A very entertaining book by Douglas Preston, who must be lauded both for having survived the expedition and for having chronicled its thrills and trials in under a year ... Mr. Preston knows a good character when he sees one, and Mr. Elkins’s obsession goes some way toward propelling the story. For sheer star power, however, he cannot beat Bruce Heinicke. Loud, profane, partial to Hawaiian shirts unbuttoned to make way for a gargantuan gut, Mr. Heinicke works as a fixer of sorts in Honduras ... Mr. Preston’s writing is breezy, colloquial and sometimes very funny...But he can also be sober, as when he talks about the Old World diseases that the Spanish brought to the New World.
This is a story of eccentric explorers, archaeological controversy, and political intrigue in one of the most dangerous countries in the Western hemisphere. But it is also about Honduras’s cultural patrimony and the ways we understand the history of pre-Columbian societies ... What Preston describes is hair-raising — jaguars on the prowl, deadly snakes everywhere — but also magical, a jungle world far removed from the 21st century ... Preston offers a persuasive defense of the mission and stresses its sensitivity to the cultural politics of discovery. His chapters on the meanings of the find are fascinating.
Preston proves too thoughtful an observer and too skilled a storyteller to settle for churning out danger porn. He has instead created something nuanced and sublime: a warm and geeky paean to the revelatory power of archaeology, tempered by notes of regret ... The book’s most affecting moments don’t center on the ruminations of archaeologists, however, but rather on the otherworldly nature of the jungle — a place that Preston portrays as akin to a sentient creature ... For all his curiosity about the Mosquitia ruins, Preston exhibits puzzlingly little interest in Honduras itself. He appears to have met few ordinary Hondurans during his travels, and the book can occasionally feel clinical as a result ... few other writers possess such heartfelt appreciation for the ways in which artifacts can yield the stories of who we are.