100 books like On Being Maya and Getting by

By Sarah R. Taylor,

Here are 100 books that On Being Maya and Getting by fans have personally recommended if you like On Being Maya and Getting by. Shepherd is a community of 11,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of Incidents of Travel in Yucatan, Vols. I and II

Gabriela Vargas-Cetina Author Of Beautiful Politics of Music: Trova in Yucatan, Mexico

From my list on falling in love with Yucatan’s ethnography.

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up in Valladolid, a semi-rural city of Yucatan. My parents loved the history and archaeology of the Yucatan peninsula, which not long ago was a single cultural and linguistic entity. I grew up dreaming of becoming an archaeologist. With time, I became fascinated with people and sociality within and beyond Yucatan, so I became an anthropologist. I trained as an anthropologist in Mexico and Canada, and have done research in Canada, Italy, Mexico, and Spain. I live and work in Yucatan, as a professor of anthropology. Good ethnographies are what anthropology is about, and those I write about here are some of the best.

Gabriela's book list on falling in love with Yucatan’s ethnography

Gabriela Vargas-Cetina Why did Gabriela love this book?

I read this book when I was a teenager growing up in Yucatan.

Stephens’ description of both the everyday life of Yucatecans in local villages and cities, and of the imposing ruins left by the Maya are enchanting. Catherwood’s drawings and plates are both accurate and dream-like representations of Yucatecan life, Maya ruins and artifacts at the time.

The book left vivid pictures in my mind; I could and still can see across Yucatan the traces of what Stephens described and Catherwood caught with his drawings and plates.

This book has resisted the passage of time as a story of travel and discovery. As a tale of adventure and wonderment, it was and remains a brilliant prelude to the ethnography of the area.

By John Lloyd Stephens, Frederick Catherwood (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Incidents of Travel in Yucatan, Vols. I and II as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Both volumes of John Lloyd Stephens epic accounts of the Yucatan are united in this single volume, complete with over 100 illustrations of encounters on his journeys in Central America.

Prior to the 1840s, when J. L. Stephens published this superb account of his explorations, the Yucatan was only crudely charted by Western explorers. Yet their descriptions of the odd ruins and beautiful landscape intrigued the young John Lloyd Stephens, who spent years yearning to explore and better chart the faraway lands. After a number of years spent traversing Europe and Egypt, Stephens was in 1839 commissioned as a Special…


Book cover of The Two Milpas of Chan Kom: Scenarios of a Maya Village Life

Gabriela Vargas-Cetina Author Of Beautiful Politics of Music: Trova in Yucatan, Mexico

From my list on falling in love with Yucatan’s ethnography.

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up in Valladolid, a semi-rural city of Yucatan. My parents loved the history and archaeology of the Yucatan peninsula, which not long ago was a single cultural and linguistic entity. I grew up dreaming of becoming an archaeologist. With time, I became fascinated with people and sociality within and beyond Yucatan, so I became an anthropologist. I trained as an anthropologist in Mexico and Canada, and have done research in Canada, Italy, Mexico, and Spain. I live and work in Yucatan, as a professor of anthropology. Good ethnographies are what anthropology is about, and those I write about here are some of the best.

Gabriela's book list on falling in love with Yucatan’s ethnography

Gabriela Vargas-Cetina Why did Gabriela love this book?

This book is many things: A wonderful ethnography, a tribute to the Mexican and foreign ethnographers who preceded Re Cruz’s in the area, a call to ethnographers for writing creativity, and, glowingly, a show of respect for local people, their agency, and their understandings of the world.

Chan Kom, as Re Cruz reminds us, has been an ethnographic laboratory since the first decades of the 20th century. Re Cruz chose to structure her book following the script of a local play performed by high school students. For anthropology students this is a good example of an engaging ethnography.

For historians of the recent past this is a record of the cultural impact that the emergence of Cancun had on Yucatecan rural life.

