Lost in Shangri-La

A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II

By Mitchell Zuckoff
(Harper, Hardcover, 9780061988349, 400pp.)

Publication Date: May 2011

Other Editions of This Title: Paperback, Paperback

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Selected by Indie Booksellers for the Fall '12 Reading Group List
“May 13, 1945. Twenty-four U.S. soldiers stationed in Dutch New Guinea pack into a C-47 for a sightseeing trip over a lush, mysterious, newly discovered valley. Unable to navigate the dense tropical clouds and steep mountain faces, the pilot crashes the plane deep in uncharted jungle. Only three injured passengers, including a WAC, survive. How they attempt to save themselves while caught between Japanese troops and hostile headhunters, what happens when they encounter a Stone Age tribe that had never seen white men or women, and how they are finally rescued is at the heart of this amazing true story.”
-- Lisa Howorth, Square Books, Oxford, MS
Selected by Indie Booksellers for the May 2011 Indie Next List


Description

On May 13, 1945, twenty-four American servicemen and WACs boarded a transport plane for a sightseeing trip over “Shangri-La,” a beautiful and mysterious valley deep within the jungle-covered mountains of Dutch New Guinea. Unlike the peaceful Tibetan monks of James Hilton’s bestselling novel Lost Horizon, this Shangri-La was home to spear-carrying tribesmen, warriors rumored to be cannibals.

But the pleasure tour became an unforgettable battle for survival when the plane crashed. Miraculously, three passengers pulled through. Margaret Hastings, barefoot and burned, had no choice but to wear her dead best friend’s shoes. John McCollom, grieving the death of his twin brother also aboard the plane, masked his grief with stoicism. Kenneth Decker, too, was severely burned and suffered a gaping head wound.

Emotionally devastated, badly injured, and vulnerable to the hidden dangers of the jungle, the trio faced certain death unless they left the crash site. Caught between man-eating headhunters and enemy Japanese, the wounded passengers endured a harrowing hike down the mountainside—a journey into the unknown that would lead them straight into a primitive tribe of superstitious natives who had never before seen a white man—or woman.

Drawn from interviews, declassified U.S. Army documents, personal photos and mementos, a survivor’s diary, a rescuer’s journal, and original film footage, Lost in Shangri-La recounts this incredible true-life adventure for the first time. Mitchell Zuckoff reveals how the determined trio—dehydrated, sick, and in pain—traversed the dense jungle to find help; how a brave band of paratroopers risked their own lives to save the survivors; and how a cowboy colonel attempted a previously untested rescue mission to get them out.

By trekking into the New Guinea jungle, visiting remote villages, and rediscovering the crash site, Zuckoff also captures the contemporary natives’ remembrances of the long-ago day when strange creatures fell from the sky. A riveting work of narrative nonfiction that vividly brings to life an odyssey at times terrifying, enlightening, and comic, Lost in Shangri-La is a thrill ride from beginning to end.




About the Author

Mitchell Zuckoff's honors include the 2000 Distinguished Writing Award from the American Society of Newspaper Editors. His book Choosing Naia: A Family's Journey was a Boston Globe bestseller and won the Christopher Award.




NPR
Tuesday, Apr 26, 2011

In May 1945, a plane carrying 24 men and women crashed into a hidden valley in New Guinea. There were only three survivors. Journalist Mitchell Zuckoff tells the remarkable story of their rescue in Lost In Shangri-La. More at NPR.org

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Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com

CONVERSATION STARTERS

  1. The story of the rescue mission told in Lost in Shangri-La was not well-known in recent years. Did this surprise you? How much did you know about World War II as it affected this part of the world before reading this book? What did you learn about the war for the first time while reading?




Praise For Lost in Shangri-La

“A truly incredible adventure.”
-New York Times Book Review

“[A] gripplingly cinematic account. . . . A remarkable cast of characters. . . . A.
-Entertainment Weekly

“This is an absorbing adventure right out of the Saturday-morning serials. . . . Lost in Shangri-La deserves a spot on the shelf of Greatest Generation nonfiction. It puts the reader smack into the jungle. ”
-Cleveland Plain Dealer

“Zuckoff transforms impressive research into a deft narrative that brings the saga of the survivors to life.”
-Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Zuckoff delivers a remarkable survival story. . . . In this well-crafted book, Zuckoff turns the long-forgotten episode into an unusually exciting narrative. . . . Polished, fast-paced and immensely readable—ready for the big screen.”
-Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“[An] engaging story. . . . This excellent book will be enjoyed by anyone who loves true adventure stories.”
-Library Journal (starred review)

“A riveting tale in the hands of a good storyteller. . . . LOST IN SHANGRI-LA is the most thrilling book, fiction or nonfiction, that I have read since I can’t remember when.”
-Seattle Times

“Mitchell Zuckoff has uncovered, and vividly reconstructed, such an astonishing tale. . . . Zuckoff skillfully builds narrative tension and deft character portraits. . . . . He has pulled off a remarkable feat — and held the reader firmly in the grip.”
-David Grann, Washington Post

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