Books on Mayan civilization

Best Books About the Maya -- National Geographic
August 20, 2020 – 03:22 pm
Best Books About the Maya

Before I travel, I read. A lot. Part of my preparation for any trip is to build up a base of knowledge that will ultimately create a more deeply embedded connection with the place. I generate my own touch points for the place, its people, and particularly its history. Here are a few standouts for kids and adults interested in the Maya.

Incidents of Travel in Yucatan (2 volumes) by John Lloyd Stephens; art by Frederick Catherwood

Dover Publications (1963)

Stephens and Catherwood traveled throughout Mexico and Central America exploring, documenting, and in some cases, buying ancient Maya ruins. These wildly successful travelogues were originally published in the mid-1800s and still carry a very genuine sense of exploring the unknown. Stephens's natural narrative is enhanced with Catherwood's exquisite drawings from many of the sites they visited, including the popular destinations at Tulum and Chichén Itzá. Print out his drawings of a site you plan to visit and bring it with you. You'll enjoy reflecting on the difference between what was found in its natural state and what's been rebuilt to support modern tourism.

Breaking the Maya Code by Michael D. Coe

Thames & Hudson; third edition (2012)

A preeminent Maya expert, Coe continues to update his book, which is part history, part linguistics study, and part mystery. The book digs deep into the world of Mexican and Central American archaeology and the people who have worked behind the scenes to decipher Maya glyphs since the 1950s. It was these discoveries that led to the modern understanding of how the Maya ruled and lived.

Buy the book >

The Order of Days: The Maya World and the Truth About 2012 by David Stuart

Harmony Books (2011)

2012 and the End of the World: The Western Roots of the Maya Apocalypse by Matthew Restall and Amara Solari

Rowman & Littlefield Publishers (2011)

Bookstores are stuffed with books on the 2012 Maya prophecy. Some are serious but can’t be taken seriously, while others are seriously entertaining and educational. These two books do a nice job of blending history and entertainment.

David Stuart is a former National Geographic grantee and is one of the world’s preeminent Maya epigraphers (an expert in the study of inscriptions) and historians. With an eye on December 21, 2012, Stuart takes an anthropological, archaeological, and historical look into the far and near past of Mesoamerican cultures and, as Stuart himself writes, “examines history, ancient texts, modern Maya religion, and the early development of research to show how the Maya conceived of a remarkable structure to time and space that’s significant on its own as a compelling human achievement.”

Restall and Solari are professors at Penn State, and their very readable book is more academic than narrative, but does an incredible job of incorporating a lot of info in only a few pages. It's not written for the academic community, but for readers interested in understanding what's behind the 2012 mythos.

Popol Vuh, translated by Dennis Tedlock

Touchstone (1996)

The Popol Vuh is the Maya story of creation. The story vividly describes the Hero Twins, who defeat the gods of the underworld and ultimately lay the groundwork for the existence of humans, nature, and the gods. If your kids enjoy stories of Greek and Roman gods, or Viking heroes, these tales will be right up their alley.

HarperOne The Book of Destiny: Unlocking the Secrets of the Ancient Mayans and the Prophecy of 2012
Book (HarperOne)
  • Hardcopy with no jacket. Orange swirling design with black and
  • red lettering. 5 x8
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