The best books to read before your trip to Peru

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a professor of Latin American history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. My teaching and research focus on Andean history, and I have written several books on the period of political violence that pitted guerrillas of the Shining Path and Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) against Peruvian security forces and peasant militias during the 1980s and 1990s. I have been researching in Peru for twenty years, from Lima’s shantytowns, to the Andes mountains, to the Amazon jungle. A Peruvian-American, I maintain strong family ties to the region and am a proud, yet frequently heartbroken, supporter of the national soccer team.


I wrote...

With Masses and Arms: Peru's Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement

By Miguel La Serna,

Book cover of With Masses and Arms: Peru's Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement

What is my book about?

My gripping history of the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) provides vital insight into both the history of modern Peru and the link between political violence and the culture of communications in Latin America. Smaller than the well-known Shining Path but just as remarkable, the MRTA emerged in the early 1980s at the beginning of a long and bloody civil war. Taking a close look at the daily experiences of women and men who fought on both sides of the conflict, this fast-paced narrative explores the intricacies of armed action from the ground up.

In this sense, the history of the MRTA is the story of the euphoric draw of armed action and the devastating consequences that result when a political movement succumbs to the whims of its most militant followers.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Autobiography of María Elena Moyano: The Life and Death of a Peruvian Activist

Miguel La Serna Why did I love this book?

María Elena Moyano is perhaps the most fascinating Latin American historical figure you haven’t heard of. A Black activist, feminist, and community organizer, Moyano led a brave and suicidal campaign for peace against the Shining Path, a fearsome guerrilla group that brought Peru to its knees in the 1980s and early 90s. Moyano describes, in her own beautiful prose, her meteoric rise as a champion of the urban poor, political leader, and women’s rights warrior. She speaks candidly of her repudiation of the “terror of the Shining Path,” and of the group’s obsession with smearing her good name. Diana Miloslavic’s illustrative annotations help further humanize Moyano and contextualize her sacrifice, offering a moving portrait of the woman popularly known as “Mother Courage.”

By Diana M. Tupac (editor), Patricia Taylor Edmisten (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Autobiography of María Elena Moyano as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Using Maria Elena Moyano's own words, the editor of this story recreates the voice of the martyred Peruvian activist. In 1992, aged 33, Moyano was assassinated by guerrillas of the revolutionary movement Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path). Her murder galvanized the Peruvian people against the group.


Book cover of The Last Days of the Incas

Miguel La Serna Why did I love this book?

If you don’t know the story of the Spanish conquest of the Incas, read this book. For me, it is as good as Game of Thrones—except this is no fantasy. The events are real, the history meticulously researched. MacQuarrie’s narrative style is sweeping and engaging, giving readers a ground-level view of the dramatic final days of the Inca empire. Palace drama. Epic battles. Heroic resistance. How can you refuse?

By Kim MacQuarrie,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Last Days of the Incas as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Last Days of the Incas is a popular epic history of the conquest of the powerful Inca Empire, the largest empire ever known in the New World, by 168 Spaniards, led by Francisco Pizarro, a one-eyed conquistador, and his four brothers. It describes the three-year conquest and the 37 year guerrilla war that followed as the Incas relocated from their capital, Cuzco, high in the Andes, to a new capital, Vilcabamba, deep in the Amazon jungle.

Because they brought with them two powerful weapons, horses and muskets, the Spaniards were able to conquer an Inca force that outnumbered them…


Book cover of Now Peru Is Mine: The Life and Times of a Campesino Activist

Miguel La Serna Why did I love this book?

I love anything by Jaymie Patricia Heilman. Her writing is always smart, compelling, and beautiful—and this book, co-authored with its main character, is no exception. Part political history, part memoir, this book recounts the incredible life of Manuel Llamojha Mitma, a little-known Indigenous activist whose struggle for land, citizenship, and anti-racism brought him face-to-face with some of the most oppressive forces of 20th-century Latin America. More than an autobiography, this sobering and powerful collaborative history contextualizes the struggles and achievements of Indigenous people at the height of the Cold War.

