Many familiar with Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child’s “Pendergast” fictional adventure novel series may be surprised to learn that Preston is also a career journalist. He has written about archaeology, history, and paleontology for several prestigious publications including Smithsonian, National Geographic, and the New Yorker. It was while covering an archaeological expedition for National Geographic that Preston became inspired to write The Lost City of the Monkey God. Despite the provocative title, this non-fiction account of archaeology, anthropology, and epidemiology is not an “Indiana Jones” style adventure story. It is a well-researched yet accessible account of modern archaeology in action.
In a completely unexplored area of Honduras’s Mosquitia Mountains, there circulate centuries-old rumors of a lost city called both “La Ciudad Blanca” or “The City of the Monkey God”. According to those rumors, the abandoned city is cursed, and everyone who dares enters it will die.
Using groundbreaking LIDAR technology, in 2012, a group of scientists located an ancient Pre-Columbian city which may be the basis for the legendary lost city. Preston joined the first boots-on-the-ground expedition to see in person what the aerial LIDAR images suggested. He provides a thorough and reader-friendly description of the region’s history, as well as the intricacies of navigating sovereign politics to obtain permission for such a journey. The result is a thoughtful, yet exciting, recounting of the artifacts, structures, and dangers present in the previously forgotten city. However, as thrilling as documenting such a fascinating place was, Preston and his fellow explorers were unprepared for the consequences, not from any fantastical “curse”, but from a deadly tropical disease.
When the group returned to the United States and Europe, over half of them contracted leishmaniasis, a parasitic illness that is both under-researched and difficult to treat. This audiobook can be found at the Bellevue University Library and is recommend for anyone interested in archaeology, anthropology, or epidemiology. It is available in the General Collection and can be checked out for 21 days.
Originally posted in the Freeman/Lozier Library’s quarterly newsletter, More Than Books, V. 23 No. 23, Spring 2020.