Scout, but since my mother would not let me go on camping trips, since that would have interfered with Sunday church, I left the Scouts shortly after joining.

    That seems a shame, Mr. Kung. Church is all well and good. But taken too seriously, it becomes a wet blanket. I believe that somewhere between complete unbelief and fundamentalism there is a happy medium. And that happy medium would allow for scouts.

    But I’ve got a fundamentalist sister-in-law who apparently won’t let her adopted daughter have Barbie dolls because they’re the work of the devil. Their former foster son was not allowed to have even a teddy bear. Of course, this is my brother’s fault too because for some reason he won’t stand up to her.

    Religion is all well and good, but only within limits. Otherwise it is suffocating. Whatever the case may be, I do believe you’ve earned your merit badge in Churchill and perhaps in Stalin as well. Can there be a Stalin merit badge? That’s a deep question.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      They did have a Reading merit badge, though not one for book reviewing. That’s one of the badges I got, which should come as no surprise.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        I figured you for double-badge honors or something. Some merit badges you can get today:

        + Learn all about how to be a Communist with the American Labor merit badge

        + Become a dumb drone of The New World Order with your merit badge in being a Citizen in the World.

        + Become “sensitive” and “caring” with a merit badge for Disabilities Awareness. (“Awareness?” How about a badge for actually helping someone?”)

        + I’m a little dubious of the badge for “Game Design” as well. Don’t kids spend enough time playing video games?

        + I do recommend the badge for Insect Study. It’s certainly of some help to at least understand the Democrat party.

        + A merit bad for Journalism? Fake news starts here, I guess.

        + I do recommend as well (and for the same reasons as above) the merit badge for Whitewater. People should indeed learn about the deeds of the witch we almost had as president.

        But, all in all, the list of badges is still a good one. But we really do need some updated badges such as:

        + Surviving a trek through social media

        + Picking out your own damn clothes (Pat would surely agree with this one)

        + Environmental Hysteria

        Still, all in all, I’m most impressed by the Merit Badge given out for Nuclear Science.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          The American Labor Party used to be a minor socialist party in New York. Eugene Lyons voted for them even as he attacked Stalin in Assignment in Utopia. Whether he was still a socialist when he did Workers Paradise Lost 30 years later, I don’t know.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      I do believe you’ve earned your merit badge in Churchill and perhaps in Stalin as well. Can there be a Stalin merit badge? That’s a deep question.

      I have decided the Churchill merit badge is a cigar and gin and tonic. (I know Churchill would have chosen Scotch, but I don’t like it much.)

      The Stalin merit badge is either self-flagellation with a rusty chain, or watching the View every day for a year. I think I will opt for the chain.

  10. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I was looking at the online public library for another non-fiction book to read and stumbled upon The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey. It’s rated very high at Amazon. I’ve read the prologue and that’s it. It starts with TR in a great fever. George Cherrie is at his bedside. He has no little experience in these matters and considers him a goner.

    Eighteen months after his failed bid for a third term, he went off to the Amazon jungle. TR’s method for dealing with stuff was to do something difficult and exhilarating. I’ll let you know how this book goes.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Well, I’ll give you a slight spoiler alert: Teddy lived. But he died relatively young, at a time when he was considered the favorite for the 1920 GOP nomination, and his jungle experiences there and in Africa probably had a lot to do with that.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        Well, I’ll give you a slight spoiler alert: Teddy lived.

        LMAO. Now you’ve ruined it for me. But it does make sense that his jungle adventures cut short his years. But in those 60+ years, the span may have been short but he packed about 350 years of living into them.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      I have to admit that I have mixed feelings about Teddy. He did some good by going after certain Trusts, but he didn’t go after others. He was probably the first Progressive president and believed in a technocracy. Because he was somewhat vindictive, he ran as a third party candidate, thereby insuring Woodrow Wilson’s victory. That alone should relegate him to, at least, the 5th circle of hell.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        Ironically, TR wasn’t really that much of a trust buster — Taft did far more of it in his 4 years. TR really preferred regulated monopolies.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        I think there are some similarities in temperament between Trump and TR.

        I’m not fan of TR either. Nor am I a fan of hurricanes that blow through the eastern seaboard. But they sure are amazing and they do leave their mark.

        • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

          I think both comparisons are spot on.

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            For what it’s worth, the prologue and first chapter of The River of Doubt were well written. They provide an excellent brief summary of TR and the events leading up to his escape to the Amazon jungle.

            I had no idea the guy gave a speech while bleeding and a would-be assassin’s bullet still in him. I think Americans then, as they do now, like someone who is not one of these pampered, fussy, professional bureaucrats….although TR spent much of his professional life in politics.

            He was at least a good demagogue (as they all are) but who also had some real accomplishments to his name. And he rightly burned his reputation when he ran against Taft, splitting the vote and thus handing the victory to Wilson. The author notes that post-election all was quiet in the TR household. The telephone did not ring. No one pulled up his newly-paved driveway to visit. He was a social outcast where once he had been a pal of the elites.

            So off to the Amazon to forget and to reinvigorate himself. I have no idea what the rest of the book will be about. I imagine it should be about the details of the expedition itself and TR’s and others thoughts about it. Whether they did anything interesting other than suffer, I don’t know.

            • Timothy Lane says:

              After Kennedy’s assassination, the Stars and Stripes (which we read in Greece) ran weekly features on every previous assassination attempt from Richard Lawrence’s attack on Andrew Jackson with 2 pistols at point-blank (both misfired in the cold weather) through the Puerto Ricans attacking Truman at Blair House.

              This included John Schrank’s attempt on Teddy Roosevelt and Giuseppe Zangara’s attempt on FDR. TR was probably saved by the bullet hitting his long, folded-up speech, which slowed it down a good bit and limited its penetration.

            • Steve Lancaster says:

              TR is reputed to have said, “If you would be a great man you will find no friends and other great men may be your enemy, but they are the only luxury you have.”

              • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

                An interesting quote by Teddy. And he apparently hated being called “Teddy.”

                When all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. There’s little doubt that Teddy was a great and vigorous man. But as Pascal rightly said, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Teddy saw things through the lens of his vigor.

                And if such men are contemptible of mediocrity, the rest of us should be at least equally in contempt of the arrogance and recklessness of “great” men who, time after time, have wreaked havoc on the world. There’s a comfortable, sane, and safe mediocrity in normal folk — who will always be tools for “great men” because the mediocre men know they are mediocre men and wish to escape that by joining great causes.

                This is part of the appeal of reading adventure books. I’m never going to be a TR (nor do I really want to be him), although an expedition or two would be fun. But they cost money, involve risk, and involve the bother of travel. There’s a safe, mediocre, but interesting, secondhand glow you can get from reading these accounts of men who could not sit quietly in a room.

                As for this particular book, at the moment it’s being weighed down by descriptions of the individual family members and their lives, and I could really care less. On to the Amazon, Teddy!

                But not too fast. If Teddy does meet with undue hardship, it might be because he put his hands into an incompetent quartermaster. A trusted scientific friend of his, who had long wanted to go to the Amazon with TR, delegated the planning and outfitting of the trip to a man who was considered a general failure as leader of a polar expedition. And as I learned from the book about Percy Fawcett (although such a notion I assumed would be common sense), there is much difference between an Arctic expedition (or one in the desert) and a jungle expedition.

                If you were deciding what kinds of boats to use and you had no firsthand experience, wouldn’t you at least try to find out from those who had experience? Didn’t happen. The quartermaster (and TR’s scientific friend) just decided what seemed good to them and went with it. We’ll see how this works out.

                One of the inducements to get TR to even go to South America was the promise of $250,000 for speaking fees. Apparently he’d blown most of his inherited fortune on his political campaigns. He had nothing to leave his family other than his name at this point. (Also often true of the men who can’t sit quietly in a room.)

                But the initial route for his Amazon expedition is a fairly safe one. No one (particularly the South American Officials nor the members of the New York American Museum of Natural History, who helped to sponsor the expedition) want anything to happen to TR. It would be very bad publicity to have a dead ex-president on your hands.

                There are hints in the first three chapters that the itinerary gets changed, and not in a well-planned way.

              • Timothy Lane says:

                I imagine a lot of TR’s money went into all those expeditions. His African safaris have to have cost him a lot. But it garner a most interesting offer by adventurer John Boyes to bring in a bunch of hunters, take over the Belgian Congo, and put TR in charge. Mike Resnick wrote a story about it, in which the consequences of a dead ex-president play a significant role.

