It might seem almost obvious. A lost city in an unexplored jungle. Explorers, living and dead. High tech informing an almost impossible trek. Every element of a great story is there. But there are lots of elements and lots of stories. How might one architect all of this material into a single book? Douglas Preston’s The Lost City of the Monkey God: A True Story reads like lightning even as it pulls together the remarkably complicated threads of what prove to be a series stunning stories. In the moment, you’ll not want to put the book down. Afterwards, you might wonder, how did he get all that stuff in there?
The Lost City of the Monkey God may cover a lot of ground, but it doesn’t feel that way. Preston wisely weaves in the history with the story of his own exploration of an unexplored tract of jungle in Honduras, called Mosquitia (not named for the wildlife). For centuries, we learn, men have been looking for a “White City” or a “Lost City of the Monkey god” in this jungle. The explorers themselves are a diverse bunch, ranging from charlatans and liars to scientists, scholars and soldiers. Nobody found the city, nobody brought home the gold, beyond Preston, who mines their stories well.
The story of the expedition that Preston finds himself tied up in is even more fascinating than the history. The conflicts he explores in the field of archaeology between engineers and historians are on-going to this day. Make no mistake, Preston was not at first eager to join this crew. Like many, he doubted that any huge city could have existed where we currently see what appears to be untouched primal jungle. That’s pretty much what the science has been telling us, until recently. But Preston and his gang (along with David Grann) have put the lie to that notion.
Readers should be aware that they may get their full annual ration of snakes, bugs, and the slimy, deadly terrors of the jungle. And just when Preston thinks to have escaped, it seems that, as it happened in Relic (which he co-authored with Lincoln Child), something has followed him out of the jungle. Alas, it is not the were-jaguar portrayed in a sculpture found in the city.
We like to think we know pretty much everything about the earth, that we have conquered land and sea and sky. But as Douglas Preston demonstrates in The Lost City of the Monkey God there is a lot we do not know. And what we do know seems to be scattered willy-nilly everywhere. Douglas Preston brings it all together in a taut, exciting book that reads like a novel but has the raw power of truth. This book offers peril and terror, but also awe and wonder. There are fresh sights for us to see. Here is a book to open your eyes.
Before you open your eyes, or even after, you will want to hear the author speak. His enthusiasm, the echoing aftershocks that he is still experiencing from his journey are right there for you to hear. You might listen to about three minutes of this, run out, buy and read the book, and then listen to the rest. You might find yourself downloading the file from this link and listening with fixed awe to Preston. You might also click below and never go back. Welcome to Mosquitia. Netting is not optional.