Book Review: Lost in Shangri-La

Lost in Shangri-La
By: Mitchell Zuckoff
Published By: HarperCollins
Release Date: April 26, 2011
Buy it at Amazon
Source: Provided by TLC Book Tours
Audience: Adult - Nonfiction, WWII

I haven't read historical nonfiction since I graduated with my BA in History in 2004. My brain was totally saturated with it after four years of constant immersion. However, I was really excited to be part of this blog tour. World War II has always been an area of interest for me; my knowledge is mainly restricted to the European theater of the war so I was excited to learn about the Pacific theater. This book, while it occurs during WWII, isn't truly focused on the war itself. Rather it looks at the amazing survival of three plane crash survivors in Dutch New Guinea.

I was truly impressed with Mitchell Zuckoff's writing ability. So many writers of nonfiction bog the reader down with names, dates, and facts without really trying to make the book flow. Zuckoff writes his nonfiction as if its lyrical prose. I had to keep reminding myself that these events were true and not something he had created from his imagination. The attention to detail in this book is superb and the facts are well documented.

The book begins by focusing on the human level by introducing each of the people who were on board the flight on that faithful day to fly over Shangri-La to observe the natives from the sky. A spot on this type of sight seeing flight was highly coveted by military personnel as it helped to break up the monotony of the island while seeing things of an exotic nature. By focusing on the people involved rather than just a collection of historical facts, Mitchell Zuckoff sucks the reader into the moment instantly and makes you truly want to know the fate of each man and woman involved.

I loved learning more about Margaret Hastings. In the same situation, I can't imagine being as brave as she was. Finding strong females in history has always delighted me; it was nice to find out about a heroic woman I didn't know existed before this read. Margaret is so strong and independent in a time period when these were not respected traits.

I also found it to be particularly interesting that the plane crash survivors largely survived on the Charms, hard candy, found in the plane wreckage from the rations. Many military personnel - particularly in the Marines and Navy - will not eat Charms as they consider them to be bad luck. I found it to be ironic that a food item that is considered to be bad luck for so many was a godsend for these three.

Overall, this was a highly enjoyable read and I would recommend it to fans of WWII history. I did not give it 5 birdies because there were some sections that dragged for me. I was wrapped in the portions of the book that focused on the three survivors and their experiences, but some of the background portions and sections on rescue planning became a bit tedious. 

One Last Gripe: I wanted to see more pictures. There were some, but I would have liked even more.

My Favorite Thing About This Book: Learning about events I had never previously heard of

First Sentence: On a rainy day in May 1945, a Western Union messenger made his rounds through the quiet village of Owego, in upstate New York.

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.

Be sure to check out the other tour stops!

Mitchell’s Tour Stops

Tuesday, April 26th: Acting Balanced
Tuesday, April 26th: Silver’s Reviews
Wednesday, April 27th: Wordsmithonia
Thursday, April 28th: Man of La Book
Monday, May 2nd: The Lost Entwife
Tuesday, May 3rd: Chaotic Compendiums
Wednesday, May 4th: Dreaming About Other Worlds
Monday, May 9th: Reading Lark
Wednesday, May 11th: Life is Short. Read Fast.
Tuesday, May 17th: Chocolate & Croissants
Wednesday, May 18th: The Serpentine Library
Thursday, May 19th: Among Stories
Monday, May 23rd: Sarah Reads Too Much
Tuesday, May 24th: Layers of Thought
Wednesday, May 25th: A Blog About History
Thursday, May 26th: My Reading Room


  1. This sounds like a fascinating book. I've heard a lot of good things about it. I hope it's okay to link to your review on War Through the Generations.

  2. Thanks for the comments Anna! Yes, it's fine to link the review to your blog. :) Thanks for asking.

  3. Great review...stopping by.

    I was one of the reviewers as well.

    Here is the link to my review:


  4. I'm so glad you enjoyed this one. I listened to the audio version myself and have been recommending it to lots of people.

    Thanks for being on the tour.


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