                Boyes himself perhaps could have made a try, having set himself up for a while as the first ruler of the entire Kikuyu tribe. He even wrote a book on it (King of the Wa-Kikuyu) which Resnick later printed (and I read) as part of his Library of Africa series.

                One book in the series you might always find interesting is a modern adventure report on a full-length motor tour of Africa by Resnick’s daughter Laura (A Blonde in Africa). I’ve occasionally referenced it here.

  11. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I’m going to have to change my opinion of TR at least a little bit. I’m 45% into “The River of Doubt” and not quite ready to give it a recommendation. But this is pretty well written so far. And once we actually get to the Amazon jungle, the author filled in more details about the jungle itself then you’ll find in “The Lost City of Z.” It’s quite interesting and reminds me of a series of book (I can’t remember the author) I read in middle school.

    It was at Roosevelt’s insistence that the expedition be changed from a glorified pleasure cruise to a serious natural history scientific quest. Only too late did he realized how poorly planned the initial expedition was. He had completely delegated the task and, one in South AMerica, spend several month on diplomatic and speaking engagements. The expedition didn’t have proper equipment and food even for the original journey which would have been a much safer one.

    As it was, this new expedition to follow and map The River of Doubt, and collect specimens along the way, was like Neil Armstrong deciding mid-journey that visiting Mars would be a more exciting venture than the moon. The now officially-named Roosevelt-Rondon Scientific Expedition would somehow movie forward.

    If every Jesuit were to leave the planet, I don’t think we would miss them. The ridiculous friend of TR, a Father Zahm, was basically voted off the island as in a TV reality show and sent packing. What a piece of work. But even aside from his departure, the lack of supplies and ill planning meant that they would have to pare down the men who were going to start the main expedition from near the source of The River of Doubt and follow it to wherever. A second less strenuous expedition was split off. And, I think, still more folk simply return back the way they came.

    TR, even at the age of 55 or so, had tremendous endurance. There is an account written by a Brazilian on the expedition about a side-hunt for jaguars that TR went on near the very start of the expedition. The native guides, porters, etc., were basically in a state of collapsed exhaustion when they made it back to camp. But nowhere in site was TR or his son, Kermit. (Kermit?) They sent some men back to find TR. What they found was TR and Kermit both carrying back one of their fellow native guides who couldn’t make it on his own. Most of the men who went on this side adventure could do nothing but sleep the next day. TR and son were bounding around the next day, energetic as usual.

    And unlike the royalty of today, TR would have nothing to do with special treatment for himself (at least that he knew about). Yes, there was still separation between the leaders of the expedition (who slept in tents) and the porters and rowers. But TR did all he could to make his compatriots feel at home. The Brazilians (and others) basically all expected a lordly pompous ass. But, instead, TR always went out of his way to make others feel comfortable and to sincerely inquire about their own lives. Whatever TR was, he was no Bush or Clinton.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Roosevelt was quite successful as a father. His sons largely lived up to him, and his daughter Alice was a long-time Republican activist (supporting Nixon as late as 1960) and an acerbic observer of the scene. Theodore, Jr. was a Brigadier General in the 4th Infantry Division when he went ashore on Utah beach despite his age (he died a week or so later from a heart attack). And TR was a successful writer (including a good historian) as well as so many other things. Of course, this spirit of adventure had a lot to do with his presidential adventurism. His progressive views were often mistaken, but came from genuine good intentions.

      There’s a quote often thought to describe FDR — a second-rate brain, but a first-rate heart. At least one source makes a good case that it was actually meant to describe TR. In reality, I think FDR had a second-rate mind, but I’m not sure about his heart (he was certainly excellent at appearing friendly, but not always sincerely). TR definitely had the first-rate heart — and possibly the mind as well.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        There’s a quote often thought to describe FDR — a second-rate brain, but a first-rate heart.

        There’s little doubt that TR had a first-rate mind. He was a voracious reader like his son, Kermit.

