Book Review: Jungle of Stone

Where are the JoSreal men today?  A new study, published in the Journal of Hand Therapy, reported researchers asked 237 participants aged under 30 to exert as much force as they could on a hand dynamometer.  The results showed that strength scores were lower for both men and women than they were in 1985.  Specifically, men’s hand strength decreased by 20 pounds.

Are men weaker today than they were 20, 50, 100, 177 years ago?

Enter John Lloyd Stephens and Frederick Catherwood. Author William Carlsen tells the story of these men in his book, Jungle of Stone: The True Story of Two Men, Their Extraordinary Journey and The Discovery of the Lost Civilization of the Maya.

Carlsen describes Stephens and Catherwood as “a mismatch, an unlikely pair for such a revolutionary journey. One was a red-bearded, gregarious New York lawyer; the other a tight-lipped, clean shaven English architect and businessman.”

The year was 1839 and they “were about to alter the world’s understanding of human history.”  Carlsen follows these men on a 2,500 mile chase through the mountains and jungles of Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico.

Stephens and Catherwood braved some of the most horrendous ordeals as they pressed on with their discovery.  Carlsen describes one ordeal this way,

“Along with the natural beauty came the murderous mini-vampires. The mosquitoes were driving them out. Every night was torture. “We held our ground against them for two nights,” Stephens wrote. The men were apparently without their netting. On the third evening they were finally forced out of the temple, only to be driven back in again, seeking relief but never able to find it. They had all but given up sleeping. “A savage notice to quit was continually buzzing in our ears and all that we cared for was to get away.”

But they didn’t quit.

On another occasion Stephens and Catherwood experienced unpleasant encounters withStela Copan vicious, blood-drawing “bottle rump” and “doctor” flies; deadly snakes and alligators the size of logs.  To ward off flies, they would find it necessary to smoke nearly all day just to keep them away.

Once, while escaping a raging forest fire, a swarm of giant flies escaping the fire too, followed them. The flies descended on them and attacked their mules.  “Every bite drew blood. For an hour we labored hard but could not keep their heads and necks free” Stephens explained.  “The poor beasts were frantic, and in spite of all we could do, their necks, the insides of their legs, mouths, ears, nostrils, and every tender part of their skin, were trickling with blood.”

The book is filled with riveting accounts like these.  It does however bog down when Carlsen takes several chapters to describe Stephens’s and Catherwood’s early life.

The book is filled with expedition, politics, archeology and the American spirit.

catherwoodStephens and Catherwood were not the first to discover the Maya civilization, however they were the first to write extensively about it and provide intricate drawings (the camera was not in use at the time) of grand temples, palaces, courtyards, statues, stelas, pyramids, archways, caves and more.

The book is not just the Mayan discovery story which is fascinating, especially when they uncover their first city, it also tells the account of the development of a railroad across the Isthmus of Panama. Stephens was one of the key planners for that colossal endeavor. Stephens did not live to see its completion, but of that railroad Carlsen writes:

“From its inception to its consummation, it is purely American,…American genius conceived the plan; American science pronounced it practicable; American capital has furnished the sinews; American energy has prosecuted the gigantic enterprise to its completion in spite of the most formidable difficulties.”

America is exceptional. Jungle of Stone helps us see that.  It is a story of real men, strong men; men with firm grips.

Where are these men today? Are they only found in history–in the pages of books like Jungle of Stone?  

Bring me men to match my mountains,

Bring me men to match my plains,

Men with empires in their purpose,

And new eras in their brains.

Bring me men to match my prairies,

Men to match my inland seas,

Men whose thoughts shall pave a highway

Up to ampler destinies,

Pioneers to cleanse thought’s marshlands,

   And to cleanse old error’s fen;

Bring me men to match my mountains –

   Bring me men!

Sam Walter Foss, The Coming American

Author: pastor roger

Pastor Roger is retired Executive Director of Hope Now For Youth. Hope Now is a Christian rescue organization. The ministry helps young gang members get out of the gang life and into a job. He is a licensed pastor in Hope Now Bible Church where he preaches on various Sundays throughout the year and leads an adult Bible study during the week. He serves on the Board of Directors and assists the new executive director as the organization’s Director of Communications and Director of Cambodia Ministries. He graduated with High Honors from Moody Bible Institute with a Bachelors degree in Biblical Studies. He attended Riverside Community College, Biola College (University), and he received his certificate in Strategic Planning and Management in Retailing from Babson College. Roger was a member of the U.S. Coast Guard in the early 70s. In 1980 he began a 24-year career with Berean Christian Stores (now Lifeway Christian Stores). In 2000 he became president of the company and served in that position for four years. He became Executive Director and CEO of Hope Now For Youth in 2004 and retired from that position in 2018. He has traveled to Antarctica, Chile, Peru, Mexico, Canada, New Zealand, South Pacific Islands, Cambodia, Italy, France, Germany, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Jordan and Israel. In 1975 he married Carol and has two married daughters and eight grandchildren (Six grandsons and two granddaughters). He believes in the U.S. Constitution and supports all efforts to defend it. Roger enjoys learning how to be a better writer, coffee (not tea) reading, playing golf, watching (soon to be World Champions Dodgers) baseball, and hanging out with his grandkids.

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