The most recommended books about Guatemala

Who picked these books? Meet our 14 experts.

14 authors created a book list connected to Guatemala, and here are their favorite Guatemala books.
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What type of Guatemala book?


Che Guevara

By Jon Lee Anderson,

Book cover of Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life

Judy Juanita Author Of De Facto Feminism: Essays Straight Outta Oakland

From the list on how rebels kept up the good fight.

Who am I?

I read bios and memoirs because I need to know what really happened. I read several bios of the same person; then piece together a sense of the truth. As a journalist, I understand that all of a person’s life won’t make it into the final story. Editors have a mission of their own; books are molded by exigent demands and social mores. That’s why The Autobiography of Malcolm X in 1965 had one view of its subject, and Manning Marable’s bio in 2011 another. I’ve read both and other accounts to formulate my own ideas about the man and his times.

Judy's book list on how rebels kept up the good fight

Why did Judy love this book?

I love it as a tale of heroism, youthful idealism, success, defeat, death over and over. I first read the final chapter of this book in an excerpt after which I ordered it immediately. I had been curious about the real story behind this highly intelligent icon. Disturbing and illuminating, this book shows how driven, outright murderous in the name of revolution, Che was and how this catapulted Fidel and the Cuban revolutionaries to victory over Fulgencio Batista. I had such empathy for Che as I read through his life that I couldn’t reread the final chapter about his brutal prolonged death.

By Jon Lee Anderson,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Che Guevara as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Che Guevara's legend is unmatched in the modern world. Since his assassination in 1967 at the age of 39, the Argentine revolutionary has become an internationally famed icon, as revered as he is controversial. A Marxist ideologue, he sought to end global inequality by bringing down the American capitalist empire through armed guerrilla warfare - and has few rivals in the Cold War era as an apostle of change.

In Che: A Revolutionary Life, Jon Lee Anderson and Jose Hernandez reveal the man behind the myth, creating a complex portrait of this passionate idealist. Adapted from Anderson's masterwork, Che transports…

Secure the Soul

By Kevin Lewis O'Neill,

Book cover of Secure the Soul: Christian Piety and Gang Prevention in Guatemala

Chad E. Seales Author Of Religion Around Bono: Evangelical Enchantment and Neoliberal Capitalism

From the list on American evangelicalism and neoliberal religion.

Who am I?

I've always been fascinated by the ways religion reconciles contradiction. Both of my parents were public school teachers in the panhandle of Florida, and I now work at a public university in Texas, yet the culture in which I was raised, of white evangelicalism, supported economic policies of neoliberalism that defunded public life. My interest in American religion is motivated by the question of why we participate in systems that harm us. This is an economic question, but sufficient answers must address the power of religion to shape what we see as morally good and bad. These books all do that.

Chad's book list on American evangelicalism and neoliberal religion

Why did Chad love this book?

No other book better encapsulates the evangelical spirit of neoliberal policies in the details of everyday life, including what it feels like to be arrested in the United States for being part of a gang, and ending up in a call center in Central America, only to be morally shamed for not working hard enough, as your corporate employer leverages the power of religion, and the threat of danger, to keep you trapped there. 

By Kevin Lewis O'Neill,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

"I'm not perfect," Mateo confessed, "Nobody is. But I try." Secure the Soul shuttles between the life of Mateo, a born-again, ex-gang member in Guatemala and the gang prevention programs that work so hard to keep him alive. Along the way, this poignantly written ethnography uncovers the Christian underpinnings of Central American security. In the streets of Guatemala City - amid angry lynch mobs, overcrowded prisons, and paramilitary death squads - millions of dollars empower church missions, faith-based programs, and seemingly secular security projects to prevent gang violence through the practice of Christian piety. With Guatemala increasingly defined by both…

Whose Heaven, Whose Earth?

By Thomas Melville, Marjorie Melville,

Book cover of Whose Heaven, Whose Earth?

Theresa Keeley Author Of Reagan's Gun-Toting Nuns: The Catholic Conflict Over Cold War Human Rights Policy in Central America

From the list on Catholics who joined revolutionary movements in Central America.

Who am I?

I am fascinated by the relationship between people’s religious and political identities. As a kindergartner, I heard about the hunger strikers at our local Irish Center, I was taught anti-communist songs at my Catholic Ukrainian school, and I listened as my dad explained Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers as we passed by the grapes while grocery shopping. Catholicism was not something I saw as just happening inside the walls of a church. It was about how one related to the world and was part of a global community. Those early experiences inspired me to become a human rights lawyer and activist, and later, a U.S. foreign relations historian.

Theresa's book list on Catholics who joined revolutionary movements in Central America

Why did Theresa love 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 stolen files to protest U.S. imperialism, including in Vietnam, and the Catholic Church’s support for it.

