10 books directly related to Guatemala 📚

All 10 Guatemala books as recommended by authors and experts. Updated weekly.

Rural Guatemala, 1760-1940

By David McCreery,

Book cover of Rural Guatemala, 1760-1940

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 social structure, and possessed of a rich cultural life.

Secure the Soul: Christian Piety and Gang Prevention in Guatemala

By Kevin Lewis O'Neill,

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

Why 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. 

Disappeared: A Journalist Silenced

By June Carolyn Erlick,

Book cover of Disappeared: A Journalist Silenced

Why 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.

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

By Ronald Wright,

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

Why 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.

I, Rigoberta Menchú: An Indian Woman in Guatemala

By Rigoberta Menchú,

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

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 are always issues of ‘authority’ about autobiography, especially that which has been developed with an editor, but it seemed strange to home on this one with quite so much vigor. The ensuing debate had its own volume.

Bitter Fruit: The Story of the American Coup in Guatemala

By Stephen Schlesinger, Stephen Kinzer,

Book cover of Bitter Fruit: The Story of the American Coup in Guatemala

Why this book?

This riveting account of the CIA’s first large-scale covert operation in Latin America opened my eyes to what can happen when business interests outweigh political ideals. In 1954 the democratically elected president of Guatemala, Jacobo Árbenz, proposed agrarian land reforms to benefit the poor indigenous population of the country. United Fruit Company, which owned most of the land under threat of expropriation, used its influence with the Eisenhower administration to raise a red flag. Literally. Grossly exaggerating the specter of Soviet meddling, CIA Director Allen Dulles authorized a false-flag operation to remove Árbenz. Read this book to see how things turned out. 

Whose Heaven, Whose Earth?

By Thomas Melville, Marjorie Melville,

Book cover of Whose Heaven, Whose Earth?

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

Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life

By Jon Lee Anderson,

Book cover of Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life

Why this book?

A young Argentine doctor who had traveled to Guatemala to support the Árbenz reforms fled to Mexico after the coup. His name was Ernesto “Che” Guevara. In Mexico City he befriended two Cuban dissidents, Fidel and Raúl Castro. This book got me wondering: Did witnessing the coup in Guatemala drive Che toward the Marxist zealotry he later espoused? In other words, did the CIA help create its own most-wanted enemy in Latin America? Anderson’s splendid biography traces Che’s ideological development from his youthful travels in South America to his final, desperate days when a U.S.-coordinated manhunt tracked him down and trapped him in the Bolivian highlands.

We Are Not from Here

By Jenny Torres Sanchez,

Book cover of We Are Not from Here

Why this book?

We Are Not from Here tells the story of three young people- Pulga, Chico, and Pequeña who are fleeing gang violence in Guatemala. They are forced to leave due to gang threats. Their struggle to reach the United States is a heart-breaking one. This book gives a good understanding of the impossible choices so many people are facing even today.

In the Midst of Winter

By Isabel Allende,

Book cover of In the Midst of Winter

Why 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.”