By Alicia Re Cruz,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Two Milpas of Chan Kom as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An ethnographic account of Chan Kom, a contemporary Maya community in Yucatan, Mexico that focuses on the social schism within the community resulting from an accelerated process of migration to Cancun, a major tourist center.


Book cover of Foodscapes, Foodfields, and Identities in Yucatan

Gabriela Vargas-Cetina Author Of Beautiful Politics of Music: Trova in Yucatan, Mexico

From my list on falling in love with Yucatan’s ethnography.

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up in Valladolid, a semi-rural city of Yucatan. My parents loved the history and archaeology of the Yucatan peninsula, which not long ago was a single cultural and linguistic entity. I grew up dreaming of becoming an archaeologist. With time, I became fascinated with people and sociality within and beyond Yucatan, so I became an anthropologist. I trained as an anthropologist in Mexico and Canada, and have done research in Canada, Italy, Mexico, and Spain. I live and work in Yucatan, as a professor of anthropology. Good ethnographies are what anthropology is about, and those I write about here are some of the best.

Gabriela's book list on falling in love with Yucatan’s ethnography

Gabriela Vargas-Cetina Why did Gabriela love this book?

I grew up, like many other Yucatecans, convinced by my family and friends that Yucatecan cuisine is one of the best in the world, and it took many years and an anthropology degree for me to see this as a form of ethnocentrism.

Ayora-Diaz examines and deconstructs this belief, deep-seated in Yucatecans' minds, through his sophisticated study of Yucatecan regionalism through the lens of food and gastronomy.

The author proposes that what is now understood and acknowledged as “Yucatecan food” has been created out of three converging threads: home kitchens, recipe books, and restaurants. Through food, Yucatecans have carved a regionalism almost in opposition to a “Mexican” identity.

Weaving theory, ethnography, and food anecdotes, this book will leave you hungry, wanting to try all the food in Yucatan.

By Steffan Igor Ayora-Diaz,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Foodscapes, Foodfields, and Identities in Yucatan as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The state of Yucatan has its own distinct culinary tradition, and local people are constantly thinking and talking about food. They use it as a vehicle for social relations but also to distinguish themselves from "Mexicans." This book examines the politics surrounding regional cuisine, as the author argues that Yucatecan gastronomy has been created and promoted in an effort to affirm the identity of a regional people and to oppose the hegemonic force of central Mexican cultural icons and forms. In particular, Yucatecan gastronomy counters the homogenizing drive of a national cuisine based on dominant central Mexican appetencies and defies…


Book cover of Stuck with Tourism: Space, Power, and Labor in Contemporary Yucatan

Gabriela Vargas-Cetina Author Of Beautiful Politics of Music: Trova in Yucatan, Mexico

From my list on falling in love with Yucatan’s ethnography.

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up in Valladolid, a semi-rural city of Yucatan. My parents loved the history and archaeology of the Yucatan peninsula, which not long ago was a single cultural and linguistic entity. I grew up dreaming of becoming an archaeologist. With time, I became fascinated with people and sociality within and beyond Yucatan, so I became an anthropologist. I trained as an anthropologist in Mexico and Canada, and have done research in Canada, Italy, Mexico, and Spain. I live and work in Yucatan, as a professor of anthropology. Good ethnographies are what anthropology is about, and those I write about here are some of the best.

Gabriela's book list on falling in love with Yucatan’s ethnography

Gabriela Vargas-Cetina Why did Gabriela love this book?

In the 1970s, my parents took me and my siblings to the Camino Real, one of the first hotels ever built in Cancun.

We sat on canvas chairs on the beach and my dad played the guitar. Fiddler crabs walked around us, the stars shone brightly, and we enjoyed the music and the sound of crashing waves. Tourism and its evils, however, soon became a nightmare for peninsular Yucatecans.

Through the city of Cancun, the natural reserve Calakmul, the village of Tekit and the hotels in former sisal haciendas, this ethnography shows how, even when living standards improved, local people have become geographically immobilized and resource-impoverished.