By Thomas Melville, Marjorie Melville,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Whose Heaven, Whose Earth? as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

Margarito's Forest

By Andy Carter, Allison Havens (illustrator), Omar Mejia (translator)

Book cover of Margarito's Forest

Carol Fisher Saller Author Of The Bridge Dancers

From the list on nature providing strength and healing.

Who am I?

I’m not an expert in gardening, forestry, or herbal medicine. But like everyone else, I have a growing awareness that our planet Earth is entirely dependent on thriving forests and insects and even weeds. We owe it to our children and future generations to learn about and protect our precious resources. Although I live in the big city of Chicago and have a tiny backyard, last year I turned my little grass lawn into prairie! I have creeping charlie, dandelions, creeping phlox, sedge grass, wild violets, white clover, and who knows what else. (Luckily, my neighbors are on board.) I’ve already seen honeybees and hummingbirds. It’s not much, but it’s something I can do.

Carol's book list on nature providing strength and healing

Why did Carol love this book?

This extraordinary book (bilingual in English and Spanish, with excerpts in the Mayan language K’iche’) tells the true story of Don Margarito Esteban Álvarez Velázquez, a Maya farmer who planted trees instead of clearing land for corn and beans.

His vision and foresight came partly from his relationship with the village holy man, who taught him reverence for nature and ways to use native plants for food and medicine.

In creating and defending his forests, Don Margarito was ahead of his time in preventing erosion and preserving the soil for generations to come, even as his village was ravaged by government forces in the long-lasting genocide of indigenous peoples during the second half of the twentieth century. (This part of the story is treated very briefly and sensitively for younger readers.) 

Allison Havens’s bright collage illustrations incorporate drawings made by children from the present-day Central Guatemalan village where Don Margarito…

By Andy Carter, Allison Havens (illustrator), Omar Mejia (translator)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Margarito's Forest as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Margarito’s Forest is a story of Maya culture and wisdom passed from one generation to the next. This beautifully illustrated bilingual book in English and Spanish, with excerpts in K’iche’, is based on María Guadalupe’s memories of her father, Don Margarito Esteban Álvarez Velázquez. As the devastating effects of climate change become clear, Don Margarito’s life and the ways of the Maya offer timely wisdom for a planet in peril.

Rural Guatemala, 1760-1940

By David McCreery,

Book cover of Rural Guatemala, 1760-1940

James Dunkerley Author Of Power in the Isthmus

From the list on Central American history and politics.

Who am I?

My passion for Central American politics and history derived quite directly from the conflicts in the region from the late 1970s onwards. Previously I had worked in Bolivia, where I had studied as a doctoral student, and although many people still view Latin American countries as pretty homogenous, I quickly discovered that they are very far from being so. I had to unlearn quite a bit and acquire new skills, although luckily, indigenous languages are really only dominant in Guatemala. Now we can be rather less partisan although many injustices remain.

James' book list on Central American history and politics

Why did James love 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 social structure, and possessed of a rich cultural life.

By David McCreery,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Rural Guatemala, 1760-1940 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This comprehensive study of rural development in Guatemala extends from the late colonial period through the transformation of the economy by the introduction of larger-scale coffee production.

We Are Not from Here

By Jenny Torres Sanchez,

Book cover of We Are Not from Here

Holly Green Author Of In the Same Boat

From the list on contemporary YA survival stories.

Who am I?

When I was eleven, I picked up a book about a girl and a boy who get lost on a backpacking trip in the Sierra Nevada. It’s the first book I can remember reading over and over and over again. I wanted to be in that tent and in that forest figuring out how to survive. Since then, I’ve been hooked on books about people facing grueling physical challenges, surviving in the wilderness, and finding out what they’re made of. They’re urgent and compelling and the stakes are high, and I’ll never stop loving the thrill of reading about people being pushed to their physical and mental limits.

Holly's book list on contemporary YA survival stories

Why did Holly love this book?

It is no longer safe for three teens, Pulga, Chico, and Pequeña to stay in Guatemala. Even though they love their families, they have no choice but to travel the route of La Bestia, a train system that will take them to the United States. Nothing about this journey is safe or easy, and the three friends face threats from the natural world and from people who mean them harm. This book hooked me from the opening pages, and I could not stop thinking or worrying about Pulga, Chico, and Pequeña. Jenny Torres Sanchez puts you right inside the characters' bodies, crafting a story that is compelling and tragic and ultimately hopeful, and brings to life the struggle of people in an impossible situation.

By Jenny Torres Sanchez,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked We Are Not from Here as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A poignant novel of desperation, escape, and survival across the U.S.-Mexico border, inspired by current events.

A Pura Belpré 2021 Young Adult Author Honor Book!
A BookPage Best Book of 2020!
A Chicago Public Library Best of the Best of 2020!
A School Library Journal Best Book of 2020!
A New York Public Library 2020 Top 10 Best Book for Teens!

