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Lost In Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II Paperback – Apr 18 2011

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; 1st Edition edition (April 18 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062093584
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062093585
  • Product Dimensions: 15.6 x 3.2 x 22.8 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 322 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #149,375 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


“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) --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From the Back Cover

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.

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Nicola Mansfield HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWER on May 2 2011
Format: Hardcover
Reason for Reading: I love true war stories but I also love true survival stories, so this doubly appealed to me.

A sight-seeing plane carrying 24 enlisted passengers across the jungle of modern day New Guinea (who were stationed nearby) crashed and burned leaving a total of three survivors in a remote valley inhabited by tribes who mostly had not seen white men before and still lived in the stone age. This books gives the complete story of these people, enlisted and native. Prior to the fateful plane trip we meet the individuals who will be on board and learn their story, how and why they came to be aboard and some who just barely missed being passengers. We learn of life at the base of Hollandia where they were stationed, paratroopers on standby, enlisted soldiers waiting for deployment to somewhere else (where the action is) and a group of WACS fulfilling their enlisted duties.

We go through terrifying details of how the crash was probably caused though no blame has ever been laid by officials and the gory aftermath of the scene. Of the three survivors, only one is unharmed, the other two have serious burns and other injuries and thus starts their survival story where they eventually meet up with the natives of the land. Mostly a war-like people, but little do the survivors know that they are fulfilling a legend of the natives.

The main focus of the book though, is in the rescue of these people, as others are sent down to tend to their medical needs and set up a base of operations. The valley is surrounded by mountains too high and cross winds too dangerous. It is too narrow for an airstrip landing. The outside terrain is rough, dangerous, inhabited by known cannibalistic tribes and the island is also inhabited by hidden Japanese units.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Jeffrey Swystun on May 15 2011
Format: Paperback
From the time I read the book's jacket through to its conclusion, I kept thinking about the number of still untold stories from all sides of World War Two. The author deserves kudos for researching this rescue of three survivors of a horrific plane crash in the jungles of New Guinea. Comparisons to James Hilton's Lost Horizon adds some interesting flavor but the book's charm is in the respect paid to the bravery of the survivors and rescuers, the environment and indigenous peoples, and the loss of twenty-one lives. The stoicism shown by Margaret Hastings, John McCollom, and Kenneth Decker is amazing. It is no surprise that at the time they were made celebrities by the military and media. It is good that their story has been rekindled and the supporting characters given prominence (Alexander Caan, a rogue, deserves his own biography). One complaint is the marketing of the book does not match its content especially the depiction of local tribes - it does not honor the spirit of actual events.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Donald Mitchell #1 HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWER on June 24 2011
Format: Hardcover
"He delivers and rescues,
And He works signs and wonders
In heaven and on earth," -- Daniel 6:27 (NKJV)

My dad loved to tell me stories about flying on sightseeing trips all over northern Europe in U.S. Air Corps bombers after Germany surrendered in World War II. His eyes would light up as he described what it was like to sit in the different seats and to imagine what it would have been like during a bombing mission. His stories brought the war to life the terror of war for me in a way that movies and books don't achieve.

I was impressed, then, to find that Mitchell Zuckoff used the same storytelling style that my dad did to tell the story of this sightseeing flight over New Guinea that went oh so wrong. He starts by taking the time to introduce the people with care in a way that makes them into individuals you feel you know and understand. Next, he gets inside the psychology of a situation to explain what kind of thoughts might have been or had been going on in each person's mind. Finally, he does research in the present to tear away the cobwebs of misapprehensions and misunderstandings so that the reader can also see the situation in objective, rather than subjective, ways. I especially appreciated that Mr. Zuckoff did not duck the responsibility to make observations about what was done correctly . . . and what was not . . . by the people he writes about.

If that weren't enough, Mr. Zuckoff takes the story one step further and provides true suspense about what will happen to those involved. I found that he did it so well that I found myself trying to "solve" the mystery of what was coming next . . . as though I were reading a mystery novel.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Len TOP 100 REVIEWER on Aug. 26 2011
Format: Paperback
Citizens of the world were desperately searching for a Shangri-la in the final phases of the second world war. Funny they would find it on a high mountain plateau in the middle of New Guinea. American troops were stationed on the island, some of them women, all of the them waiting to provide support for their fighting forces directly to the north in a pitched battle with the Japanese. As fortune would have, some of these troops were Women Army Corps or WACs. As a great distance separates the south from the north of the island with a huge mountain range in the middle, pilots were searching for a through-route rather than having to fly all the way around the mountains. Such a passage was discovered by a pilot, Major Myron Grimes, who notified his superior, Colonel Ray Elsmore. They had discovered a heavily populated valley approximately one mile above sea level, forty miles long and ten miles wide. It's inhabitants were naked except for penis gourds for the end and g-string made of twigs for the women. They lived in thatched houses with perimeter walls and watchtowers. Because the pilots could find no place to land, they could endow the native people below with any characteristics they wished. War was hell and the world's population were seeking an escape and so they named it after the earthly paradise imagined by Jack Hilton in his novel, 'Lost Horizon.' Plane tours of the valley were provided to armed forces personal on the island after which they received a certificate authenticating their membership in the Shangri-la Society. As a morale booster for his female troops on the north side of the island, Colonel Peter Prossen decided to provide his WACs with a fly-over tour of this fantastical Shangri-la on May 13, 1945.Read more ›
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