Burger, Richard. Chavín and the Origins of Andean Civilization. London: Thames and Hudson, 1995. A groundbreaking investigation of the Chavín culture, which spread across Peru’s highlands 2,000 years before the Incas.
Hemming, John. Conquest of the Incas. New York: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1970. This is a masterpiece of both prose and history, in which famed Peru historian John Hemming lays out a gripping, blow-by-blow account of the Spanish conquest of Peru. Hemming, who was only 35 when Conquest was published, has written nearly a dozen books about Inca architecture and the native people of the Amazon.
Heyerdahl, Thor, and Daniel Sandweiss. The Quest for Peru’s Forgotten City. London: Thames and Hudson, 1995. Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl was most famous for piloting the Kon-Tiki balsa-wood raft from Callao, Peru, to the Polynesian Islands in 1947. From 1988 until he died in 2002, Heyerdahl’s obsession with early ocean travel focused on the inhabitants of Túcume, a complex of 26 pyramids north of present-day Trujillo that was built by the Sicán culture around A.D. 1050. This remains the best work on Túcume.
Kirkpatrick, Sidney. Lords of Sipán: A True Story of Pre-Inca Tombs, Archaeology, and Crime. New York: William Morrow, 1992. Shortly after grave robbers unearthed a royal tomb of the Sipán culture near present-day Trujillo, Sydney Kirkpatrick documented the underworld of artifact smugglers and their Hollywood clients. At the center of this real-life drama is Peruvian archaeologist Walter Alva, who struggles against an entire town as he fights to preserve his country’s heritage.
MacQuarrie, Kim. The Last Days of the Incas. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2007. Peru travelers with time to read just one book should read The Last Days of the Incas, written by an Emmy Award–winning author and filmmaker with years of life experience in Peru. MacQuarrie has produced what is, beyond a doubt, the most readable, fast-moving, and factual account of Peru’s Spanish conquest. He describes the conquest and its aftermath in detail and integrates both 16th century Spanish chronicles and recent historical research. Unlike the more scholarly Conquest of the Incas by John Hemming, The Last Days does not end with the collapse of the Inca empire—the final chapters are devoted to 20th-century explorers such as Hiram Bingham, who identified Machu Picchu as the center of the Inca empire, and Gene Savoy, who discovered the real “lost city” of the Inca—Vilcabamba.
Mosley, Michael. The Incas and Their Ancestors. London: Thames and Hudson, 1993. This masterly work is still the best general introduction to the history of Peru’s early cultures, including the Nasca, Moche, Huari, and Tiahuanaco.
Muscutt, Keith. Warriors of the Clouds: A Lost Civilization in the Upper Amazon of Peru. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico, 1998. This book provides a good overview of what archaeologists know of the Chachapoya, a cantankerous cloud-forest empire that was never dominated by the Inca, and is replete with beautiful images of ruins in the remote cloud forest of northeastern Peru.
Protzen, Jean-Pierre. Inka Architecture and Construction at Ollantaytambo. Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press, 1993. Jean-Pierre Protzen spent years at the Inca site of Ollantaytambo in order to understand its historical significance and construction. This hard-to-find book is the best single work on Ollantaytambo, the most important Inca ruin next to Machu Picchu.
Savoy, Gene. Antisuyo: The Search for the Lost Cities of the Amazon. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1970. Gene Savoy, who is second only to Hiram Bingham in his knack for sniffing out lost cities, describes in somewhat stilted prose his search for Espíritu Pampa, the last stronghold of the Inca.
Starn, Orin, ed., Carlos Iván Degregori, and Rob Kirk. The Peru Reader. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1995. This is a great paperback to bring on the airplane or a long train ride, stuffed with an endlessly entertaining and eclectic collection of short stories, anthropological essays, translated chronicles, and a bit of poetry.
Von Hagen, Adriana, and Craig Morris. The Cities of the Ancient Andes. London: Thames and Hudson, 1998. Writer Adriana von Hagen , daughter of the renowned German-born Peruvianist Victor von Hagen, and a curator of New York’s America Museum of Natural History teamed up for this highly recommended introduction to Peru’s major archaeological sites. This is the most concise and accessible history of Peru’s ancient cultures, written around the centers and cities they left behind.
© Ross Wehner and Renée del Gaudio from Moon Peru, 3rd Edition