The best books on the Andes mountains

2 authors have picked their favorite books about the Andes mountains and why they recommend each book.

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Cloud Road

By John Harrison,

Book cover of Cloud Road: A Journey Through the Inca Heartland

Like the Stevenson book, this is also about travelling with a donkey, but what makes this narrative special is the author’s hatred of his pack animal. This will sound instantly off-putting but John’s descriptions of Dapple’s transgressions are very, very funny and his fury is never translated into violence towards the animal. There are lyrical descriptions of the landscape in northern Peru, but it is for the humour that I return to this book from time to time. I’m a sucker for any book about Peru, the subject of my early adventures and very first guidebook, and this is one of the most enjoyable


Who am I?

Until I did my own animal-accompanied journey with Mollie and Peggy in 1984, my only association with animals on the trail was inadvertently with a collection of cockroaches in my backpack. It was when Bradt decided to add to their anthologies with a collection of stories about travelling with animals in 2018, Beastly Journeys, that I was able to read a wide variety of books on the topic. A delightful exercise!


I wrote...

A Connemara Journey: A Thousand Miles on Horseback Through Western Ireland

By Hilary Bradt,

Book cover of A Connemara Journey: A Thousand Miles on Horseback Through Western Ireland

What is my book about?

In 1984 I fulfilled a childhood ambition to do a long-distance ride. I chose the west of Ireland for this adventure, and equipped myself to be completely independent without any backup support. Set against the history, legends, landscape, and above all, the people of a now-vanished Ireland, this is a story of joy and tragedy, and particularly of the bond with my two Connemara ponies, Mollie and Peggy.

To Defend Ourselves

By Billie Jean Isbell,

Book cover of To Defend Ourselves: Ecology and Ritual in an Andean Village

This was a foundational book for me as I completed my first fieldwork and wrote my dissertation. Isbell draws the reader into life in a highland village in the Ayacucho region of Peru shortly before it was upended by guerilla warfare, describing strategies villagers used to relate to, and maintain independence from, outside social forces. With vivid examples she provides in-depth analyses of social organization and ritual life, as well as a chapter on urban migration and a postscript about impending violence. 


Who am I?

My connection with the Andean highlands of southern Peru stretches back to 1975 when I spent about a year in a small community of Quechua-speaking potato farmers and llama herders. I have returned there many times over the years, most recently in 2019. Its people, their way of life, and vision of the world are dear to my heart and are the subject of The Hold Life Has as well as a play, creative nonfiction, and, more recently, poetry. I love the way anthropology forces me to think outside the box and experience the world with different eyes, something I aim to convey in my work.


I wrote...

The Hold Life Has: Coca and Cultural Identity in an Andean Community

By Catherine J. Allen,

Book cover of The Hold Life Has: Coca and Cultural Identity in an Andean Community

What is my book about?

The Hold Life Has is about ways in which people in a small Andean community connect with their land and, in the process, define and express their cultural identity. The land, which bears their crops, feeds their animals, and supplies adobes for their houses, is also a landscape of sacred places, a parallel society of animate and powerful personalities. The ritual use of coca connects people with this living landscape. Maintenance of this bond is a constant process, carried on in the daily routine as well as in the more intensified context of religious ritual. Because coca signifies the presence of social and spiritual bonds and appears in virtually every aspect of life, it serves as a kind of leitmotif for the book.

Miracle in the Andes

By Nando Parrado, Vince Rause,

Book cover of Miracle in the Andes: 72 Days on the Mountain and My Long Trek Home

What would you do if your plane crashed in the mountains and you were forced to eat your friends and family to survive. This is an inspiring story of survival and positive mindset. The story, made famous by the film Alive, is told by the man who survived 72 days in the Mountains and managed to rescue his friends. But above all, it is a story of the power of a positive and forgiving mindset. It is a book I will never forget and that has made a lasting impact on me.


Who am I?

