The Lost City of the Monkey God
A True Story
by Douglas Preston
Grand Central Publishing
Pub Date 03 Jan 2017
The first recorded reference to the White City is in the writing of Cortez. He was told by a guide that there was a civilization that rivaled the Aztecs and Incas located in what is modern day Honduras. Cortez passed this information on to Spanish authorities but was never able to follow up on it. As the decades went by the legend of the White City persisted. Claims of finding the city were not accompanied by proof. The author does a good job of detailing the tantalizing clues that kept the legend alive.
Douglas Preston is a well known author as part of the team, with Lincoln Childs, that writes the Pendergast mystery series. He also has his own books, both fiction and non-fiction that are worth checking out. Preston first heard of the White City while doing a story for National Geographic on Angkor Wat in 1996. He was told about new technology that can penetrate the thick jungle canopy to help determine if man made structures existed. Preston was fascinated by the story and contacted the researchers to request joining the study. Steve Elkins, heading the project, accepted Preston into the group. After securing the financing, the search for the White City finally began in 2012. The preliminary work of selecting the possible sites, planning the expedition, and gathering a team of experts, not only in archeology but also in navigating the jungle. The area of Honduras that the White City was believed to be was an isolated valley, uninhabited by man but full of danger like the fer-de-lance snake, one of the deadliest snakes in the world. The expedition finally started for the valley where the White City in 2015.
This is where the book becomes addictive. The snakes, the mosquitos, the jungle itself challenged the explorers day and night. The discoveries came quickly. The team had to decide whether to announce their finds and risk it all. Although they had accessed the site by helicopter, they knew once it was announced, others would attempt to rob the site of it's priceless artifacts. Preston describes all of this, the danger, the hard choices, in detail that keeps the reader turning pages (in my case late into the night). Once the exhibition ended, the danger did not. The worst was what many of the exhibition members unknowingly carried home with them. Despite the mosquito nets and liberal use of DEET, many members of the team became ill and had mosquito bites that did not heal. When the team compared bites and symptoms through email, they knew they needed expert medical help. Naively believing malaria was the worst, the team was shocked to find they had contracted leishmaniasis also called White Leprosy.
When I was in middle school, around 1973, I had a book about lost civilizations. It included the Mayan and Angkor Wat to name a few. I was fascinated with the thought that a culture could so completely disappear for hundreds of years. I remember thinking that book I read as a young teen was the last that would be written, that all lost civilizations had been discovered. When I saw The Lost City of the Monkey God offered for review on Netgalley, I was thrilled. It rekindled all the amazement and wonder I felt many, many years ago reading about other lost cities. This is an amazing book in it's detailing of the legend itself, the preparation for and the expedition itself as well as the horrifying aftereffects on the team.