The best books about Central America 📚

Browse the best books on Central America as recommended by authors, experts, and creators. Along with notes on why they recommend those books.

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Book cover of Whose Heaven, Whose Earth?

Whose Heaven, Whose Earth?

By Thomas Melville, Marjorie Melville

Why this book?

How did a U.S. priest and nun who went to Guatemala to convert the poor to “proper” Catholicism and to fight communism join a revolutionary movement?

The married couple Thomas and Marjorie Melville explain how they shared the anti-communist views of the U.S. government and the Catholic Church but living among the poor led them to question both institutions’ roles in supporting inequality in Guatemala. At the time of the book’s publication, 1970, the two were in jail as part of the Catonsville Nine. They, along with other Catholics, broke into a Maryland draft board and poured homemade napalm on…

From the list:

The best books by or about Catholics who joined revolutionary movements in Central America

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Book cover of Around the Edge: A Journey Amoung Pirates, Guerrillas, Former Cannibals And Turtle Fishermen Along the Miskito Coast

Around the Edge: A Journey Amoung Pirates, Guerrillas, Former Cannibals And Turtle Fishermen Along the Miskito Coast

By Peter Ford

Why this book?

A journey on foot and by sea from Belize to Panama along the Mosquito Coast. Few roads penetrate this land of thick jungle, home to native Miskito, Rama, and Garifuna peoples, and at the time of his trip, rife with drug smugglers, CIA-sponsored rebels fighting the Sandinistas, and normal people living ordinary lives. It’s an unusual travel book about a little-known region, and it made me want to go there.

From the list:

The best books on Central America

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Book cover of Rural Guatemala, 1760-1940

Rural Guatemala, 1760-1940

By David McCreery

Why this book?

When McCreery’s book was published the literature on the region was overwhelmingly dominated by books on politics, with the great majority written from a left-wing perspective. Even long after the fighting has ceased, many in the global North had an unnuanced vision of rural society in which oligarchic landlords exercised feudal control over an undifferentiated ‘peasantry.’ This book shows that for decades an element of that vision was borne out in everyday life, but the volume also shows on the basis of outstanding research that rural Guatemala was dynamic, riven with class competition and negotiation, far from binary in its…

From the list:

The best books on Central American history and politics

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Book cover of The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870-1914

The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870-1914

By David McCullough

Why this book?

This is the story of the men and women who battled landslides, yellow fever, and rugged geography to fulfill the 400-year-old dream of carving a navigable passageway between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The story of the Panama Canal is history that reads like a thriller, rife with political intrigue, technological innovation, medical breakthroughs, and the creation of a new country. It’s a brick of a book, and you won’t be able to put it down.

From the list:

The best books on Central America

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Book cover of I, Rigoberta Menchú: An Indian Woman in Guatemala

I, Rigoberta Menchú: An Indian Woman in Guatemala

By Rigoberta Menchú

Why this book?

When this title first appeared in English shortly after the original Spanish edition it caused a real furor. One US anthropologist, David Stoll, raised doubts about the factual aspects of this biography of a poor Guatemalan peasant woman, and he was even more energetic in casting aspersions on its ‘editor’ Elizabeth Burgos-Debray, a Venezuelan writer of high profile because of her marriage to the radical thinker Regis Debray. Stoll’s motives were widely discussed and often decried, but some of his points proved to be factually accurate, and he certainly raised the profile of Menchú, who became a Nobel Laureate. There…

From the list:

The best books on Central American history and politics

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Book cover of The Political Economy of Central America Since 1920

The Political Economy of Central America Since 1920

By Victor Bulmer-Thomas

Why this book?

It is very rare for economists to write clearly and intelligibly for lay readers. It is even rarer that the complexities of the Central American economies are lucidly explained at both macro- and micro-levels, with a critique that is profound and alternatives that are viable. Although some things have changed in the last thirty years, it is simply not possible to understand contemporary Central America without knowledge of its previous political economy.

From the list:

The best books on Central American history and politics

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