Tim Voors has walked across countries and continents on adventures taking him into the unknown: across America on the Pacific Crest Trail (2678 miles), across New Zealand on the Te Araroa Trail (1881 miles), around Shikoku Japan on the ancient ’88 Temples Trail’ (815 miles) and through Spain to Santiago de Compostela on the famous Camino the Santiago. He lives near Amsterdam and works as a speaker and creative director, giving keynote speeches for global companies and conferences, and inspiring audiences with tales of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. In 2021 Tim’s second book Not Alone will be published about his hike through New Zealand’s Te Araroa Trail.


I wrote...

The Great Alone: Walking the Pacific Crest Trail

By Tim Voors, Gestalten,

Book cover of The Great Alone: Walking the Pacific Crest Trail

What is my book about?

The Great Alone is as much about physical and mental endurance as it is about overcoming loneliness and fear. Ultimately, it’s about the power of the wilderness to restore the human spirit. Get ready for the sublime beauty of the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave desert, through the soaring peaks of the Sierra Nevada to Canada, traversing the American West. Lushly illustrated and featuring spectacular photography, the 2,650-mile (4,286-km) journey comes to life in The Great Alone.

Trials of Nation Making

By Brooke Larson,

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

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.  


Who am I?

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.

Trading Roles

By Jane E. Mangan,

Book cover of Trading Roles: Gender, Ethnicity, and the Urban Economy in Colonial Potosí

Mangan’s work completely changed the way that I thought about the colonial mining industry and the complexities of Andean gender systems. Through careful case studies and historical scholarship, Mangan gives voice and texture to the lives of Andean market women, artisans, and ordinary miners who filled the streets of Potosí and its surrounding communities. Trading Roles translates global histories of credit, market capitalization, and urbanization into intimate details of family and community life, and in so doing makes it clear that gender was – and is – a central part of Andean mining history. Readers interested in the interactions of gender, commerce, and Indigenous politics in urban spaces will be well-served by Mangan’s work.


Who am I?

I became fascinated by the science, technology, and social landscape of mining during my time teaching English in the Cerro Colorado copper mine in the north of Chile. Listening to miners and their families speak to each other gave me a small sense of the knowledge embedded in the language of mining communities. The experience showed me just how little I knew about metals and how much they shape our world, from the copper wiring in phone chargers to expressions like “mina” (mine/woman). That curiosity led me to a PhD program and to write my first book, Mining Language.


I wrote...

Mining Language: Racial Thinking, Indigenous Knowledge, and Colonial Metallurgy in the Early Modern Iberian World

By Allison Bigelow,

Book cover of Mining Language: Racial Thinking, Indigenous Knowledge, and Colonial Metallurgy in the Early Modern Iberian World

What is my book about?

Mineral wealth from the Americas underwrote and undergirded European colonization of the New World; American gold and silver enriched Spain, funded the slave trade, and spurred Spain's northern European competitors to become Atlantic powers.

Building upon economic, labor, and environmental histories, Mining Language is the first book-length study of the technical and scientific vocabularies, ideas, and practices that Indigenous and African miners developed in one of the largest and most lucrative industries of the colonial Americas. Mining Language develops methods of linguistic and visual analysis to convert colonial archives from spaces that justify settler colonial ideologies into sources of Indigenous and African knowledge production.

Potosí Global

By Rossana Barragán,

Book cover of Potosí Global: Viajando con sus primeras imágenes (1550-1650)

In this methodologically creative approach, Rossana Barragán narrates the history of colonial Andean silver through images. The slim, 90-page book is organized around 12 images and their global movements. Barragán expertly analyzes scenes of underground mining that other European empires used to justify their own violence, depictions of the Cerro Rico that appealed to Ottoman sensibilities, and the architecture of the mint of Antwerp, the city responsible for coining much of Potosí’s silver and printing many of the books and images that shaped early modern understandings of the Andes. Readers looking for an accessible history of the global consequences of Potosí will be well-served by Barragán’s work.


Who am I?

