Lost in Shangri-la : a true story of survival, adventure, and the most incredible rescue mission of World War II by Mitchell Zuckoff is a fantastic story of survival in the jungles of Dutch New Guinea during World War II. This is the second work of nonfiction I read this summer that was so compelling the I didn’t want to put it down. (The first was In the Garden of Beasts by Eric Larson.) While the story takes in 1945 with the war still waging in the Pacific it isn’t about a battle. Instead it is the tale of a sight-seeing trip to an uncharted location gone wildly awry. The flight, carrying 24 passengers, hit a mountain, and only 3 survived. John McCollum, Kenneth Decker, and a beautiful blonde petite Woman’s Air Corps member named Margaret Hastings were injured – Decker and Hastings were severely burned and although McCollum had no great physical injuries, his twin brother was killed in the crash. Lost in Shangri-La is the griping story of three survivors, the native people and the rescue mission. And it is also recounts the first contact of Westerners with a previously untouched band of people.
Zuckoff uses declassified U.S. Army documents, personal photos and mementos, a survivor’s diary, a rescuer’s journal, and original film footage in telling the story of how the trio was rescued. He tracks down survivors and also visits the Baliem Valley to interview the as many of the original group as he could find. Lost in Shangri-La is well worth reading, not only as a story of survival in extremely harsh conditions but also what happens when two cultures collide.