The tourist industry is predatory. It destroys natural resources, transforms places into what the rich think of as paradise, and displaces and disempowers local people.

By Matilde Cordoba Azcarate,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Stuck with Tourism as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Tourism has become one of the most powerful forces organizing the predatory geographies of late capitalism. It creates entangled futures of exploitation and dependence, extracting resources and labor, and eclipsing other ways of doing, living, and imagining life. And yet, tourism also creates jobs, encourages infrastructure development, and in many places inspires the only possibility of hope and well-being. Stuck with Tourism explores the ambivalent nature of tourism by drawing on ethnographic evidence from the Mexican Yucatan Peninsula, a region voraciously transformed by tourism development over the past forty years. Contrasting labor and lived experiences at the beach resorts of…


Book cover of Time Among the Maya: Travels in Belize, Guatemala, and Mexico

Ryan Murdock Author Of Vagabond Dreams: Road Wisdom from Central America

From my list on Central America.

Why am I passionate about this?

Ryan Murdock is Editor-at-Large (Europe) for Outpost, Canada’s national travel magazine, and a weekly columnist for The Shift, an independent Maltese news portal. His feature articles have taken him across a remote stretch of Canada’s Northwest Territories on foot, into the Central Sahara in search of prehistoric rock art, and around Wales with a drug squad detective hunting for the real King Arthur.

Ryan's book list on Central America

Ryan Murdock Why did Ryan love this book?

Far from being an extinct people swallowed by the jungle-like their famous temples, the Maya make up a significant percentage of the population of southern Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize, with vibrant ancient languages that are still spoken today. This beautifully written account of contemporary Maya culture will help you understand a remarkable people who explored the world through arithmetic and time.

By Ronald Wright,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Time Among the Maya as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Cut Stones and Crossroads" and "On Fiji Island" are previous books by Ronald Wright, author of this book concerned with the Maya, who in the first millennium AD, created the most intellectually and artistically advanced civilization native to the Americas. Despite a mysterious collapse in the ninth century and Spanish invasion in the 16th century, some five million people throughout Guatemala, Belize and south-eastern Mexico still speak Maya languages and preserve a Maya identity today. Ronald Wright set out to discover the roots of the Maya and the extent of their survival after centuries of invasion and a recent civil…


Book cover of The Ruins

Dawn Keetley Author Of Plant Horror: Approaches to the Monstrous Vegetal in Fiction and Film

From my list on the terrifying world of plants.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve been fascinated by horror since childhood–when Scooby-Doo: Where Are You! and Doctor Who were my favorite TV shows. I specifically remember watching the Doctor Who serial, The Seeds of Doom, and the 1962 film Day of the Triffids–both about killer plants! As I finished graduate school and then took jobs in higher education, I gravitated back to horror and the gothic, which I am now fortunate enough to teach and research. I’ve written academically about all kinds of horror (most recently folk horror)–and in 2015, myself and two others founded a website, Horror Homeroom, where I write about horror for more popular audiences.

Dawn's book list on the terrifying world of plants

Dawn Keetley Why did Dawn love this book?

This book stands out as the most thought-provoking and terrifying plant horror novel. I’m surprised that more people aren’t talking about this novel or Scott Smith (who also wrote A Simple Plan). It follows a group of young tourists in Mexico who decide to leave the beaten track for an “authentic” experience (nearly always a bad idea). They inadvertently end up on a sacred (or cursed?) site–a benign-looking hill covered in vines. After they end up on the hill, the locals won’t let them leave, and neither, it turns out, will the vines. 