I became fascinated by the science, technology, and social landscape of mining during my time teaching English in the Cerro Colorado copper mine in the north of Chile. Listening to miners and their families speak to each other gave me a small sense of the knowledge embedded in the language of mining communities. The experience showed me just how little I knew about metals and how much they shape our world, from the copper wiring in phone chargers to expressions like “mina” (mine/woman). That curiosity led me to a PhD program and to write my first book, Mining Language.


I wrote...

Mining Language: Racial Thinking, Indigenous Knowledge, and Colonial Metallurgy in the Early Modern Iberian World

By Allison Bigelow,

Book cover of Mining Language: Racial Thinking, Indigenous Knowledge, and Colonial Metallurgy in the Early Modern Iberian World

What is my book about?

Mineral wealth from the Americas underwrote and undergirded European colonization of the New World; American gold and silver enriched Spain, funded the slave trade, and spurred Spain's northern European competitors to become Atlantic powers.

Building upon economic, labor, and environmental histories, Mining Language is the first book-length study of the technical and scientific vocabularies, ideas, and practices that Indigenous and African miners developed in one of the largest and most lucrative industries of the colonial Americas. Mining Language develops methods of linguistic and visual analysis to convert colonial archives from spaces that justify settler colonial ideologies into sources of Indigenous and African knowledge production.

The Secret of the Incas

By William Sullivan,

Book cover of The Secret of the Incas: Myth, Astronomy, and the War Against Time

My personal background and fieldwork have been in North America, Africa, and Europe. Sullivan's book opened the world of ancient South America for me. The Incas lived in a Sacred Kingship, an institution in which Church and State were one, invented in ancient Mesopotamia and diffused as far as the Andes, carrying with it a promise of eternity. In Sacred Kingships, the King was to funnel the essence of the undying Heavens into the ways of Earthbound mortals. Sullivan shows how this all went dreadfully wrong for the Incas when they began to treat mythological notions as literally true, applying the technical language of myth to the real world.


Who am I?

As a geologist, I met and shared meals – occasionally under the stars – with individuals with strikingly different backgrounds. In time I realized that, whatever their DNA, they all shared certain beliefs, that the happy dead eventually go upward, for example, even if they start by going down or out to the horizon. Eventually, I concluded that the entire human adventure began in a single moment the day one of our forebears asked another "What shall we do about death?" and was understood. Humans have a single genetic heritage; we also have a single cultural heritage.


I wrote...

What the Stork Brought: African click-speakers and the spread of humanity's oldest beliefs

By John M. Saul,

Book cover of What the Stork Brought: African click-speakers and the spread of humanity's oldest beliefs

What is my book about?

The Bushman of southern Africa and the Hadza people far to the north in Tanzania have a greater difference in their DNA than any other pair of peoples. They represent the oldest split among surviving peoples. Yet Bushman and Hadza traditions both have a special place for "Eland" who long ago mounted the Milky Way to the heavenly Hereafter. 

The heavens, however, are not constant and Eland's path is no longer available, nor is the starry route of the migrating birds who return each spring seemingly reborn or renewed. Following Eland or the birds, "As Above, So Below," does not lead to rebirth. Later religions encountered related problems, which they countered by inventing new "World Ages" and great re-settings, as did the Bushman and the Hadza themselves.

Andean Lives

By Ricardo Valderrama Fernández, Carmen Escalante Gutiérrez, Paul H. Gelles (translator), Gabriela Martínez Escobar (translator)

Book cover of Andean Lives: Gregorio Condori Mamani and Asunta Quispe Huamán

This was a groundbreaking book when it came out in Peru in the 1970s. It’s the life stories of a street porter in the city of Cuzco and his wife, a market vendor, as they were told to a pair of Peruvian anthropologists. Monolingual in Quechua and living on the street, Gregorio and Asunta were at the very bottom of the social ladder, yet they recount their hard lives with such eloquence, humor, and grace that their words leap from the page. This is essential reading for anyone interested in Andean people, and a book you’ll never forget.


Who am I?

