"Outside a dog a book is man's best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read!" -Groucho Marx========="The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." -Jane Austen========="I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book."-JK Rowling========"I spend a lot of time reading." -Bill Gates=========“Ahhh. Bed, book, kitten, sandwich. All one needed in life, really.” -Jacqueline Kelly=========

Sunday, August 13, 2023


David Grann

My family and I recently finished listening to David Grann's most recent book: The Wager: A Tale of Shipwreck, Mutiny, and Murder. Thinking about the book, I realized that I never wrote a review for Killers of Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI, which I read in 2018. In fact, Flower Moon is on the list of books I hope to write a long overdue review for part of a personal 2022 challenge. While I'm at it, why not highlight The Lost City of Z, and figure out what other books of his I still need to read? 

The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon
 (Doubleday/Random House, 2009)
       Back in 2018 our daughter and grandson joined us for 1000+ miles of driving. Obviously we had to select an audiobook that would hold all of our attention but also one that we didn't have to hang on every detail. With a one-year-old in the car, that wouldn't happen. We selected The Lost City of Z. I had read the book, which was published in 2009, several years ago for one of my two book clubs. Then my second book club selected it so I wanted to re-read it to refresh my memory.
       Back in 1925 a British explorer, Percy Fawcett, his son, and another man went missing in the Amazon. They were on a quest to find the Lost City of Z, or El Dorado. Their disappearance made headlines around the world. For years people worldwide followed Fawcett's career and we certain that he would be the one to finally find "Z". After his disappearance many other people attempted to find Fawcett and his party, going on the clues he left behind. Many went missing themselves. By some counts over 100 people died looking for Fawcett over the years.
       When David Grann stumbled upon some old diaries belonging to Fawcett, he too set out to get answers to the greatest exploration mystery of the 20th century. But the technological advances in the 21st century were in Grann's favor, like cars, airplanes, radios, and phones. But even with all the advances Grann "found himself, like the generations who preceded him, being irresistibly drawn into the jungle's green hell. His quest for the truth & discoveries about Fawcett's fate and Z form the heart of this complexly enthralling narrative."
       It is hard to imagine, but there are still tribes living in the Amazon that have never interacted with society.  Parts of the Amazon basin are almost as foreign to us as other planets! I'm pretty sure this is an unintended effect of reading the book but I have determined to NEVER visit the area...way too many treacherous insects, reptiles, and unknown diseases! And now I am planning a trip to South America and will visit a tributary of the Amazon river. Eek!
       The audiobook was narrated by David Deakins. We had no trouble hearing him or understanding his narration. That is a big deal when there is a lot of road noise to overcome. My husband and I have since viewed the film made about the lost city of Z. I didn't find it nearly as interesting as the book.

Rating: 4.75 stars.

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI
(Doubleday, 2017)
     Back in the 1920s, the Osage Indians in Oklahoma were the richest people per capita in the world after oil was found on their land. Many lived the lives of the super wealthy but then an odd thing started to happen them. One by one they were being killed off. Clearly they were victims of racism. Families watched their members being murdered by mysterious circumstances or poisonings. If anyone attempted to investigate the murders, they would be murdered, too. As the death toll passed twenty-four, and the local sheriff seemed to be uninterested in doing anything (or was in on it), the FBI was called in. The FBI was a new organization and this was its first major murder investigation. But the FBI kept bungling the case until a former Texas Ranger, Tom White, was called in and he was able to unravel the mystery by putting in place an undercover team, including the only Native American in the bureau. They eventually exposed on the of the most sinister conspiracies in American history.  Though the official death count is 24, it is likely that the murders and killings numbered well over 100. It was a real life murder mystery more bizarre than anything ever thought up for fiction.
      David Grann briefly inserted himself in the story as he traveled from New York, where he lives, to Oklahoma to interview family members about their family histories and to hear stories on on-going racism/discrimination.
      My husband listened to the audiobook together in early 2018, narrated by Will Patton, Ann Marie Lee, and Danny Campbell. Patton is one of our favorite narrators. He has that perfect voice for such a story. Don and I were both shocked to learn about this part of American history since neither of us had ever heard anything about it in all our high school and college history classes. For some reason, though I thought the book excellent and we had a terrific book club discussion, I never reviewed the book on my blog. I did, however, leave this quick reaction to it on Goodreads, "A jaw-dropping event from history which is so, so shameful yet it has almost completely fallen off the history books. I hope everyone reads this book, which reads like the best murder mystery. What the Osage tribe had to put up with is just shameful, shameful, shameful."

