Book Review: Lost in Shangri-La by Mitchell Zuckoff

April 28, 2011


“Lost in Shangri-La” by Mitchell Zuckoff (website) is a non-fiction book about a plane crash in Dutch New Guinea during World War II. This book is narrative history at its best.

  • 400 pages
  • Publisher: Harper
  • Language: English
  • ISBN: 0061988340

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“Lost in Shangri-La” by Mitchell Zuckoff is a gripping book which takes a hold of you from page one, and doesn’t let go until the very end. Mr. Zuckoff makes history comes alive by introducing the reader to the survivors, those who died, the rescuers, friends and family. I was so engrossed in the book I felt almost as if my friends were the ones on the ground.

Mr. Zuckoff relies on personal diaries, interviews, declassified documents, film footage and more to bring this mesmerizing tale to life. This book is not a glorification of the US Army or World War II, after all – a military plane crashed during a joy ride. But the book is about the human spirit.

Focusing on the survivors, WAC Corporal Margaret Hastings, Lieutenant John McCollom, and Sergeant Kenneth Decker, the author pays particular attention not to tell the story solely from their point of view, but also gives much do credit to the unsung heroes, the paratroopers, medics, support personnel and the natives.

Medics Cpl. Ramirez and Sgt. Bulatao with WAC Cpl. Margaret Hastings (notice her bandaged legs)
near the crash site.
Picture from

The natives play a huge part in the book, one could say that the rescue wouldn’t have been successful without their involvement. Mr. Zuckoff does a fantastic job researching and trying to understand their complex culture. I don’t know if anyone involved realized how fragile the rescue was due to the terrain and the permanent state of war between the natives.

The real strength of the book is the characterization of the real-life figures, not only of the soldiers involved, but also of the natives whose lives have been forever changed. Each one is written about in a very personal way which makes you want to jump in the pages and shake their hands.

After letting the readers know how each member of the huge cast faired off, the book ends on a very thought provoking note. The natives’ lives were disrupted, even though their way of living seemed primitive to us, it worked for them. In a few short decades their way of life barely exists, proud warriors now pose for photos and their land destroyed for minerals.

So tell me, are all the comforts of life really an advance in culture?
(And please try and do so in more than 140 characters).


Hollandia, Dutch New Guinea was a strategic area during World War II, General McArthur made it his headquarters before the Philippines invasion. However, life was rough in Hollandia and the soldiers worked hard. To raise moral Colonel Peter Prossen gave the soldiers a treat – a sightseeing tour, from the air, of a lost valley unknown to cartographers complete with natives.
The valley was nicknamed Shangri-La

During one trip the transport plane crashed, killing almost everyone on board. The others had to fend for themselves in a hostile environment hoping rescue is on its way.

Buy Lost in Shangri-La from*
More Books by Mitchell Zuckoff*

TLC Book Tour for “Lost in Shangri-La”
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.
Thursday, May 12th: Wandering Thoughts of a Scientific Housewife
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

Zohar — Man of la Book
Dis­claimer: I got this book for free from TLC Book Tours
*Ama­zon links point to an affil­i­ate account, the money is usually spent on books

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Lost in Shangri-La by Mitchell Zuckoff


  • bookspersonallyApril 28, 2011 at 12:07 pm

    Fascinating story- probably one many of us have never heard about. Sounds very thought- provoking.

    • zoharApril 28, 2011 at 12:35 pm

      Isn’t it amazing how many stories about WWII we haven’t heard?

  • BookquoterApril 28, 2011 at 9:46 pm

    Sounds pretty amazing for a non-fiction. Great review.

  • Heather J. @ TLC Book ToursApril 29, 2011 at 1:18 pm

    Wow, I hadn’t considered how the natives’ lives would be forever changed by their willingness to help the survivors … makes you think about the whole situation in a very different light.

  • RyanApril 29, 2011 at 2:42 pm

    I loved this book, especially how the author was able to capture the humanity of all the parties involved. Great review.

  • AthsApril 29, 2011 at 3:00 pm

    The synopsis of this book sounded awesome to me when I first checked it out. I was shocked that this could have really happened.

  • BenMay 1, 2011 at 8:21 am

    It looks good. Thanks for sharing.

  • Hira Hasnain (Enamored Soul)May 2, 2011 at 3:01 pm

    I just recently read a book called “Radio Shangri-La” and for a moment I thought that that’s the book you were referring to, and was like, “what!?!? are we reading two different books!?!?” Turns out, we were! *facepalm* But that being said, thank you for sharing your thoughts on this book with us. I think good characterization is key to ANY good story/book. I will definitely be looking into this one! 😀

  • Enrique SanchezJune 7, 2011 at 9:20 am

    Please correct the spelling of the author’s name in the title. There is a C before the K.

    Thanks…and by the way…this is an awesome account.

    • zoharJune 7, 2011 at 9:47 am

      Oh man, how embarrassing, thanks for the correction.

      • Enrique SanchezJune 7, 2011 at 10:34 am

        Not to worry… you can delete my entry if you like.

  • ElenaJuly 30, 2011 at 3:19 am

    This is a book I’ve heard a bit about and would like to read one of these days. Thanks for the recommendation.

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