This book is a survival story, but it’s also a brilliant exploration of how utterly unable we are, most of the time, to make conscious and rational choices; we act for all sorts of reasons, hardly any of them freely and intentionally chosen. I found myself noting throughout the novel how Smith repeatedly suggests that the…

By Scott Smith,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Ruins as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Craving an adventure to wake them from their lethargic Mexican holiday before they return home, four friends set off in search of one of their own who has travelled to the interior to investigate an archaeological dig in the Mayan ruins.
After a long journey into the jungle, the group come across a partly camouflaged trail and a captivating hillside covered with red flowers. Lured by these, the group move closer until they happen across a gun-toting Mayan horseman who orders them away. In the midst of the confrontation, one of the group steps inadvertently backwards into the flowering vine.…


Book cover of The Caste War of Yucatán

Stephen B. Neufeld Author Of The Blood Contingent: The Military and the Making of Modern Mexico, 1876–1911

From my list on 19th Century Mexico’s military history.

Why am I passionate about this?

My passion for Mexican and military history came from many sources. Wandering in my 20s in Europe and Asia honed my appreciation for the historical experience. Good friends in the Canadian military made me curious about the odd rituals and strange subcultures they inhabited. As I moved from Calgary to Vancouver to Tucson I devolved from degree to degree, studying deviance, military history, Mexican culture, and finally finishing a dissertation that combined these elements into one work. And now I happily get to inflict all of this history on my students in California.  

Stephen's book list on 19th Century Mexico’s military history

Stephen B. Neufeld Why did Stephen love this book?

Reed’s wonderful writing style and great turns of phrase make this an enjoyable read, while his attention to detail and excellent research make it requisite to understanding the long Caste War of the Maya after 1847. It is a critical antidote to works that pay too little attention to indigenous agents, to religious motivations, and to a long-simmering insurrection with vibrant cultural voices. Other works have taken this on since, but it remains a classic.

By Nelson A. Reed,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This is the classic account of one of the most dramatic episodes in Mexican history-the revolt of the Maya Indians of Yucatan against their white and mestizo oppressors that began in 1847. Within a year, the Maya rebels had almost succeeded in driving their oppressors from the peninsula; by 1855, when the major battles ended, the war had killed or put to flight almost half of the population of Yucatan. A new religion built around a Speaking Cross supported their independence for over fifty years, and that religion survived the eventual Maya defeat and continues today.

This revised edition is…


Book cover of Jungle of Stone: The Extraordinary Journey of John L. Stephens and Frederick Catherwood, and the Discovery of the Lost Civilization of the Maya

Roy M. Griffis Author Of The Old World

From my list on history that reads like the most gripping fiction.

Why am I passionate about this?

I love history that is about people. The discoveries they made or the adventures they had (or endured) are thrilling and fascinating, but it’s the people who make it compelling. From Ernest Shackleton dumping handfuls of gold on the ice to show his stranded men he was committed to getting them out of Antarctica alive, to a fussy young William Travis writing desperately for help that would never come, and being of the first to die during the attack on the Alamo…the best books make those events, the times, and the stakes very very real. And the very best histories give you the humanity of the choices and decisions that led them there.

Roy's book list on history that reads like the most gripping fiction

Roy M. Griffis Why did Roy love this book?

One of the real contagions of contemporary life (for anyone in any time, I suspect) is the way one can become complacent about the existence we are experiencing: we can take “what everyone knows” for granted. Like the Ferris Wheel, which was invented for the Chicago World’s Fair to outshine the previous Fair’s Effiel Tower. Now, any carnival midway or small circus has one. 

The same with many “ancient ruins.” Cruise ships stop at Minos or the Mexican pyramids for organized tours. But these places had been lost for millennia until they were re-discovered in the last 200 – 300 years. In Jungles of Stone, the initial discovery was almost an accident. Seen as an opportunity by Stephens and Catherwood, the magnificence and majesty of what they find converts their commercial enterprise into something more like a crusade. While the book recounts their arduous efforts to uncover the lost…

By William Carlsen,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

New York Times Bestseller (Expeditions) * THE "MASTERFUL CHRONICLE"* OF THE DISCOVERY OF THE LEGENDARY LOST CIVILIZATION OF THE MAYA--AN "ADVENTURE TALE THAT MAKES INDIANA JONES LOOK TAME"* In 1839, rumors of extraordinary yet baffling stone ruins buried within the unmapped jungles of Central America reached two of the world's most intrepid travelers. Seized by the reports, American diplomat John Lloyd Stephens and British artist Frederick Catherwood-both already celebrated for their adventures in Egypt, the Holy Land, Greece, and Rome-sailed together out of New York Harbor on an expedition into the forbidding rainforests of present-day Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico. What…