Rating: 5 stars.

The Wager: A Tale of Shipwreck, Mutiny, and Murder
(Doubleday, 2023)
     Once again my family was on the move, taking a car trip together. This time I selected a David Grann book, The Wager: A Tale of Shipwreck, Mutiny, and Murder, without consulting the rest of the family since we'd had such success on previous trips listening to his true-life stories.
     The Wager is a recounting of what happened to the HMS Wager, part of the fleet of British ships which left Britain in the 1740s on a secret mission to capture 'the prize of the oceans', a Spanish galleon filled with treasure. The HMS Wager sunk off the coast of Patagonia and the rest of the fleet assumed that all men were lost and continued on without them. Many were lost, but others survived and got to a small island where they were marooned for many months. During that time the chain of command broke down to a point of murder and mutiny. One group decided to take a barge they had rescued from the wreck, heading toward Brazil, 3000 miles away. A small group remained on the island with the captain. This group was finally rescued by local hunters and boatsmen. On January 28, 1742, the first group floated into a harbor in Brazil. The world was amazed by the story of shipwreck and mayhem these men told. Then six months later, the captain and two others were found in Peru. They told a different story. As accusations of treachery and murder flew, the Admiralty convened a court martial to determine who was telling the truth. The stakes were life-and-death--for whomever the court found guilty could hang. "The powerful narrative reveals the deeper meaning of the events on The Wager, showing that it was not only the captain and crew who ended up on trial, but the very idea of empire" (Publisher). 
     I usually love listening to audiobooks. Quite often I will have a more positive experience with a book I've listened to than my friends did with the print version of the same book. This time, I suspect, the opposite was true. All of us -- my husband, daughter, and myself-- found listening to The Wager to be a tedious experience. The information was interesting, it was just hard to listen to it. My daughter rated the the book with a 1.5 because, she said, it was so boring. My husband gave it 2.5 stars, saying he just didn't learn that much. When I asked him if he knew the information about the Wager before he admitted he didn't. It just wasn't delivered in a format that was stimulating. I rated the book higher than the others, 3 stars. The Wager was well-written and Grann did a lot to bring the story alive, but like the others, I just wasn't captivated. By contrast, my nephew recently told me that The Wager is one of his favorite nonfiction books of the last few years. He explained it was an excellent book to analyze leadership styles and he often recommends it to people seeking leadership positions in business. What is an interesting contrast between his experience with the book and ours.
     One intriguing thing I did learn. Though The HMS Wager was shipwrecked and its crew were marooned or didn't survive, many locations in Patagonia (Chile) are named for the crew and the ship. For example, the island where they were marooned is named Wager Island still today.

Rating: 3 stars.

David Grann is a staff writer for the New Yorker. The Lost City of Z was his first book. Several of his books and short stories have been made into movies and/or TV series. For example, one of his New Yorker short stories, "The White Darkness, was later expanded into a book. Mixing text and photography, it documented the modern explorer Henry Worsley’s quest to follow in the footsteps of his hero, Ernest Shackleton, and traverse Antarctica alone. The story is currently being adapted into a series for Apple starring Tom Hiddleston" (DavidGrann.com) This is the next book by Grann I'd like to read. Though I am also intrigued by his The Devil and Sherlock Holmes, which was named by Men’s Journal one of the best true crime books ever written.


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