        When he wasn’t too sick to sit up, Roosevelt sought comfort and distraction in the world that he knew best: his library. For his trip to Africa, he had spent months choosing the books that he would take with him, ordering special volumes that had been beautifully bound in pigskin, with type reduced to the smallest legible size, so that the books would be as light as possible. Roosevelt, Kermit wrote, “read so rapidly that he had to plan very carefully in order to have enough books to last him through a trip.”

        From an early age, TR was interested in anatomy and botany, collecting and sketching animals. I don’t think “first-rate” mind begins to describe him. And it’s very interesting his reason for not following a scientific career, and one we can understand perfectly through a modern lens:

        Roosevelt’s dream of becoming a naturalist burned brightly until he began his studies at Harvard. He entered college “devoted to out-of-doors natural history,” dreaming of following in the footsteps of men like the world-renowned ornithologist John James Audobon, but he quickly became disgusted with the university’s curriculum for aspiring naturalists, which focused on laboratory experiments to the exclusion of, and disregard for, fieldwork. “In the proper desire to be thorough and to avoid slipshod methods, the tendency was to treat as not serious, as unscientific, any kind of work that was not carried on with laborious minuteness in the laboratory,” he wrote. “My taste was specialized in a totally different direction, and I had no more desire or ability to be a microscopist and section-cutter than to be a mathematician. Accordingly, I abandoned all thought of becoming a scientist.”

        I had to consider this a while and came to the conclusion, even if TR didn’t call it by name, that even at this time the scientific establishment had become wedded to reductionism. “Natural history,” which included a realm of research and scientific philosophy not restricted to dissecting frogs, was being pushed aside, perhaps starting in the ill-named “Enlightenment” which was really a restriction of thought to some degree.

  12. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    I turned on the TV while having lunch and there was a program about The Search for the Lost City of Z. It was broadcast on the Quest channel and was episode of the Myth Hunters series.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      That’s interesting. So far I’m 66% into the book and not quite ready to throw it up on the bookshelf, although I think it will go there.

      It’s interesting to find out just how many physical maladies TR had. He had lost sight in one eye from boxing (while in the White House, I think). He had cracked some ribs from a horse accident. He was shot in the chest by an assassin. And while campaigning, a runaway trolley crashed into his car (or whatever he was in), killing one Secret Service agent and throwing TR 30 feet.

      I believe it was from this accident (one tends to lose count) that severely injured his leg. Any further injuries to this leg would prove disastrous. For example, merely by being swiped with some brush while riding, it produced a serious inflammation of his leg that required quite a bit of a doctor’s care.

      And yet with all this, he went on (and survived) an Amazon expedition that was as difficult as any and would have been difficult for a twenty-year-old. He held up pretty well until he inured his other leg on a sharp rock while taking part in the endless portages between rapids. When this happened, it set off a cascade of maladies including infections, yellow fever, and other stuff that had him on the edge of death.

      At this very point, the co-commander of the expedition made the decision to abandon the boats (what few they had left….most were walking on the sides of the river while the few remaining boats carried the supplies). This would mean every man for himself and about a zero percent chance of survival, and even worse odds for TR. His son, Kermit, asserted himself, refusing to obey his father and offering another plan. Kermit had proven so worthy and useful (especially with his handling of the ropes), and had developed such firm respect amongst the second tier of commanders (who did the actual work), that basically he was the brains of the operation at this point. They followed Kermit’s plan to get out of there.

      The Brazilian co-commander, Rondon, is an interesting sort. He’s both a remarkably effective commander and explorer and the kind of idiot who could get you killed (and, in fact, did get many killed) because of his idealism. He’s was like one of those Organians in one of the Star Trek episodes who refused to take sides against the Klingons. Rondon was constantly sacrificing his men so as not to upset the natives. His motto was, “Die if you must, but never kill.”

      Although he had TR’s vibrant respect, TR had to assert his authority a time or two to keep this guy’s desire to become a martyr for science or native relations to kill them all. Rondon’s often misplaced idealism also provides a good perspective. As harsh as this is to say, only by seeing this guy’s mushy suicidalism do you perhaps understand how it came to be such a habit that the natives were often abused and slaughtered. The natives themselves typically didn’t offer an easy choice for what to do about them.

