The Lost City of the Monkey God, by Douglas Preston (2017)

Nonfiction
Adult
The Lost City of the Monkey God by Douglas PrestonSet in a jungle teeming with deadly snakes, dengue fever, and drug traffickers, this is the story of an expedition to find a mythological and cursed “lost” city known as Ciudad Blanca (White City) or City of the Monkey God. Jungles, legends, snakes and curses – it’s exactly up Preston’s alley! In his always readable and riveting writing style, Preston describes the history of the legend and how it caught the attention of an American filmmaker, despite many failed efforts to find the fabled city. This time, technology boosts the odds. Using “lidar” (light detection and ranging), a team of scientists, with Preston aboard the rickety plane, conducts a series of flyovers of a portion of the Mosquitia region of Honduras, generating lidar images of the landscape hidden below the thick jungle canopy. The images reveal two areas of significant interest, suggesting extensive ruins may lie beneath the green. It takes nearly three years to get the funding and permits for a follow-up expedition. In February 2015 a small group of archaeologists, botanists and filmmakers, again including Preston on assignment for National Geographic, assembles to conduct “ground-truthing” – essentially, to explore the area on foot and determine if there really are hidden ruins. Their 10-day stay will be supported by helicopter supply runs, and a Honduran military team is following on foot to provide protection from potential looters or traffickers. In addition, the jungle itself provides real threats, from the lethal fer de lance snake Preston nearly trods on the first night to colourful coral snakes and the myriad of insects carrying tropical diseases. Preston’s description of a nighttime forest floor teeming with cockroaches still makes me shudder. The team does uncover spectacular evidence of human habitation, abandoned centuries before, as described in Preston’s October 2015 National Geographic article on the February expedition, which you can find here: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/03/150302-honduras-lost-city-monkey-god-maya-ancient-archaeology/. The story includes some fascinating images by Dave Yoder, who accompanied Preston for the magazine, that bring the story to life. My advance reading copy did not include any images, which I longed for, but I understand the importance of protecting the discovery from potential looting. The book continues after the expedition is completed, as the story doesn’t end there. In addition to facing considerable criticism from the academic community, illness strikes several members of the team. Is the curse real? Preston offers a fascinating first-person perspective of the threat of tropical diseases, made even more relevant after the Zika crisis. He doesn’t shy from discussing the academic criticism, though it’s clear he sides with the scientists who want this discovery protected. An enjoyable read that will attract armchair explorers and has crossover appeal for teen readers as well. My thanks to Grand Central Publishing for the advance reading copy provided through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.
More discussion and reviews of this book at https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/30145126. And I highly recommend taking five minutes to enjoy a hilarious biography of Douglas Preston posted on Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/12577.Douglas_Preston.
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About Michelle Mallette
I'm just trying to keep track of the books I've read - what I liked and what isn't worth re-reading. My work as a librarian has included youth services so you'll find a wide range of interests from picture books and teen dystopia to adult sci-fi, road trip novels, and nonfiction. Comments and communication is always welcome.

One Response to The Lost City of the Monkey God, by Douglas Preston (2017)

  1. Robert Linden says:

    Thanks Michelle! Preston (often with his collaborator of high thrills and mystery, Lincoln Child) has a special place in my library of late night reads and now I look forward to becoming Lost from start to finish in the City of the Monkey God” Simply put, what you call “his always readable and riveting writing style,” makes it quite impossible to do two things at once!

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