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Recommended Books and Maps

Note: You can buy books at discounted rates through Amazon.com by following the publisher links on our selected books, or you can access our page with book content information and our recommendations by clicking on the title. Books in Bold are Luke's picks.

Archeology and Maya Civilization

The World of the Ancient Maya
by John S. Henderson ***Luke's Pick

From reviews of the first edition: "A superb panoramic view of the entire history and extent of Maya culture. . . . This book . . . could be taken as a model of its kind"--Art Book Review

"The best full-length, up-to-date overview of Maya archaeology available today."--Choice

Since it was first published in 1981, The World of the Ancient Maya has established itself as an extraordinarily accomplished--comprehensive, elegantly written, and concise--introduction to the rich Maya culture. In this edition, John S. Henderson has thoroughly revised the text and added a wealth of new photographs and drawings.

Henderson explores the entire Maya cultural tradition, from the earliest traces of settlement through the period of the Spanish conquest in the sixteenth century. The ancient Mayas were the only fully literate pre-Columbian people in the Americas, and Henderson incorporates deciphered Maya texts in his reconstruction of ancient Maya societies. Superb scientists, the Mayas developed a very sophisticated mathematics and an intricate and accurate calendar system. Theirs was one of the few complex societies to emerge in and to adapt successfully to a tropical forest environment. Their architecture, sculpture, and painting were sophisticated and compellingly beautiful.

Henderson's wide-ranging and judiciously balanced account treats diverse aspects of the Maya world, including religion and philosophy, the environments of the various Maya peoples, and their links with neighbors and relatives in the area. Throughout, he considers the interaction among Maya societies and stresses the importance of the cultural variations from region to region, as well as the common Maya heritage.

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A Forest of Kings : The Untold Story of the Ancient Maya
by Linda Schele, David Freidel (Contributor) ***Luke's Pick

Synopsis

For centuries, the true history of the Maya--one of the most mysterious cultures of the ancient world--has eluded archeologists. Now, thanks to a recent breakthrough in the decoding of Maya hieroglyphics, A Forest of Kings is able to provide the first full history of this ancient culture. 16 pages of color photos; 20 B&W photos; 250 illustrations; 35 maps.

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Maya Cosmos : Three Thousand Years on the Shaman's Path
by David Freidel, Linda Schele (Contributor), Joy Parker, Justin Kerr, MacDuff Everton

From Book News, Inc. , August 1, 1994

Draws upon translations of sacred texts and histories to examine Maya mythology and religion and unravel the question of how they have managed to preserve their sacred beliefs into modern times. The creation myth is explored as the basis for government, the symbolism of political power, a description of the daily lives of the common people, instruction for the afterlife, and as the lesson at the heart of the famous Maya ballgame. Includes 16 pages of color photos, and many black and white illustrations. Freidel is an anthropologist who has collaborated for this book with art professor Linda Schele and writer Joy Parker. Annotation copyright Book News, Inc. Portland, Or. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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The Maya (Ancient Peoples and Places)
by Michael D. Coe

A clear and intelligent description of the development and organization of Maya civilization.

Reviewer: A reader from Cincinnati, OH

Overall, I found Coe's book to be informative and full of all the necessary facts. At the same time it kept my attention with the beautiful color pictures and descriptions of sites and artifacts. This book will give the reader an overview and introduction to the Maya area while incorporating the latest findings. This makes a great general reference book as well as a good read. The only suggestion I have is that the final three chapters on religion and every-day life come before the in-depth discussion of sites.

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The Ancient Maya
by Robert J. Sharer ***Luke's Pick

Reviewer: wilson@outrageous.net 

This book has had many re-printings, and for good reason. It is THE English language book that covers the ancient Maya in one volume. This book was used as a text in a class I took in Mesoamerican archaeology. I found it easy to read and very interesting. Great for a travel companion. I used it extensively while traveling through Yucatán and Chiapas.

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Popol Vuh : The Mayan Book of the Dawn of Life
by Dennis Tedlock (Translator) ***Luke's Pick

Book Description

Popol Vuh, the QuichEMayan book of creation, is not only the most important text in the native languages of the Americas, it is also an extraordinary document of the human imagination. It begins with the deeds of Mayan gods in the darkness of a primeval sea and ends with the radiant splendor of the Mayan lords who founded the QuichEkingdom in the Guatemalan highlands. Originally written in Mayan hieroglyphs, it was transcribed into the Roman alphabet in the sixteenth century.