Book cover of The Life Within: Classic Maya and the Matter of Permanence

James L. Fitzsimmons Author Of Death and the Classic Maya Kings

From my list on ancient Maya religion.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve been fascinated by Maya religion since college—ever since I took my first class on Maya hieroglyphics at Tulane University. At first, I was drawn to the visuals accompanying the glyphs: women running ropes through their tongues, men holding hands with gods, and animals (spirits) wielding sacrificial knives. Then I began chasing the meanings of those visuals until I found myself specializing in ancient Maya mortuary behavior and receiving a PhD in Anthropology from Harvard University. I am happy to say that I am still on the chase, having written or edited five books (with two more on the way). I hope you enjoy this list!

James' book list on ancient Maya religion

James L. Fitzsimmons Why did James love this book?

The ancient Maya viewed many things that we would consider inert as animate: objects had agency, even personality. As a result, I often tell my students that the artifacts they hold were once alive. Unfortunately, I rarely have time to tell them just how they came to live—or how they died (sometimes violently). This fascinating book explores not only animism but also the ways in which artisans literally brought objects to life. Read this book and then go to an exhibit on the ancient Maya; then try to decide which things in the exhibit are still (technically) alive. The exercise may be disconcerting—but it will offer a completely different take on the museum experience.  

By Stephen D. Houston,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

For the Classic Maya, who flourished in and around the Yucatan peninsula in the first millennium AD, artistic materials were endowed with an internal life. Far from being inert substances, jade, flint, obsidian, and wood held a vital essence, agency, and even personality. To work with these materials was to coax their life into full expression and to engage in witty play. Writing, too, could shift from hieroglyphic signs into vibrant glyphs that sprouted torsos, hands, and feet. Appearing to sing, grapple, and feed, they effectively blurred the distinction between text and image.

In this first full study of the…


Book cover of Chronicle of the Maya Kings and Queens

Markus Eberl Author Of War Owl Falling: Innovation, Creativity, and Culture Change in Ancient Maya Society

From my list on innovation in the past when this wasn't yet a thing.

Why am I passionate about this?

As an archaeologist, I love prehistoric things and what can I learn from them about the people that made them and left them behind. I study ancient Maya commoners in what is now modern Guatemala. Their material remains are humble but include depictions and symbols normally found in the palaces of Maya kings and queens. First I wondered and then I studied how the title-giving war owl fell into the hands of Maya commoners. By approaching this process as innovation, I discuss creativity in the past and cultural changes that result from it.

Markus' book list on innovation in the past when this wasn't yet a thing

Markus Eberl Why did Markus love this book?

Prehistoric people outside of Europe are often assumed to be "people without history," as anthropologist Eric Wolf called them. Simon Martin and Nikolai Grube's book is exciting because it uses the recent decipherment of Maya hieroglyphs to reconstruct the lives of dozens of Maya rulers. At least some of the millions of ancient Maya have now names and a history. Their great art and architecture can be linked to artists who made them and to nobles who commissioned them.

By Simon Martin, Nikolai Grube,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Chronicle of the Maya Kings and Queens as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Deep in the dense rainforests of Central America lie the turbulent stories of the Maya monarchy, stories brought vividly to life in Chronicles of the Maya Kings and Queens, which is newly available in paperback. Describing many of their own discoveries, two of the world's leading experts in Maya hieroglyphs take the reader into a once-hidden history, setting out the latest thinking on the nature of Maya divine kingship, statehood and political authority, and describing all the most recent readings and archaeological finds. Chronicle of the Maya Kings and Queens combines groundbreaking research with a highly readable history, offering the…


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