I really enjoyed this book, which came as a bit of a surprise. I know I’ve said it before, but I tend not to like when the author inserts himself into the non fiction story. There are clearly exceptions, but they are rare. When I picked up this book at the bookstore, I thought I’d give it a chance based solely on my strange obsession with Machu Picchu. I am so glad that I did.
In the late 1960s my dad went to Peru and visited Macchu Picchu. As a child I remember looking at slides from that trip and asking him to retell the story of what it was like to go there (and how he got Hepatitis from some chicken, not the STD, the OTHER hepatitis) which inadvertently lead to him being drafted into the military. It was quite the epic adventure. So Machu Picchu has represented that kind of mysterious bad luck to me. I think Hiram Bingham III might just agree. Adams is married to a Peruvian and freely admits that his desire to visit and understand Machu Picchu was a bit of a mid life crisis. He also frankly admits that he is not the outdoorsy type and might have been a bit ill prepared in any but the academic sense for the adventure he was going to take.
Part of what makes this book so charming (yes, charming) is that Adams presents a history of Hiram Bingham’s ‘discovery’ of Machu Picchu within the framework of the type of man that Bingam was. He does not try to deify, or vilify Bingham. For those unacquainted with the history, Adams is very thorough using blessed first person sources (HUZZAH!) and putting them into context. His narrative weaves seamlessly with his own journey and his almost man crush on John Leivers, penny pinching Australian guide born in the wrong era. Surprisingly, I’d already been introduced to Mr. Leivers in a documentary about Andean ruins. Their journey is both comical, and in many ways profound as Adams hopes to capture just what is so enigmatic about Machu Picchu. Adams treated the topic thoughtfully and with humor, and I especially enjoyed the parts where he discusses the controversy surrounding Andean artifacts and their meaning both culturally and politically. If my father didn’t read this website, I would probably give him this book for Christmas. As it is, I will lend it to him, and see what he thinks.