This new edition of Dennis Tedlock's unabridged, widely praised translation includes new notes and commentary, newly translated passages, newly deciphered hieroglyphs, and over forty new illustrations.

Synopsis

One of the most extraordinary works of the human imagination and the most important text in the native languages of the Americas, Popul Vuh: The Mayan Book of the Dawn of Life was first made accessible to the public 10 years ago. This new edition retains the quality of the original translation, has been enriched, and includes 20 new illustrations, maps, drawings, and photos.

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The Code of Kings : The Language of Seven Sacred Maya Temples and Tombs
by Linda Schele, Peter Mathews, Justin Kerr (Photographer), MacDuff Everton (Photographer)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Mayan civilization, with its hieroglyphic writing and dazzling city ruins, is among the most spectacular in the world. Mayanists Schele and Mathews explain the recently deciphered script and give a vivid guided tour through the cities. Focusing on seven of the most famous buildings in Mayan archaeology, these experts show how the Maya used glyphs to literally inscribe their architecture with accounts of their history and sacred myths. The buildings described include the palace at Tikal, a shrine to the celebrated "Great-Jaguar-Claw," who, like George Washington to Americans, symbolized his city for centuries; and King Pakal's tomb, whose construction and inscriptions this patron of the arts, obsessed with preserving his memory for posterity and his soul for the afterlife, spent his last years overseeing. Stories of the text-covered monuments of Mayan kings will intrigue serious readers who seek depth of coverage on this civilization but will also appeal to those who simply want to dip into archaeology's mysteries. Philip Herbst --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Book Description

This unique and extraordinary guide to seven major sites of Maya civilization highlights the pioneering work of two great scholars of ancient America. For readers at every level -- from the casual tourist to the serious student -- The Code of Kings relies on Linda Schele and Peter Mathews's revolutionary work in the decipherment of the hieroglyphs that cover the surfaces of Maya ruins to give us a far clearer picture of Maya culture than we have ever had.

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An Archaeological Guide to Northern Central America : Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador
by Joyce Kelly, Jerry Kelly (Photographer)

Best Available Guide to Ruins of North Central America, February 15, 2000

Reviewer: psyche@laplaza.org (see more about me) from New Mexico

This book, while somewhat outdated, provides accurate and detailed information about the ruins in Guatemala in particular. The guides I traveled with all wanted to purchase it to enhance their information. The descriptions help you make decisions about where to go and having it with you enhances viewing. Places are generally easier to get to now.

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Breaking the Maya Code
by Michael D. Coe

Scholarly detectives unravel an ancient mystery, October 21, 1996

Reviewer: Sheri Williamson (see more about me)

The true story of the international network of scholars, professional and amateur, who brought the world of the Maya lords out of the shadows. The personalities of the modern Mayanists who finally broke the "code" - including some fierce rivalries - are as integral a part of this story as are the personal histories of the Mayan ruling class revealed by the unraveling of the Mayans' complex system of writing. A must-read for Mayanists and archeology enthusiasts. Author Michael Coe is a prominent art historian and authority on ancient America who freely admits that some of his own ideas about the Maya have been proven wrong by the findings chronicled in this book! --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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An Illustrated Dictionary of the Gods and Symbols of Ancient Mexico and the Maya
by Mary Miller, Karl Taube (Contributor)

The Quintessential Guide to the Gods of Ancient Mesoamerica!, April 7, 1999

Reviewer: karl.lorenzen@ucr.edu from University of California, Riverside

I am a seven-year graduate student of Dr. Karl Taube, at the University of California, Riverside. I highly recommend this text to anyone interested in the gods, religion, or iconography of ancient Mesoamerica. There exists no book in English comparable to this one. This book is concise, yet packed with a plethora of hand-drawn illustrations by the authors and laden with innumerable useful tidbits of interest to scholars, lay-men, art historians, anthropologists, archaeologists, and historians. Quite honestly, this book is perfect for anyone needing a quick but poignant and on-the-mark "dictionary" type reference from two of the best cutting-edge scholars in ancient Mesoamerican studies today. You will definitely get your money's worth with this choice - buy it today! By-the-way, this is an unpaid advertisement; strictly a humble review by a graduate student who worships the ground Drs. Taube and Miller walk on - translated, not biased in the least.

