The Lost City of the Monkey God

In my ever continuing quest to read more non-fiction, I chose The Lost City of the Monkey God because the premise reminded me so much of one of the opening scenes of Justin Cronin’s The Passage. While there are no physical monsters, there is a consistent quest, riddled with incredible political as well as geological challenges, to excavate the story of the fabled “White City.” While traveling in the remote parts of Honduras looking for the White City the team battles rain, snakes, and bugs. After leaving the dig and returning to the states, the team finds they have been stricken with an incurable disease.

Douglas Preston takes readers on a part historical journey and part biological study of the areas of Honduras that become known as T1 – T4. The book reads like an extended National Geographic piece and is incredibly fascinating from beginning to the end – actually Preston covered the topic for the publication in the piece called, “Lure of the Lost City.” The book could also be the prep notes to a Hollywood film, reading like an adventure with plenty of background information to round out the story.

I found myself feeling incredibly small on this little rock of our in the universe. To think there are still unexplored areas of our planet ruled my wildlife and vegetation – and that hide the remnant artifacts of vanished civilizations – is enough sustenance for the imagination to persist on forever.

I most applaud Preston for the final chapter. He does an incredible job of wrapping up the pieces and links it back to the fear and awe we, as humans, should bestow upon disease all around us. With the ever encroaching threat of global warming, these fears become less of a nightmare and more of a possibility. Reading about the power of disease to truly decimate our world as it has the worlds of civilizations before us is humbling. It also makes me miss the days when I worked in public health and once again shows the relevance of such organizations that don’t get near enough support. Our reliance on our modern medicine and technology is a theater production that we have whipped the ills of the world, but as Preston points out, stronger threats lurk in the shadows waiting for an opportunity to jump into the path of humanity.

I didn’t rush through this book. It wasn’t a page-turner for me, but each time I picked it up, I enjoyed reading Preston’s account. His writing is sharp, and his voice is pure, sharing both what’s important to the story and him. I think his rumination on his experience left him with powerful statements to make, which he did an excellent job of at the very end. I can see myself returning to that chapter in the future.

Favorite Passages in The Lost City of the Monkey God

The Honduran rainforests are disappearing at a rate of at least 300,000 acres a year. Between 1990 and 2010, Honduras lost over 37 percent of its rainforest to clear-cutting. (72)

Archaeology is in a race again deforestation; by the time archaeologists can reach a rainforest site to survey it, it may well be gone, fallen prey first to the logger’s ax and then the looter’s shovel. (72)

mere words are inadequate to express the chromatic infinities. (96)

We were flying above a primeval End, looking for a lost city using advanced technology to shoot billions of laser beams into a jungle that no human beings had entered for perhaps five hundred years: a twenty-first-century assault on an ancient mystery. (97)

It amazed me that a valley so primeval and unspoiled could still exist in the twenty-first century. It was truly a lost world, a place that did not want us and where we did not belong. We planned to enter the ruins the following day. What would we find? I couldn’t even begin to imagine it. (138)

People need history in order to know themselves, to build a sense of identity and pride, continuity, community, and hope for the future. (288)

In the last ten thousand years, as human population densities increased, disease moved into center stage of human affairs. Pandemics changed the very arc of human history. Despite our dazzling technology, we are still very much at the mercy of pathogens, old and new. (289)

The world is now divided into Third and First, not Old and New. (296)

No civilizations has survived forever. All move toward dissolution, one after the other, like waves of the sea falling upon the shore. None, including ours, is exempt from the universal fate. (302)