Published by Grand Central on January 3, 2017
Pages: 336 (Hardcover)
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The Lost City of the Monkey God is the true story of the search for la Ciudad Blanca–the White City, also known as the City of the Monkey God. This legendary city was long said to be located in the Mosquitia region of eastern Honduras–an area known for its dense rainforests and heavy drug smuggling activity.
Efforts to locate la Ciudad Blanca failed for many years, in part because of the difficulty presented by the local landscape. But in 2012, a high-tech lidar machine revealed outlines of structures deep within the rainforest. They appeared to be the remains of a settlement that strongly resembled the White City described in folklore.
Author Douglas Preston and a team of archaeologists, scientists, filmmakers, and survival experts set out to explore the settlement on foot–a dangerous enterprise. In this book, Preston documents their harrowing expedition and explores the history, culture, and ecology of the region.
Colorful Characters + Historical Sidebars
The book doesn’t dive right into the expedition. Preston sets readers up with a history of previous efforts to find the lost city, all of which either failed or turned out to be elaborate hoaxes.
He also spends time introducing readers to some of the characters that made the 2012 expedition possible, including a local fixer (originally from America) named Bruce Heinicke, who truly is a character so colorful you’d be forgiven for thinking him a Hollywood invention.'The Lost City of the Monkey God' Is Adventurous + EducationalClick To Tweet
Throughout the narrative, Preston frequently diverges from the present to provide historical background on Honduras (focusing on its rocky political history, which plays into the search for the White City), the Mosquitia region, and the lost civilization that once inhabited it. He also explores the history of conquered South American Civilizations, such as the Mayans, to give readers a broader picture of what was going on at the time the White City was abandoned.
The biggest complaint I’ve heard from other readers is that Preston spends too much time building up to the expedition with this background info. This is a matter of personal preference. I really enjoyed reading about the history and politics of the region but if you’re the sort of person that only likes fast-moving narrative fiction, it may be a bit tedious.
Danger + Discovery in South America
Eventually, we come to the heart of the book–the 2012 expedition into the jungle of Mosquitia. It’s like a real-life Indiana Jones story. The team encounters thick jungle vegetation, deadly snakes, really gross bugs, and a veritable deluge of tropical rain.
They also unearth some amazing artifacts and, for the first time, gain insight into a mysterious civilization that seems to have vanished all at once. It’s engrossing stuff.
For readers who are more visual by nature, Preston includes a collection of full-color photos which further document the expedition.
A Somber Ecological Warning
Weeks after returning from the jungle, a few members of the expedition team–including the author–developed strange skin lesions and were diagnosed with an incurable disease contracted from sand flies. Though certainly not the outcome anyone hoped for, Preston uses this life-altering diagnosis to shed light on a disease that afflicts numerous underprivileged people in South America and for which no safe treatment exists.
Preston also writes about the threat of global climate change and how it will, if left unchecked, invariably lead to the northward spread of tropical diseases. It’s a terrifying prospect but one that must be acknowledged.
Why Archaeology Matters
I’ve always had a cursory interest in archaeology but I don’t really know much about the principles governing the science or the techniques that are used to preserve and analyze new discoveries. This book gave me a small glimpse into that world–the technology used to locate potential excavation sites, the academic disagreements that seem to crop up around major discoveries like the White City, and the importance of understanding our history.
Archaeology contains many cautionary tales for us to ponder in the twenty-first century…about human success and failure. It teaches us lessons in environmental degradation, income inequality, and religious fanaticism. But archaeology also teaches us how cultures have thrived and endured, overcoming challenges of the environment and the darker side of human nature. It shows us how people adapted, lived their lives, and found fulfillment and meaning under fantastically diverse conditions.
These lessons are found in abundance throughout the book, making it far more than just an archaeological adventure story.
I thoroughly enjoyed The Lost City of the Monkey God and highly recommend it if you liked The Lost City of Z, Indiana Jones, or just enjoy a good bit of history and adventure.
Have you read The Lost City of the Monkey God? What did you think?