 Buy this book now

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The Art of the Maya Scribe
by Michael D. Coe, Justin Kerr ***Luke's Pick

A partnership of scholars and thrilling photography, June 21, 1998

Reviewer: Dr. Sandra Buchholz (elegantbee@aol,com) from New York, USA

This is a truly amazing trip through the minds of the ancient Maya who wrote in an elegant and complex system. Michael Coe clarifies and demystifies the beautiful texts on all forms of media; ceramic, stone, shell etc. But best of all, Justin Kerr's photographs are a thrilling excursion into the realms of an exotic society. This partnership of scholars enables the reader to sit back and explore the depths of the beauty and intellectual achievements of an ancient culture. Frankly, I was blown away!

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Mayan Clothing and Weaving

Guatemala Rainbow
by Gianni Vecchiato
***Luke's Pick

Reviewer: Eileen Berdon (see more about me) from Portland, OR
This is an astonishingly beautiful books of color photographs of Guatemalan people (and their animals) amidst their traditional woven textiles. The introduction gives a respectful and knowledgeable overview. Vecchiato: "Mayan weaving is a celebration of feelings shared in common by an entire ethnic group." He provides background and a brief description of the harsh political climate of Mayan Guatemala. The pictures are full of life and joy. Market scenes; babies, children, parents, old folks; processions; plus tender and intimate moments - along with the statement that "they will never reveal themselves completely to any one of us." This is a wonderful book.

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The Maya of De Guatemala : Life and Dress
by Carmen L. Pettersen
***Luke's Pick

Reviewer: tzute (see more about me) from San Francisco, CA
The Maya of Guatemala is THE classic book on the "traje tipico" (native dress) of the Mayan Indians of Guatemala. The exquisitely beautiful paintings produced by Carmen Pettersen over many years constitute the best illustrations ever done of the Mayan "traje". The sixty colorful full page paintings face parallel texts in English and Spanish telling about the particular "traje" and the customs of the Mayan people. Pettersen writes the informative text rather like a diary of her travels to the various towns so while concentrating on the traje and traditions we see something of the individuals and the writer. The paintings, the real point of the book, succeed better than photographs because the detail of the "traje" is not obscured by light and shadow. While accurately detailing the "traje," the paintings at the same time are intensely personal portraits of the individuals. Although there is no book yet which shows the traje of all the different Mayan towns in Guatemala (and Mexico), this book illustrates more than any other. It is my book of first reference to find out about the "traje" of a particular town. If among the many books I have on the Mayan culture I could keep just one book this book would probably be it. 
Carmen Pettersen, born in Guatemala of an English father and Mexican mother, learned to paint in England. As a young woman her family moved back to Guatemala where she lived among the Mayan Indians for the rest of her life. The paintings and the text reveal the high regard she had for the Mayans. The original gouache paintings now reside in the Ixchel Museum of Traje in Guatemala City. 
Joseph Johnston, Curator, Arte Maya Tz'utuhil

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Maya Textiles of Guatemala : The Gustavus A. Eisen Collection, 1902
by Margot Blum Schevill, Christopher H. Lutz, Phoebe Apperson Hearst

In an informative and beautifully illustrated book, Schevill sets forth copious research that serves to enhance the visual impact of these Guatemalan textiles located at Berkeley's Hearst Museum. It is both a detailed anthropological study, which delves into aspects of Mayan culture and examines historical and sociological forces brought to bear on Mayan communities of Guatemala, and a catalog of the stunning collections, containing descriptions of techniques, dying processes, and textile production. Schevill also presents a fascinating if brief biography of Gustavus Eisen, the Swedish American scientist whose journeys to Guatemala were supported by Phoebe Hearst. This comprehensive collection of textiles includes many admirable woven and embroidered objects and garments of breathtaking design. Alice Joyce 

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Maya Culture and Costume : A Catalogue of the Taylor Museum's E. B. Ricketson Collection of Guatemalan Textiles
by Christine Conte

Scholarly books about Guatemalan textiles are scarce. Therefore, this is an important contribution. Maya Culture & Costume documents an important collection of Guatemalan textiles, the collection of the Taylor Museum, collected during the late 1920's and early 1930's by E.B. Ricketson, archaeologist and ethnographer. Photographs of the pieces from the Taylor collection are supplemented by and compared to pieces from other collections. Because the Ricketson pieces were collected during such a narrow range of time, the pieces can be dated accurately to stem from 1934 or earlier. Many pieces in other collections cannot be so accurately dated. This is clearly a strength of the collection and the book. Anyone seriously interested in Guatemalan textiles should be familiar with this book. 

