Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Thursday, January 26, 2023

The Lost City of the Monkey God by Douglas Preston -2017- 362 pages- Non-Fiction

The Lost City of the Monkey God by Douglas Preston is one of the very best works of narrative non-fiction I have had the pleasure of reading in a long time. It is a brilliant combination of adventure travel, Meso-American history, contemporary Honduran politics, jungle archaeology, a precis upon tropical diseases, as well as a look about the work and politics of modern archaeology.

"The #1 New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller, named one of the best books of the year by The Boston Globe and National Geographic: acclaimed journalist Douglas Preston takes readers on a true adventure deep into the Honduran rainforest in this riveting narrative about the discovery of a lost civilization -- culminating in a stunning medical mystery."

"Since the days of conquistador Hernán Cortés, rumors have circulated about a lost city of immense wealth hidden somewhere in the Honduran interior, called the White City or the Lost City of the Monkey God. Indigenous tribes speak of ancestors who fled there to escape the Spanish invaders, and they warn that anyone who enters this sacred city will fall ill and die. 

Best selling author Doug Preston joined a team of scientists on a groundbreaking new quest. In 2012 he climbed aboard a rickety, single-engine plane carrying the machine that would change everything: lidar, a highly advanced, classified technology that could map the terrain under the densest rainforest canopy. In an unexplored valley ringed by steep mountains, that flight revealed the unmistakable image of a sprawling metropolis, tantalizing evidence of not just an undiscovered city but an enigmatic, lost civilization.

Venturing into this raw, treacherous, but breathtakingly beautiful wilderness to confirm the discovery, Preston and the team battled torrential rains, quickmud, disease-carrying insects, jaguars, and deadly snakes. But it wasn't until they returned that tragedy struck: Preston and others found they had contracted in the ruins a horrifying, sometimes lethal-and incurable-disease." From the publisher 

I agree completely with the publisher's description. Here are just a few additional observations I wish to make on this book.

 Preston helped me understand how climate change intensifies the spread of tropical diseases to more temperate climates. He also made me see why giant pharmaceutical companies focus less upon diseases indigenous to the tropics than those found world wide. Millions of people in tropical regions may be infected by diseases spread by sand flies but the people and governments in these areas cannot afford vaccines and expensive drugs so pharmaceutical companies are not interested. I never thought of this before but it makes perfect sense.

Here is the author's account of one such disease:

"Leishmaniasis, a disease caused by protozoan parasites.

Mucosal leishmaniasis struck down two-thirds of the expedition — Hondurans, Americans and Brits alike. It is a very persistent disease, a flesh-eating parasite that attacks the face and eventually causes your lips and nose to slough off, leaving a weeping sore where your face used to be. (I would not recommend Googling pictures of the disease!) It has returned in a number of people. But we are getting the best medical care in the world from doctors at the National Institutes of Health, who are studying us and our disease, which appears to be a unique form. It makes for a fascinating medical mystery"

Preston goes into a good bit of the Spanish conquest of Mexico and Central America. He helped me understand one of the reasons why the Spanish conquest of the Philippines was much more difficult. People living in the 16th century in the Philippines archipelago had hundreds of years of exposure through contacts with China, Malaysia and the Indian Subcontinent to the diseases that brought Apocaliptic devastation to all the Americans so they were able to resist these plagues. 

Preston introduced me to the use of new technologies of ariel photography that are revolutionising archeology. The expeditions were very expensive, just the cost of helicopters was huge. The Honduran Special Forces provided security from looters and narcotics traffickers, a very powerful part of Honduran society. Snakes were an ever present danger.

I am very glad I found this book.  

Mel Ulm

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