Lost in Shangri-La by Mitchell Zuckoff

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: Wait until you get to the unneeded male nudity.

Quick synopsis: Story of an airplane crash during World War II in New Guinea. The survivors of the crash are caught in a valley which will require an ingenious exit strategy.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: A drunk guy parachutes out of a plane.

Fun Fact for History Nerds: The indigenous people in the area where the plane crashed were (almost) untouched by civilization until this incident. Zuckoff makes some hilarious corrections of the diaries at the time to show the contrast between what the Americans thought the tribesmen were doing and what they were actually doing. See alternate tagline for example.

My Take: This is a pretty fun book because Zuckoff does quite a few things really well to stitch this story together. First, he relies on his primary sources which were luckily kept by the survivors of the crash. Second, he also uses tribesmen or their descendants who were still alive to answer questions and add flourishes to the story.

Zuckoff creates a strong sense of the New Guinea military base and the people who inhabit it just as well as he does for the home of the indigenous tribes. His characters are vivid to the reader because Zuckoff gives you the facts you need to understand their psyche and also doesn’t shy away from their flaws either. The best example if Margaret Hastings who at various points is a damsel in distress, badass survivor, media icon, and pain in the ass. She is, in a word, a human and not a stock character.

Zuckoff’s story flies around to take into account everything from the valley, to the base, to the Homefront. He calls it straight and does not avoid assigning blame or pointing out hypocrisy and well intentioned stupidity. However, this story fizzles out at the very end. Once the paratroopers arrive the story slows down to a crawl until the extraction. And the extraction angle seems to take up too much space and needed to be shortened.

Verdict: Fun lark for those interested in adventure stories and/or World War II. Not recommended for people already scared of flying. Probably shouldn’t read it on the plane either. You know, just in case jinxes are real.

If You Liked This Try:

  • David Grann, Lost City of Z
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  • David Welky, A Wretched and Precarious Situation
  • William Carlsen, Jungle of Stone
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Lost in Shangri-La by Mitchell Zuckoff
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