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Not quite Indiana Jones!

The Lost City of the Monkey God: A True Story - Douglas Preston

The Lost City of the Monkey God-A True Story, Douglas Preston, author; Bill Mumy, narrator.

This book was billed as an Indiana Jones lookalike, a book filled with adventure and discovery. Sadly, for me, it fell short of that and became a travelogue of sorts, albeit in unexplored areas of Honduras, rather than an archaeological expedition to find the legendary cursed City of the Monkey God. Sponsored by private money with the cooperation of National Geographic employees, the group assembled faced danger and hardship, but the expedition seemed all too brief and the discoveries of the team seemed miniscule compared to what I was expecting from the hype on the book. The most outstanding idea that I remember most was the use of a technological discovery called the Lidar, a kind of x-ray machine to me, which enabled them to find traces of lost civilizations from above, as they looked directly into the forested areas without actually venturing there.

When they did travel to the area, they encountered dense forests and dangerous reptiles and insects. Unfortunately, they did not deal with the dangers as seriously as they should have, some of which they could not have known, however, and several of the group became ill, after returning home, with a parasitic disease having very serious consequences, called Leishmaniasis. There is no existing reliable treatment, and some are still battling it. Some will continue to do battle with it for the rest of their lives as the biological infection remains within the body even after, and if, the symptoms disappear. It is a disease, like the Zika Virus, which was once absent in America, that is also now suddenly appearing in America, causing great concern for the National Institutes of Health.

The author accompanied the investigators into Honduras and also succumbed to the illness after his return. The research into the illness and the history of the region, including the history of previous civilizations, was thorough, but the book did not fulfill the promise of an Indiana Jones-like adventure story. Even noted scientists eventually objected to the publication of the group’s findings since their original exploration was conducted under the auspices of a filming project, and the finding and cataloguing of lost valuable artifacts seemed secondary. Further, since previous expeditions had been fraudulent, they believed that no evidence of past civilizations had existed in the area. Also, they did not appear to be using strict scientific guidelines and could have contaminated and even destroyed valuable evidence of any discoveries of previous life there. Some of the objections seemed ludicrous, however, when they called the use of terms like Lost City and Monkey God racist expressions.

In spite of the doubts of what could be called jealous colleagues, and against the odds, they did find evidence of unexplored former habitation in their area of exploration. They found a grid of pyramid like structures, relics, stone carvings, dwellings and evidence of various different Indian tribes and civilizations that had lived there before, and in the process, they exposed themselves rather carelessly to the exigencies of the jungle. Dealing with snakes and sand flies was a trial as was getting through dense greenery and continuous rainstorms which made travel impossible and eventually required the evacuation of some participants.

There was simply too much information about the daily life, the technology, equipment and disease rather than the excitement of the exploration, discovery and the trials and errors which led to their success. In some instances, though, I found the details often a bit too graphic and gruesome. No doubt, the group had courage and fortitude, and the author obviously did a great deal of research on the ancient customs and history of South American civilization and the many explorers, like Columbus, Cortez, LaSalle and Joliet, who, in addition to exposing the new lands to the world, brought disease and death to the unsuspecting natives. The detailed research was the reason that I gave the book 3 stars. It was the abundance of the often too technical information that led me to limit it to the 3.  Perhaps a more intellectual reader, involved in the sciences, would appreciate it more than I did. Many of the words, references and descriptions went over my head. Perhaps with a written copy, it would have been better and would have lent itself to possible research into some of the unrecognizable terms. Since I also had a print copy, I could avail myself of such efforts. The photos in the book seemed more interesting than the book itself.

I was uncomfortable with the narrator. I felt as if he read with far too much emotion trying to instill excitement where there was none, trying to instill fear which often seemed absent, and to instill the gravity for the research which I never felt.

Instead of the legendary Lost City of the Monkey God, they actually discovered the newly named City of the Jaguar.