      So you could either kill them or “Die if you must, but never kill.” Most people will defend themselves. And TR was always of the mind that preserving your own skin was a worthy cause.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        Yes, the Rough Rider was hardly the sort to reject violent solutions when he considered them necessary. Incidentally, surviving the charge on San Juan Hill (which he led on horseback) was another remarkable example of his ability to survive. He was very durable — except that he burned his candle at both ends, and eventually that caught up even with him.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          I just finished the book. It’s terrific. Another of a handful of non-fiction books that I can wholeheartedly endorse. The only caveat is that in places it can get a little repetitive: “Woke up this morning with fever from malaria recurrence. More rapids. Had to portage. Not much to eat. Hope we don’t run into any natives.”

          But that was the simple fact of the matter. They were running into a lot of rapids that they had to bypass. They would have had to bypass far fewer if they would have equipped themselves with the right kind of boats (boats the TR himself was well aware of and had used before on rapids).

          The problem with their dugouts was they were heavy and unmaneuverable. Whereas you could steer a lighter canvas-covered boat around rocks and obstacles, the dugout was like an unguided missile. It would tend to catch and dig into anything it hit, and threaten to splinter itself as well, if only because of its great mass.

          TR was away making speeches and delegated the outfitting of the journey to others. Ironically, the one thing their quartermaster did right was to have a few of a lighter style of boats. But when the expedition decided to break apart into two, the better boats (for whatever reason) went with the junior expedition. The major expedition eventually had to buy some dugouts.

          I probably need to read a book about Amundson. What little I’ve read about him suggests that he was first and foremost a very good and rational organizer, not unwilling to try something new if it was better. It can be painful at times to read the sheer incompetence.

          Roosevelt was simply negligent. No man should put himself, let alone his son, in such peril just because they couldn’t take five minutes to research which boats to use and then to acquire them. And the boats were absolutely fundamental to the journey. Had they had better boats, many of the rapids they could have easily navigated, saving time, energy, and exposing themselves to far less risk of injury. Portaging the heavy boats was extremely difficult and often dangerous work. This is how TR injured himself and very nearly died from complication of a wound to the leg. Break the skin in the tropics, and nasty things will usually happen.

          There are actually some interesting surprises here and there. I won’t give them away. But it only adds to the fact that although Rondon may be a legend in Brazil — and rightfully so — he was a menace to his men wherever he went because of his touchy-feely ethics. Small spoiler here to give you an example: One of the grunts on the expedition had been a constant source of problems. He basically was a slacker. One day in the midst of their journey (all of them near starvation and having cut their supplies and rations just to be able to keep going forward) they caught this guy stealing food. TR said they should shoot him because stealing food in a situation like that is akin to murder.

          This Rondon ass (and I think he was an ass, even if a “well meaning” one) wouldn’t punish him. Later this same fellow got angry at another guy who caught him stealing again. He picks up a rifle and kills him. TR want’s him shot then and there. This asshole Rondon instead want to capture him (he’s taken off into the forest with his rifle). TR basically says, “So, we’re barely making it as it is, and you want to spend time and food guarding a prisoner the rest of the way?”

          Most others were thinking the same thing. TR was right. Events intervened for a while and they had to move on down the river. But later they came to a stop and made camp. Rondon insisted that they go back and find this murderer. That made TR about apoplectic. There was a huge falling out between these two men at the time, although TR didn’t hold a grudge. He named Rondon one of the four greatest explorers of all time.

          Well, they never did find the murder so they had to move on anyway. But Rondon is the prototypical liberal who is willing to do really foolish things for “high ideals.” You really get a sense for why there has to be a certain and immediate form of justice in these situations. They could have avoided this tragedy had they severely discipline (or executed) this man in the first place.

          Another spoiler: TR’s son, Kermit, was nothing less than a hero on this expedition. His skill and determination probably saved them all. So it’s such a shame to read that he was such a dumb-**** regarding so much of the rest of his life….to the point of eventually committing suicide.

          TR himself was never the same and clearly this expedition led to a premature death. But I’m very sure he’d say it was worth it.

          • Timothy Lane says:

            Somehow Rondon’s behavior here reminds me of Robert Frost’s observation that a liberal won’t support his own cause.

            Which book would you recommend more, The Lost City of Z or River of Doubt?

            • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

              I’d probably recommend “Thr River of Doubt” as the first of the two to read because of the interesting info on TR and its superior description of life in the jungle. But taken together they very much work in harmony.

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