The Lost City of the Monkey God by Douglas Preston is a detailed description of a modern exploration of a Central American jungle, including advanced technology, archaeologists, ethnobiologists, writers, photographers, Honduran soldiers, and other adventurers. Douglas Preston wrote shorter journal articles about the same subject for the New Yorker Magazine and National Geographic in 2013 and 2015.
Since I found the book a little dry—engaging at times but full of names and details that got lost if I was reading before going to sleep—I was concerned about the reception by our book club members. I shouldn’t have been worried. We had a great turnout and most of us seemed fascinated by this tale of adventure and discovery in the twenty-first century. We couldn’t imagine being willing to take the risks involved in exploring the jungle. We had not considered the delivery of blankets, laden with viruses, as biological warfare, killing off an entire civilization.
I brought a National Geographic video documentary and wasted quite a bit of discussion time trying to locate the pictures of the dense jungle and Lidar equipment I wanted to share. The book talks about the filming of a documentary for the German financial backer Bill Benenson, but this documentary is a short, repetitive one by Steven Elkins. It lacked the excitement of Preston’s descriptions of sand flies and spiders and monkeys and Fer-de-lance snakes.
One member captured it best when she said she started reading, expecting an adventure tale, only to have it turn into a horror story about a predicted pandemic. We talked about the Zika virus, Lyme disease, third-world versus first-world diseases, pharmaceuticals, doctors, and more. We started to get into heated political debate about definitions and responsibilities until one of us got us back on track, talking about archaeology.
Our next book, The Martian by Andy Weir, will be an interesting comparison. I hope you can join us.
- Other works discussed:
- Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West (1970) by Dee Brown
- Dog Stars (2012) by Peter Heller
- The Relic (1995) by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
- Station Eleven (2014) by Emily St. John Mandel