The most recommended books about Mayan history and civilization

Who picked these books? Meet our 20 experts.

20 authors created a book list connected to Mayan history and civilization, and here are their favorite Maya history and civilization books.
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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.

Who am I?

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 Sweet

Kate Berberich Author Of Picture Imperfect

From my list on unpredictable protagonists.

Who am I?

I’m going to date myself horribly here, but…I’m an old-school fan of the guy in the grey hat. Think Kerr Avon of Blake’s 7. The guy you could never quite predict. Or Han Solo until about halfway through The Empire Strikes Back. Are they going to do the right thing? Are they going to follow their heart? And it’s so satisfying when they do! Of course, it’s equally satisfying when they go right ahead and sucker punch the bad guy, ‘cuz hey—only the good guys give warnings, right?

Kate's book list on unpredictable protagonists

Kate Berberich Why did Kate love this book?

Sweet is a novella set in the universe of Love Stories on 7th and Main. A friend recommended it to me and I gobbled up the whole series in a week or two.

Spider Villalobos settled in Metlin to escape life in a gang. When his past catches up with him, which choice will he make? Run away? Return to the gang? Or follow his heart?

I love this entire series because the town of Metlin is so vividly detailed. The characters feel like people I’d like to know, and I definitely want to go browse in INK or grab a slice of pie from Café Maya!

By Elizabeth Hunter,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Sweet is a standalone romance novella from USA Today Bestselling author, Elizabeth Hunter.

He survived by always being in control. She’s about to make him melt.

It’s 2004, and Daisy Rivera knows two things: she’s going to end up disappointing her parents’ fondest hopes and dreams in roughly six months, and somehow she’s going to figure out how to kiss the mysterious tattoo artist two shops down from her grandmother’s cafe that everyone calls Spider.

Spider Villalobos knows one thing: if he gives into temptation and makes a move on Daisy, his fresh start is over.

Their shops may be…


Book cover of What We Carry: A Memoir

Rica Keenum Author Of Petals of Rain: A Mother's Memoir

From my list on for daughters with toxic or complicated mothers.

Who am I?

Growing up, my mother refused to acknowledge that my stepfather sexually abused me for many years. I was forced to call him “Dad” and I was told to “forgive and forget.” It took me decades to understand that while I could teach my mind to deny my pain and grief, trauma stayed embedded within my heart and shaped my life, relationships, internal beliefs, and decisions. After a triggering event, it ultimately morphed into depression, which I’m now battling in my forties. Having written two memoirs on the impact of trauma, I am only now finding the wisdom and courage to distance myself from my mother and stepfather. The books I’ve recommended have brought me comfort and a sense of relief. 

Rica's book list on for daughters with toxic or complicated mothers

Rica Keenum Why did Rica love this book?

While I found this memoir to be beautiful in language and story, I connected most with the author’s stark revelations. She writes from the perspective of a daughter, then a new mother, and finally a caregiver for both her child and her ailing mother. As she navigates life in these varied roles, she begins to see the truth about her mother with compelling clarity. In the end, I felt a deep sense of understanding and was able to remind myself that while I have been naive in my own relationships, it was love that compelled me to cling to my mother, even at the cost of my own wellbeing. 

By Maya Shanbhag Lang,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

“A gorgeous memoir about mothers, daughters, and the tenacity of the love that grows between what is said and what is left unspoken.”—Mira Jacob, author of Good Talk
 
If our family stories shape us, what happens when we learn those stories were never true? Who do we become when we shed our illusions about the past?
 
Maya Shanbhag Lang grew up idolizing her brilliant mother, an accomplished physician who immigrated to the United States from India and completed her residency all while raising her children and keeping a traditional Indian home. Maya’s mother had always been a source of support—until…


Book cover of The Ruins

Jason McGathey Author Of The Doom Statues

From my list on horror featuring a cursed location.

Who am I?