By Manuel Llamojha Mitma, Jaymie Patricia Heilman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Now Peru Is Mine as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Born in 1921, Manuel Llamojha Mitma became one of Peru's most creative and inspiring indigenous political activists. Now Peru Is Mine combines extensive oral history interviews with archival research to chronicle his struggles for indigenous land rights and political inclusion as well as his fight against anti-Indian racism. His compelling story-framed by Jaymie Patricia Heilman's historical contextualization-covers nearly eight decades, from the poverty of his youth and teaching himself to read, to becoming an internationally known activist. Llamojha also recounts his life's tragedies, such as being forced to flee his home and the disappearance of his son during the war…


Book cover of Trials of Nation Making: Liberalism, Race, and Ethnicity in the Andes, 1810–1910

Miguel La Serna Why did I love this book?

Few scholars possess the ability to take complex historical situations and present them in a manner that is equal parts educational, palatable, and engaging. Brooke Larson is one of those rare talents. When I was in graduate school, I devoured Larson’s Cochabamba, and soon found myself looking to get my hands on anything authored by her. Needless to say, I was eager to read Trials of Nation Making when it was released. I was not disappointed. This wonderfully engaging history examines the role that race and ethnicity played in the framing, founding, and forming of Andean republics, where Creole elites sought to solve the so-called “Indian Problem.” But this is no top-down history. As Larson masterfully illustrates, Indigenous historical actors employed a range of strategies—from legal action to open rebellion—to demand participation in nation-making processes.  

By Brooke Larson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Trials of Nation Making as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This book offers the first interpretive synthesis of the history of Andean peasants and the challenges of nation-making in the four republics of Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia during the turbulent nineteenth century. Nowhere in Latin America were postcolonial transitions more vexed or violent than in the Andes, where communal indigenous roots grew deep and where the 'Indian problem' seemed so daunting to liberalizing states. Brooke Larson paints vivid portraits of Creole ruling elites and native peasantries engaged in ongoing political and moral battles over the rightful place of the Indian majorities in these emerging nation-states. In this story, indigenous…


Book cover of When Rains Became Floods: A Child Soldier's Story

Miguel La Serna Why did I love this book?

The Shining Path war was the bloodiest episode in modern-Peruvian history, claiming the lives of nearly 70,000 people. While there are a number of excellent books on the Shining Path, I have never read an account of the war as captivating as this—and I doubt I ever will. Gavilán, an Indigenous peasant from the Andean region at the heart of the conflict, recounts his harrowing journey from child soldier in the guerrilla ranks to teenaged soldier in the Peruvian military. Along the way, the author invites readers to share the innermost struggles of a young man driven to survive against incredible odds. The writing is notable for its quick pace and brutal honesty. A must-read for anyone wishing to understand Peru’s political backdrop and contemporary history.

By Lurgio Gavilán Sánchez, Margaret Randall (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked When Rains Became Floods as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When Rains Became Floods is the gripping autobiography of Lurgio Gavilan Sanchez, who as a child soldier fought for both the Peruvian guerrilla insurgency Shining Path and the Peruvian military. After escaping the conflict, he became a Franciscan priest and is now an anthropologist. Gavilan Sanchez's words mark otherwise forgotten acts of brutality and kindness, moments of misery and despair as well as solidarity and love.


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Book cover of Saving Raine

Marian L Thomas

New book alert!

What is my book about?

Saving Raine is a captivating tale of resilience, redemption, and the enduring power of love, penned by the acclaimed author Marian L. Thomas.

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Through poignant prose and compelling characters, "Saving Raine" delves into themes of forgiveness, healing, and the strength discovered in confronting life's greatest challenges. Readers will be captivated by Raine's emotional odyssey as she unearths hope, redemption, and the courage to embrace a brighter future.

Saving Raine

By Marian L Thomas,

What is this book about?

Raine Reynolds stands at the crossroads of despair and opportunity.
 
When the life you've built crumbles and the past refuses to release its grip, sometimes you need a fresh start-a new beginning that promises hope and redemption.
 
Once a celebrated author, Raine's life unraveled, sending her fleeing to the picturesque streets of Paris to escape the tormenting heartache that threatened to consume her. Yet, no matter how far she traveled, the pain remained her unwelcome companion.
 
Returning to bustling Atlanta as a senior VP for an ad agency, Raine is forced to confront a city steeped in…


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