Pulga has his dreams.
Chico has his grief.
Pequeña has her pride.

And these three teens have one another. But none of them have illusions about the town they've grown up in and the dangers that surround them. Even…

Earth Tales from around the World

By Michael J. Caduto, Adelaide Murphy Tyrol (illustrator),

Book cover of Earth Tales from around the World

Allison Galbraith Author Of Dancing with Trees: Eco-Tales from the British Isles

From the list on environmental storytelling for folklore freaks.

Who am I?

As a child, I spent summers looking for adders on the Common and winters walking through snowstorms pretending to be a Hobbit in Tolkien's Middle Earth. My travels and studies taught me the importance of respecting different cultures and our planet. Glasgow Libraries gave me my first storytelling work in 1992, and I have a Master's degree in Scottish Folklore. I live in Scotland, sharing stories through writing and storytelling. Having collected hundreds of traditional folktales about our ancestors' wisdom and folly, I co-authored my first book, Dancing With Trees, Eco-Tales from the British Isles, to reflect our need to understand nature's wisdom and help us live sustainably on Earth.

Allison's book list on environmental storytelling for folklore freaks

Why did Allison love this book?

A comprehensive natural world storytelling collection comprising ten chapters, organised by themes such as Earth, Fire, Water, Plants, Animals, and Stewardship.

A page of 'Lessons'  at the end of every chapter helps you explore the environmental meaning within the stories. Plus an 'Activities' section at the end of the book. The stories are from over forty countries, retold sensitively by Caduto, an ecologist and master storyteller.

Amongst my favourite stories are: Earth Words from France, about a secret language hidden in fern roots and what is lost when we become separated from nature; The First Bats from Guatemala and Mexico, a funny tale which can be adapted to any place on Earth that has bats, and The Seven Sisters an Aboriginal story which introduces the origin of the Pleiades constellation.

By Michael J. Caduto, Adelaide Murphy Tyrol (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Earth Tales from around the World as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Stories, lesson plans, and activities that explore the Earth's offerings.

Bitter Fruit

By Stephen Schlesinger, Stephen Kinzer,

Book cover of Bitter Fruit

June Carolyn Erlick Author Of A Gringa in Bogotá: Living Colombia's Invisible War

From the list on classics for understanding Latin America.

Who am I?

I accidentally fell in love with Latin America, a love that has lasted my lifetime. When I was young, I lived in a Dominican neighborhood in New York, learning Spanish from my neighbors. After I graduated from Columbia Graduate School of Journalism I got a job covering the Cuban community in New Jersey because I spoke Spanish. Eventually I ended up living in Colombia and then Managua as a foreign correspondent. Now I edit a magazine at Harvard about Latin America. It's not just the news that interests me; I love the cadence of the language, the smell and taste of its varied cuisine, the warmth of the people, the culture, and, yes, soccer.

June's book list on classics for understanding Latin America

Why did June love this book?

This book reads like a thriller. The first time I read it, I just couldn't put it down. And every time I reread it, as history unfolds in Latin America, I see how this classic book about the U.S. overthrow of the legitimately elected government in Guatemala in 1954 is actually describing the fundamental basis of intervention in the Cold War that laid the ground for so many of the region's dictatorship.

Bitter Fruit is a brilliant piece of investigation and a story well-told.

By Stephen Schlesinger, Stephen Kinzer,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Bitter Fruit as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Bitter Fruit is a comprehensive and insightful account of the CIA operation to overthrow the democratically elected government of Jacobo Arbenz of Guatemala in 1954. First published in 1982, this book has become a classic, a textbook case of the relationship between the United States and the Third World. The authors make extensive use of U.S. government documents and interviews with former CIA and other officials. It is a warning of what happens when the United States abuses its power.


By June Carolyn Erlick,

Book cover of Disappeared: A Journalist Silenced

K. Lee Lerner Author Of Government, Politics, and Protest: Essential Primary Sources

From the list on women journalists working in dangerous places.

Who am I?

K. Lee Lerner is an author, editor, and producer of science and factual media, including four editions of the Gale Encyclopedia of Science and the Encyclopedia of Espionage, Intelligence, and Security. His expansive writing on science, climate change, disasters, disease, and global issues has earned multiple book and media awards, including books named Outstanding Academic Titles. An aviator, sailor, and member of the National Press Club in Washington, his two global circumnavigations and portfolio of work in challenging and dangerous environments reveal a visceral drive to explore and investigate. With a public intellectual's broad palate and a scientist's regard for evidence-based analysis, Lerner dissects and accessibly explains complex issues. 

K.'s book list on women journalists working in dangerous places

Why did K. love this book?

