The best books on the amazing country of Peru

Who am I?

I lived in Peru for five years, working as a writer, filmmaker, and anthropologist. For part of that time, I lived with a recently-contacted tribe in the Upper Amazon, visited Maoist Shining Path “liberated zones” and later made a number of documentaries on the Amazon as well as have written a number of books, most of which are on some aspect of Peru. Peru remains one of the most fascinating countries on Earth--a kind of dense amalgamation of ancient civilizations, archaeology, immense biodiversity, incredible beauty, and lots and lots of adventure. Although there’s no substitute for visiting Peru yourself--reading about it is a great way to begin your adventure!

I wrote...

The Last Days of the Incas

By Kim MacQuarrie,

Book cover of The Last Days of the Incas

What is my book about?

The Last Days of the Incas tells the epic story of the fall of the Inca Empire to the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro in the aftermath of the Incas’ bloody civil war. It also tells the story of the Incas’ 36-year-long rebellion after the conquest, during which they relocated their capital from the Andes to a hidden place in the Amazon jungle, learning to fight the Spaniards on horseback and nearly succeeding in pushing them back into the sea from whence they came.

The book also relates the more recent discovery by the American explorer Hiram Bingham of Machu Picchu, which he stumbled upon while searching for The Incas’ lost guerrilla capital, hidden in the upper reaches of the Amazon.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus

Why did I love this book?

Peru and South America had over 5,000 years of civilizations before the continent was “discovered” by Europeans. A great overview of that enormous sweep of history is Man’s 1491, which paints a picture of just how fascinating so many of those pre-Hispanic cultures were. It’s the next best thing to taking a trip in a time machine and flying over the area yourself.

By Charles C. Mann,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked 1491 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NATIONAL BESTSELLER • A groundbreaking work of science, history, and archaeology that radically alters our understanding of the Americas before the arrival of Columbus in 1492—from “a remarkably engaging writer” (The New York Times Book Review).
Contrary to what so many Americans learn in school, the pre-Columbian Indians were not sparsely settled in a pristine wilderness; rather, there were huge numbers of Indians who actively molded and influenced the land around them. The astonishing Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan had running water and immaculately clean streets, and was larger than any contemporary European city. Mexican cultures created corn in a specialized…

Guns, Germs, and Steel

By Jared Diamond,

Book cover of Guns, Germs, and Steel

Why did I love this book?

If you ever wondered by Francisco Pizarro was able to travel to Peru and capture the Inca emperor, Atahuallpa instead of Atahuallpa traveling to Spain and capturing the Spanish King, then this is the book for you. Diamond’s magnum opus will not only help you understand Incan and pre-Incan civilizations, but will also illuminate the rise of civilizations in general, and why some are better positioned to conquer others.

By Jared Diamond,

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked Guns, Germs, and Steel as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Why did Eurasians conquer, displace, or decimate Native Americans, Australians, and Africans, instead of the reverse? In this "artful, informative, and delightful" (William H. McNeill, New York Review of Books) book, a classic of our time, evolutionary biologist Jared Diamond dismantles racist theories of human history by revealing the environmental factors actually responsible for its broadest patterns.

The story begins 13,000 years ago, when Stone Age hunter-gatherers constituted the entire human population. Around that time, the developmental paths of human societies on different continents began to diverge greatly. Early domestication of wild plants and animals in the Fertile Crescent, China,…

Book cover of The Shining Path: Love, Madness, and Revolution in the Andes

Why did I love this book?

Peru is often described as a country that is a combination of the coast, the Andes, and the Amazon, and this book on the origin of the Maoist Shining Path group in the Andes not only illuminates some of Peru’s recent political history, but also shines a light on many of the disparities that still exist between rural and urban Peru and between la costa, la sierra, and la Amazonia.

By Orin Starn, Miguel La Serna,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Shining Path as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

On 17 May 1980, on the eve of Peru's presidential election, five masked men stormed a small town in the Andean heartland. They set election ballots ablaze and vanished into the night but not before planting a red hammer-and-sickle banner in the town square. The lone man arrested the next morning later swore allegiance to a group called Shining Path. The tale of how this ferocious group of guerrilla insurgents launched a decade-long reign of terror, and how brave police investigators and journalists brought it to justice, may be the most compelling chapter in modern Latin American history but the…

Book cover of Turn Right at Machu Picchu: Rediscovering the Lost City One Step at a Time

Why did I love this book?

This is a fun, evocative account of the author retracing the steps of Hiram Bingham, the “discoverer” of the Inca citadel, Machu Picchu, published 100 years after its discovery. It’s also about the cast of characters that the author meets along the way. If you’ve ever wanted to take a long trek in the Andes in extremely rugged terrain, stumbling across Inca ruins all along the way--then this is the book for you.

By Mark Adams,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Turn Right at Machu Picchu as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


What happens when an unadventurous adventure writer tries to re-create the original expedition to Machu Picchu?

In 1911, Hiram Bingham III climbed into the Andes Mountains of Peru and “discovered” Machu Picchu. While history has recast Bingham as a villain who stole both priceless artifacts and credit for finding the great archeological site, Mark Adams set out to retrace the explorer’s perilous path in search of the truth—except he’d written about adventure far more than he’d actually lived it. In fact, he’d never even slept in a tent.

Turn Right at Machu Picchu…

Book cover of Mother of God: An Extraordinary Journey Into the Uncharted Tributaries of the Western Amazon

Why did I love this book?

No one should make a trip to Peru--whether physically or via literature--without visiting the Amazon Jungle, which makes up 60% of Peru’s territory and is a whole world unto itself. The Upper Amazon is the Earth’s final frontier, where uncontacted Amerindians still roam, and that contains some of the richest biodiversity on Earth. This book will take you right into the thick of it.

By Paul Rosolie,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Mother of God as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

For fans of The Lost City of Z, Walking the Amazon, and Turn Right at Machu Picchu comes naturalist and explorer Paul Rosolie’s extraordinary adventure in the uncharted tributaries of the Western Amazon—a tale of discovery that vividly captures the awe, beauty, and isolation of this endangered land and presents an impassioned call to save it.

In the Madre de Dios—Mother of God—region of Peru, where the Amazon River begins its massive flow, the Andean Mountain cloud forests fall into lowland Amazon Rainforest, creating the most biodiversity-rich place on the planet. In January 2006, when he was just a restless…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Peru, civilization, and revolutions?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Peru, civilization, and revolutions.

Peru Explore 42 books about Peru
Civilization Explore 188 books about civilization
Revolutions Explore 21 books about revolutions

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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