15 February 2011

Explorers, tourists, and "mere travelers"

I've finally started reading David Grann's The Lost City of Z (thanks to Jason for the loan), about the early 20th-century British explorer Percy Fawcett and his quest--which becomes Grann's own--for the fabled city of the title, which is supposedly hidden in the Amazon jungle. A phenomenal read so far.

Because of the way my brain is wired right now (two weeks to finish a book!), this section jumped out at me:
As Jack and Raleigh [Percy Fawcett's fellow-expeditioners] now excitedly stepped on board the ship [to South America], they encountered dozens of stewards, in starched white uniforms, rushing through the corridors with telegrams and bon voyage fruit baskets. . . . The conditions bore little resemblance to those that had prevailed when Fawcett made his first South American voyage, two decades earlier . . . Now everything was designed to accommodate the new breed of tourists--"mere travelers," as Fawcett dismissed them, who had little notion of "the places which today exact a degree of endurance and a toll of life, with the physique necessary to face dangers."
Emphasis mine. I like Fawcett's implied distinction: not between "travelers" and "tourists" (and, yes, enough with that) but between "mere travelers" (that is, tourists) and those on true expeditions. That, I think, is a worthwhile distinction. And, yes, those people doing that race in Antarctica are still "mere travelers"--at least until they start doing some research or show some purpose higher than bragging rights.  


  1. I'm reading this book now, too!! We'll have to compare notes when we're both done. At a recent writer's conference, several agents used this book as an excellent example of narrative nonfiction -- HOW to tell a story.

  2. Ooh, yeah, we need to compare notes! David Grann is true master of the form. His research is just astonishing and the way he weaves it all into a story, always riveting, never pedantic ... it's like a magic trick. It almost doesn't seem possible. Also humbling--I know I couldn't pull off that book in a *lifetime.*

  3. Interesting! One of the most controversial explorer of 20th century.


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