The following titles provide insight into the Yucatán Peninsula and the Maya people. A few of these books are more easily obtained in Mexico, but all of them will cost less in the United States. Most are nonfiction, though several are fiction and great to throw into your carry-on for a good read on the plane, or for when you’re in a Yucatecan mood. Happy reading!
Beletsky, Les. Travellers’ Wildlife Guides: Southern Mexico. Northampton, MA: Interlink Books, 2007. A perfect companion guide if you plan on bird-watching, diving/snorkeling, hiking, or canoeing your way through your vacation. Excellent illustrations.
Coe, Andrew. Archaeological Mexico: A Traveler’s Guide to Ancient Cities and Sacred Sites. Emeryville, CA: Avalon Travel Publishing, 2001.
Coe, Michael D. Breaking the Maya Code. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1999. A fascinating account of how epigraphers, linguists, and archaeologists succeeded in deciphering Maya hieroglyphics.
Coe, Michael D. The Maya. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1993. A well-illustrated, easy-to-read volume on the Maya people.
Cortés, Hernán. Five Letters. New York: Gordon Press, 1977. Cortés’s letters to the king of Spain, telling of his accomplishments and justifying his actions in the New World.
Davies, Nigel. The Ancient Kingdoms of Mexico. New York: Penguin Books, 1991. An excellent study of the preconquest of the indigenous peoples of Mexico.
De Landa, Bishop Diego. Yucatán Before and After the Conquest. New York: Dover Publications, 1978. This book, translated by William Gates from the original 1566 volume, has served as the basis for all the research that has taken place since.
Díaz del Castillo, Bernal. The Conquest of New Spain. New York: Penguin Books, 1963. History straight from the adventurer’s reminiscences, translated by J. M. Cohen.
Fehrenbach, T. R. Fire and Blood: A History of Mexico. New York: Collier Books, 1973. Over 3,000 years of Mexican history, related in a way that will keep you reading.
Ferguson, William M. Maya Ruins of Mexico in Color. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1977. Good reading before you go, but too bulky to carry along. Oversized with excellent drawings and illustrations of the archaeological structures of the Maya.
Franz, Carl and Lorena Havens. The People’s Guide to Mexico. Emeryville, CA: Avalon Travel Publishing, 2006. A humorous guide filled with witty anecdotes and helpful general information for visitors to Mexico. Don’t expect any specific city information, just nuts-and-bolts hints for traveling south of the border.
Greene, Graham. The Power and the Glory. New York: Penguin Books, 1977. A novel that takes place in the 1920s about a priest and the antichurch movement that gripped the country.
Heffern, Richard. Secrets of the Mind-Altering Plants of Mexico. New York: Pyramid Books, 1974. A fascinating study of many substances, from ancient ritual hallucinogens to today’s medicines that are found in Mexico.
Maya: Divine Kings of the Rain Forest. Cologne: Könemann, 2006. A beautifully compiled book of essays, photographs, and sketches relating to the Maya, past and present. Too heavy to take on the road but an excellent read.
McNay Brumfield, James. A Tourist in the Yucatán. Watsonville, CA: Tres Picos Press, 2004. A decent thriller that takes place in the Yucatán Peninsula; good for the beach or a long bus ride.
Meyer, Michael, and William Sherman. The Course of Mexican History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. A concise, one-volume history of Mexico.
Nelson, Ralph. Popul Vuh: The Great Mythological Book of the Ancient Maya. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974. An easy-to-read translation of myths handed down orally by the Quiche Maya, family to family, until written down after the Spanish conquest.
Perry, Richard, and Rosalind Perry. Maya Missions: Exploring Colonial Yucatán. Santa Barbara, CA: Espadaña Press, 2002. Detailed and informative guide, including excellent hand-drawn illustrations, about numerous colonial missions and structures in the Yucatán Peninsula.
Riding, Alan. Distant Neighbors. New York: Vintage Books, 1989. A modern look at Mexico.
Sodi, Demetrio M. (in collaboration with Adela Fernández). The Mayas. Mexico City: Panama Editorial S.A., 1987. This small book presents a fictionalized account of life among the Mayas before the conquest. Easy reading for anyone who enjoys fantasizing about what life might have been like before recorded history in the Yucatán.
Stephens, John L. Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatán. 2 vols. New York: Dover Publications, 1969. Good companions to refer to when traveling in the area. Stephens and illustrator Frederick Catherwood rediscovered many of the Maya ruins on their treks that took place in the mid-1800s. Easy reading.
Thompson, J. Eric. Maya Archaeologist. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1963. Thompson, a noted Maya scholar, traveled and worked at many of the Maya ruins in the 1930s.
Thompson, J. Eric. The Rise and Fall of the Maya Civilization. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1954. One man’s story of the Maya. Excellent reading.
Webster, David. The Fall of the Ancient Maya. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2002. A careful and thorough examination of the possible causes of one of archaeology’s great unsolved mysteries—the collapse of the Classic Maya in the 8th century.
Werner, David. Where There Is No Doctor. Palo Alto, CA: The Hesperian Foundation, 1992. This is an invaluable medical aid to anyone traveling not only to isolated parts of Mexico but to any place in the world where there’s not a doctor.
Wolf, Eric. Sons of the Shaking Earth. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962. An anthropological study of the indigenous and mestizo people of Mexico and Guatemala.
Wright, Ronald. Time Among the Maya. New York: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1989. A narrative that takes the reader through the Maya country of today with historical comments that help put the puzzle together.
© Gary Chandler & Liza Prado from Moon Yucatán Peninsula, 9th edition