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History, Politics and Society

Guatemala : Eternal Spring Eternal Tyranny
by Jean-Marie Simon

For 20 years Guatemala's government has been one of the most repressive on earth, yet the least acknowledged in the Western hemisphere. Jean-Marie Simon spent six years in Guatemala and the result is a beautiful but disturbing book of a civilization violated. More than 130 full-color photographs. 
A painful, colorful study........, July 12, 2000 
Reviewer: sockscats (see more about me) from Columbia, TN USA
One has to understand the purpose of this amnesty international book. The sole intent is to demonstrate the deplorable human rights situation in Guatemala. There is no intent to present a balanced picture. Basically it is a summarization of Guatemala in the 1980s a terrible decade for that country. No punches are pulled here, just page after page of horror upon horror all presented in vivid color. The photography is wonderful and i can't think of many books about Guatemala with better photos. They capture the beauty of the land and people and the blatant tragedy at hand. 
This book isn't for the squeamish. I first read it as i was preparing to travel there to study Spanish. This book scared me to death but more than that it outraged me and i think that was the purpose. Secondly it does educate at a basic level what has been going on in Guatemala. 
A good primer about the human rights atrocities in Guatemala.

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Unfinished Conquest : The Guatemalan Tragedy
by Victor Perera, Daniel Chauche (Photographer)
***Luke's Pick

"By telling the stories of real people, Mayas who cling to their traditional gods, their communal ways and their brilliant woven clothing, Perera has selected the most effective means of conveying the astonishing resilience of Mayan culture. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition. 
The New Yorker 
"Perera finds that military terrorism has outlasted the Communist threat; murder and massacre have become the reflexive response to any disagreement, public or private." 
Victor Perera is a native Guatemalan who took the better part of 6 years to write this book. This book is chock full of great information gathered from hundreds of interviews. Perera doesn't waste time trying to interpret the events he writes about, instead he let's the participants and witnesses speak for themselves. He interviews everybody for this book from wealthy landowners, government officials, military personnel, catholic and evangelical clergy and mostly the Mayan people who have suffered from 30 years of civil war. He then fills in the cracks with historical background. His writing is very precise and specific, his descriptions paint a very vivid picture of the oppression and genocide that continues to take place. 
The book begins with his visits to the garbage dump slums of Guatemala city and proceeds to other hot spots of violence. The core of the book is those chapters about the ixil triangle area where as many as one third of the local Mayan population was killed, disappeared or forced to flee the country. 

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Doing Business With the Dictators : A Political History of United Fruit in Guatemala, 1899-1944 (Latin American Silhouettes)
by Paul J. Dosal

--Throwing light on the company for which the term Banana Republic was coined, profiles the personalities and their US and Guatemalan bedfellows, the concessions and payoffs, the strikes and battles, and other aspects. Annotation copyright Book News, Inc. Portland, Or. 
Unique research & analysis, insightful for learned reader, February 11, 1998 
--"Doing Business" covers some of the behind the scenes maneuvering and personality conflicts typical of early 20th century Central American republics. It sheds light on the motivation of the men behind the UFC and the railroads in detail not usually seen in books dealing with this subject. Too many other books have been written about Central American politics, especially with regard to the United Fruit Company, which focus solely on classical political analysis. This work must be used when studying this era in Central American history, to gain a full picture of the events. It would be nice to see more research like that of "Doing Business", political inclinations aside.