My connection with the Andean highlands of southern Peru stretches back to 1975 when I spent about a year in a small community of Quechua-speaking potato farmers and llama herders. I have returned there many times over the years, most recently in 2019. Its people, their way of life, and vision of the world are dear to my heart and are the subject of The Hold Life Has as well as a play, creative nonfiction, and, more recently, poetry. I love the way anthropology forces me to think outside the box and experience the world with different eyes, something I aim to convey in my work.


I wrote...

The Hold Life Has: Coca and Cultural Identity in an Andean Community

By Catherine J. Allen,

Book cover of The Hold Life Has: Coca and Cultural Identity in an Andean Community

What is my book about?

The Hold Life Has is about ways in which people in a small Andean community connect with their land and, in the process, define and express their cultural identity. The land, which bears their crops, feeds their animals, and supplies adobes for their houses, is also a landscape of sacred places, a parallel society of animate and powerful personalities. The ritual use of coca connects people with this living landscape. Maintenance of this bond is a constant process, carried on in the daily routine as well as in the more intensified context of religious ritual. Because coca signifies the presence of social and spiritual bonds and appears in virtually every aspect of life, it serves as a kind of leitmotif for the book.

Llama Drama

By Anna McNuff,

Book cover of Llama Drama

I’m not usually into reading about places I haven’t visited, because the most interesting thing for me is hearing someone else’s take on things I’ve seen for myself. I get a kick out of nodding along in agreement—or otherwise. But this book came recommended, so despite South America being an enormous gap on my to-do list, I read it. Though it may not score as highly on humour as the others on my list, it’s still a breezy, inspiring read with a quest that arguably eats them all for breakfast. Cycling up and down the Andes for six months is a huge deal. Especially with the same friend, all the time. It certainly isn’t all giggles and selfies. Helmets off to McNuff for sharing the story with such honesty.


Who am I?

I’m a stubborn ox who won’t ever accept that something can’t be done. Tell me I can’t be a Formula 1 reporter for a particular magazine on the other side of the world, and I’ll embark on a journalism degree. Tell me I can’t be a professional golfer, and I’ll quit my job to get practicing. Tell me I can’t camp here, and up goes my hammock. Tell me to grow up and stop fantasising about driving road trains in Australia, and you’re basically insisting I get a truck licence. I like that being this way creates unique stories and that I have a little talent for writing them down.


I wrote...

The Road to Innamincka

By R.A. Dalkey,

Book cover of The Road to Innamincka

What is my book about?

When a 9-year-old R.A. Dalkey decided he was going to become an Outback truck driver, the poor Australia-besotted boy had no idea what he was getting into.

He’d been born on the wrong continent for a start. And even if he could make it out of Africa one day, where was an Australian work visa to come from? Or, for that matter, a licence to drive 53-metre trucks on red desert roads? But he never let the dream drop—not even decades into adulthood. So join him as he pursues the ultimate whimsical travel quest…

Papa Brings Me the World

By Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw,

Book cover of Papa Brings Me the World

Lulu’s dad is a photojournalist who travels the world and brings her back treasures. Anyone who has a traveling parent will connect with this story. It’s a beautifully written and gorgeously illustrated book about a multi-racial family. It’s filled with heart and the love between a dad and daughter with the opportunity to learn some cool facts from the global cultures he brings back to her with his stories and trinkets. So lovely!

Who am I?

I was a passionate elementary school teacher for thirty-five years. Now retired, I am grateful that my writing allows me to continue communicating with children. I am always working to improve my craft, help other writers, and embrace my author life. When I am not in a critique group or at my computer I might be doing yoga or biking. 


I wrote...

Some Daddies

By Carol Gordon Ekster, Javiera Mac-Lean Álvarez (illustrator),

Book cover of Some Daddies

What is my book about?

With a "windows-to-the-world" cover, Some Daddies is a marvelous celebration of family love and a fun-filled exploration of what daddies do and are. Every daddy is different—and that makes them even more special! Readers will get a glimpse of the endless possibilities masculine love offers. With energetic and captivating art, it's the perfect gift for a new dad, Father's Day, or any occasion for parents and educators to read with their kids.

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