June Carolyn Erlick, editor-in-chief for ReVista, the Harvard Review of Latin America, casts a seasoned journalist’s eye on the 1980 abduction of  Guatemalan journalist Irma Flaquer. Returning home, Flaquer was pulled from her car and was never seen again. Flaquer, a popular and respected journalist with an influential column, Lo Que Otros Callan or "What Others Don't Dare Write",  was also the founder of the first Guatemalan Human Rights Commission. Throughout her career, Flaquer survived beatings, car bombs, and drive-by assassination attempts that did not daunt her from doing her job as a reporter to expose Guatemalan suffering at the hands of their corrupt U.S.-backed government and the cost the Guatemalan people paid as Cold War pawns.

By June Carolyn Erlick,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

"If I die, don't cry for me—because I was fighting for what I love."—Irma Flaquer

On a quiet October evening in 1980, Guatemalan journalist Irma Flaquer, returning to her downtown apartment after a visit with her four-year-old grandson, was dragged from her car, never to be seen again. Founder of the first Guatemalan Human Rights Commission, she was a crusading reporter who did not tolerate corruption or repression. Best known for her weekly column that ran for over twenty years in various Guatemalan newspapers—Lo Que Otros Callan or "What Others Don't Dare Write"—Flaquer criticized presidents, politicians, and the heads of…

I, Rigoberta Menchú

By Rigoberta Menchú,

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

Jorge Aguilar Mora, Josefa Salmón, and Barbara C. Ewell Author Of Anthology of Spanish American Thought and Culture

From the list on seeing the world from a Latin American perspective.

Who are we?

As professors of Latin American Studies, with more than 35 years of teaching experience on these topics, and as Latin Americanists who have lived experiences in our countries of origin, we can connect to themes of social justice as well as the wonders that indigenous cultures can offer globally in the fight against climate change as well as social and racial injustices. When we were students in the US, these texts gave us ways to reconnect to our roots; as professors, they offered us ways to connect with today’s students searching for global justice and service to others. These books help us to realize that there are other ways of looking at the world.

Jorge's book list on seeing the world from a Latin American perspective

Why did Jorge love this book?

As a Latin American from a country of such diverse cultures as Mexico, I recommend this book by Rigoberta Menchú because it is the first 20th-century voice from an indigenous woman who has taken up arms in defense of her people. For me this connection also touches my family’s past, because I too, lost a brother to armed conflict, just like Rigoberta. A biography from an author that speaks so personally of this struggle stirs the pages in this book and makes this testimony overwhelmingly moving for any reader. But this deep connection with the reader also creates an international concern for justice. Menchú’s voice puts forward in book form a Maya tradition of community where the collective “we” is stressed in the testimony, as well as a history where experience is one, uniting the writer with the events that are being reported.  

By Rigoberta Menchú,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked I, Rigoberta Menchú as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Now a global bestseller, the remarkable life of Rigoberta Menchu, a Guatemalan peasant woman, reflects on the experiences common to many Indian communities in Latin America. Menchu suffered gross injustice and hardship in her early life: her brother, father and mother were murdered by the Guatemalan military. She learned Spanish and turned to catechistic work as an expression of political revolt as well as religious commitment. Menchu vividly conveys the traditional beliefs of her community and her personal response to feminist and socialist ideas. Above all, these pages are illuminated by the enduring courage and passionate sense of justice of…

Time Among the Maya

By Ronald Wright,

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 the list on Central America.

Who am I?

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

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…

In the Midst of Winter

By Isabel Allende,

Book cover of In the Midst of Winter

Vee Kumari Author Of Dharma: A Rekha Rao Mystery

From the list on families disguised as mysteries.

Who am I?

Being an immigrant from India, a culture that places family values above all else, I am drawn to books that explore family conflicts, secrets, and the triumph of love against all odds. When an author incorporates these themes into a mystery, the book becomes more than a simple formulaic whodunnit story that educates me about the complexities of our lives.

Vee's book list on families disguised as mysteries

Why did Vee love this book?

Having loved Allende’s previous novels, this tale of history and suspense took me into the magical worlds of South American culture, to gain a better understanding of what the immigrant experience is really like for other people. Redacting from a reviewer’s comment, “this story filled with Allende's signature lyricism and ingenious plotting, teaches us what it means to respect, protect, and love.”

By Isabel Allende,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked In the Midst of Winter as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

New York Times and worldwide bestselling author Isabel Allende returns with a sweeping novel that journeys from present-day Brooklyn to Guatemala in the recent past to 1970s Chile and Brazil that offers “a timely message about immigration and the meaning of home” (People).

During the biggest Brooklyn snowstorm in living memory, Richard Bowmaster, a lonely university professor in his sixties, hits the car of Evelyn Ortega, a young undocumented immigrant from Guatemala, and what at first seems an inconvenience takes a more serious turn when Evelyn comes to his house, seeking help. At a loss, the professor asks his tenant,…