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I, Rigoberta Menchu : An Indian Woman in Guatemala
by Rigoberta Menchu, E. Burgos-Debray (Designer), Ann Wright (Translator)

From 500 Great Books by Women; review by Jesse Larsen 
"This is my testimony. I didn't learn it from a book and I didn't learn it alone... My personal experience is the reality of a whole people." Born in the mountains of Guatemala into the Quiche, one of twenty-three mestizo groups, Rigoberta Menchu tells her story. The Quiche people's spirituality, much of which must not be told to outsiders, affirms community responsibility for village children and intensely personal relationships with the land and the natural world. The celebration of her ancient culture is all that strengthens in the face of a brutally repressed and poverty-stricken existence. Two of her brothers die as infants from malnutrition. When the Quiche begin their fight to keep the government and big-business people from stealing any more of their land, her family is forced to watch her youngest brother be tortured and burned alive; later her mother is tortured to death, and her father murdered. Obligated by circumstance and unquestionable responsibility to her people, Rigoberta Menchu assumes the role of organizer/leader. These interviews - conducted in Spanish, a language she has spoken for only three years - center on her role as a Quiche woman. Her politics are deeply personal: "They've killed the people dearest to me... Therefore, my commitment to our struggle knows no boundaries nor limits." Despite the layered nature of her written story - from oral history to transcriber to translator - Rigoberta Menchu's unadorned and selfless words ring like a clear and beautiful bell sounding both wonder and warning. 

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Bridge of Courage : Life Stories of the Guatemalan Companeros and Companeras
by Jennifer Harbury, Noam Chomsky (Introduction)
***Luke's Pick

Anonymous Guatemalan military officer during his interrogation of Jennifer Harbury :
"A very dangerous book." 
Book Description 
From the Woman Who Blew the Lid Off the CIA--The Book Jennifer Harbury Wrote When She Met Her Husband. 
After carrying out multiple hunger strikes, in 1995 Jennifer Harbury forced the CIA to reveal that one of its paid agents had murdered her husband, Efrain Bamaca Velasquez, whose nom de guerre, Comandante Everardo, has become a symbol of freedom in Guatemala. In Senate Intelligence Committee hearings the CIA admitted to covering up its role in his death, and misleading Congress by "sweeping it under the rug." 
Why would the CIA want these people dead? And what about these people so touched her heart that she would risk her life to help them? Through the guerrillas's' stories of unparalleled heroism, bravery and commitment, BRIDGE OF COURAGE throws an extraordinary light on the human spirit. 

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The Blood of Guatemala : A History of Race and Nation (Latin America Otherwise)
by Greg Grandin

Over the latter half of the twentieth century, the Guatemalan state slaughtered more than two hundred thousand of its citizens. In the wake of this violence, a vibrant pan-Mayan movement has emerged, one that is challenging Ladino (non-indigenous) notions of citizenship and national identity. In The Blood of Guatemala Greg Grandin locates the origins of this ethnic resurgence within the social processes of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century state formation rather than in the ruins of the national project of recent decades. 
Focusing on Mayan elites in the community of Quetzaltenango, Grandin shows how their efforts to maintain authority over the indigenous population and secure political power in relation to non-Indians played a crucial role in the formation of the Guatemalan nation. To explore the close connection between nationalism, state power, ethnic identity, and political violence, Grandin draws on sources as diverse as photographs, public rituals, oral testimony, literature, and a collection of previously untapped documents written during the nineteenth century. He explains how the cultural anxiety brought about by Guatemala's transition to coffee capitalism during this period led Mayan patriarchs to develop understandings of race and nation that were contrary to Ladino notions of assimilation and progress. This alternative national vision, however, could not take hold in a country plagued by class and ethnic divisions. In the years prior to the 1954 coup, class conflict became impossible! e to contain as the elites violently opposed land claims made by indigenous peasants. 
This "history of power" reconsiders the way scholars understand the history of Guatemala and will be relevant to those studying nation building and indigenous communities across Latin America. 

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Bitter Fruit: The Story of the American Coup in Guatemala
by Stephen C. Schlesinger, Stephen Kinzer, Stephen E. Schlesinger, Richard A. Nuccio
***Luke's Pick

Bitter Fruit recounts in telling detail the CIA operation to overthrow the democratically elected government of Jacobo Arbenz of Guatemala in 1954. The 1982 book has become a classic, a textbook case study of Cold War meddling that succeeded only to condemn Guatemala to decades of military dictatorship. The authors make extensive use of U.S. government publications and documents, as well as interviews with former CIA and other officials. The Harvard edition includes a powerful new introduction by historian John Coatsworth, Director of the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies; an insightful prologue by Richard Nuccio, former State Department official who revealed recent evidence of CIA misconduct in Guatemala to Congress; and a compelling afterward by coauthor Stephen Kinzer, now Istanbul bureau chief for the New York Times, summarizing developments that led from the 1954 coup to the peace accords that ended Guatemala's civil strife forty years later. 
From the Publisher 
With an introduction by Harrison Salisbury and a new foreword for the 1990 edition, the authors have written a history which reads like a thriller, detailing the dirty tricks, the manipulation of public opinion, and the corrupt foreign policy which characterized U.S. involvement in Guatemala. They show that this covert action became a blueprint for later incursions by the U.S. into Central America. 

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Voices from Exile : Violence and Survival in Modern Maya History
by Victor Montejo

Important and brilliant analysis, April 18, 2000 
Reviewer: Alberto Fernandez from Amman, Jordan
Victor Montejo's latest book is an important and brilliant analysis of recent Mayan history by one of the Mayan people's most significant scholars. It is especially important because this is an Indigenous voice speaking about Mayan history rather than the however well-intentioned and scholarly rigorous recent work of non-Mayan Americans like Drs. Nelson and Warren. Montejo, a Popti Mayan from Jakaltenango in Guatemala's Western highlands, was both an eyewitness to much recent Mayan history as well as a US-trained academic.

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Tourist and Specific Guidebooks

Lonely Planet Guatemala (Travel Guides)
by Conner Gorry

A classic and a must-have for the Guatemala traveler. 

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Lonely Planet Guatemala, Belize & Yucatan LA Ruta Maya (3rd Ed)
by Tom Brosnahan, Nancy Keller

Whether you're packing your snorkel to explore Palancar Reef (the second-longest barrier reef in the world), stocking extra film to explore the Toltec-Maya roots of Chichén ItzE or toting your hiking boots to the volcanoes of Guatemala, this practical guide will help you get where you want to go. It features more than 100 maps; useful cultural, biological, and geographical footnotes; places to stay and eat for any budget; overviews of the major Mayan archaeological sites; and a handy glossary of Spanish and Mayan terms. This book also covers Chiapas, Tobasco, and the incredible ruins of Copán in Honduras. --Kathryn True

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Guatemala : A Guide to the People, Politics and Culture (Guatemala, 1999)
by Trish O'Kane

Guatemala is the most "Indian" of Central American nations, and Mayan culture permeates many aspects of language, dress and artistic expression. "Guatemala in Focus" is an authoritative and up-to-date guide to this wonderful country. It explores the land, history and politics, economy, society and people, culture and includes tips on where to go and what to see. Photos and maps. 
great overview of Guatemala's history and culture, February 1, 2000 
Reviewer: A reader from Falls Church, VA
This title offers an easily readable introduction to Guatemala. It is great for the first-time traveler to Guatemala who wants to understand the modern country in the context of its history and culture. It explains the current status of Guatemala and its uneasy balance between the remaining Mayan culture and the ladinos. The book is a quick and enjoyable read--truly a great orientation. It also points out how the intrusion of the U.S. CIA interrupted Guatemala's transition toward agrarian reform--an eye opener for me, anyway. Read and learn!

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The Rough Guide to Guatemala
by Rough Guides (Editor), Mark Whatmore
***Luke's Pick

The Best Guide for Guatemala, August 8, 2000 
Reviewer: A reader from Pittsburgh, PA USA
This is my personal favorite. We used it a lot on our trip through the Western Highlands and Tikal. It has good maps, from city to national scale. It has something of interest to say about many places, including small villages. It presents lodgings in a logical manner. I found it easy to use. This guide gave us a pretty good overview of places, although it appears that unlike in many very-studied/touristy places (such as Europe) there is not as much deep background available on many towns. Of all the guide books I have used for Guatemala this has the most breadth and depth, coupled with ease of use.

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Adventures in Guatemala

The colonial charm of Antigua is well-known to travelers, yet the true beauty of the country lies tucked away in the highlands. Mayan communities retain their traditions, languages, and culture, and the vivid panoply of colors and designs in their clothing will leave you in awe. Our documentaries, photos and travel tips are all you need to discover Guatemala by yourself.
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