I’ve been a lifelong horror reader, really since first stumbling onto Stephen King in the 9th grade. There’s something about that genre that has held a particular fascination for me through the years, probably because the best works are some combination of suspenseful, well-written, and cathartic, as they really get your mind racing as to what you might do yourself in a given situation. If you’re lucky, they might even have something to say about the human condition as a whole. But given this prolonged interest and exposure to horror, it’s only natural I would eventually progress to giving it a stab myself.

Jason's book list on horror featuring a cursed location

Jason McGathey Why did Jason love this book?

This is always the first one that leaps to mind for me when I’m thinking of a relentlessly paced novel that is nonetheless extremely well written. It’s a simple yet relatable premise, which to me makes it all the more horrifying. Smith is a master of economy here, as he keeps the plot moving (with no chapter breaks!) throughout, yet his style is a fairly literary one and he develops the characters well.

By Scott Smith,

Why should I read it?

2 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 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.

Who am I?

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…


Book cover of The House in the Pines

Sara Flannery Murphy Author Of The Wonder State

From my list on thriller and horror with “House” in the title.

Who am I?

I have a lifelong fascination with houses and the sway they hold over us. Coming from a family that moved pretty frequently, I’ve experienced the way a house can feel like a true home, or like an unwelcoming space. Unlike the characters in The Wonder State, I don’t break into places to explore (not even abandoned spaces!). But I always take notice of the homes and structures in every neighborhood and city I visit, wondering what the residents’ lives are like and how their houses affect them. I’m a novelist who focuses on the speculative, and all three of my novels feature weird houses in some capacity.

Sara's book list on thriller and horror with “House” in the title

Sara Flannery Murphy Why did Sara love this book?

The house referenced in the title of this atmospheric thriller is no ordinary home, but I had to take quite a journey before understanding what makes this place so sinister.

In Reyes’ thriller, Maya is haunted by the seemingly inexplicable death of her friend. She suspects that the death has something to do with Frank, the mysterious man who created a rift between Maya and her friend. But Maya can’t prove anything… until she sees Frank connected to yet another woman’s bizarre death.

Without any spoilers, this particular house is unlike the others on the list, and Reyes plays with reality and perception in a fresh and intriguing way. Good luck guessing what’s going on in this eerie house in the woods… I certainly couldn’t anticipate the twists.

By Ana Reyes,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The House in the Pines as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A REESE WITHERSPOON BOOK CLUB PICK
A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
'AN ABSOLUTE, CAN'T-PUT-IT-DOWN THRILLER'
Reese Witherspoon (Reese's Book Club Jan '23 Pick)

'EERIE AND ATMOSPHERIC'
Riley Sager, New York Times bestselling author of The House Across the Lake

'CREEPY'
The Times

'I READ IN A SINGLE SITTING, TOTALLY ENTHRALLED'
Lisa Gardner, Sunday Times bestselling author of One Step Too Far

'SUPERB'
M. W. Craven, Sunday Times bestselling author of The Botanist

'CHILLED ME TO THE BONE'
Andrea Bartz, author of Reese's pick We Were Never Here
________

This is the story of a house. The cabin lies deep in…


Book cover of The Tutankhamun Prophecies: The Sacred Secret of the Maya, Egyptians, and Freemasons

Harry Whitewolf Author Of The Road to Purification: Hustlers, Hassles & Hash

From my list on rethinking ancient Egypt.

Who am I?

I’ve been interested in ancient Egypt ever since I read Asterix and Cleopatra when I was a boy. The hilarious moment of Obelix accidentally knocking off the Sphinx’s nose has always stayed with me in particular. By my early twenties, I was reading authors like Graham Hancock, Robert Bauval, and Colin Wilson, who showed me that what we think we know about ancient Egypt is not wholly correct. For instance, there’s little evidence that the Great Pyramid’s purpose was to be a tomb and the Sphinx seems to be much older than Egyptologists believe. In 2010, at thirty-four years old, I finally got to visit the wonders of Egypt myself.

Harry's book list on rethinking ancient Egypt

Harry Whitewolf Why did Harry love this book?

What has ancient Egypt got to do with Freemasonry? Quite a lot as it turns out. The author of The Tutankhamun Prophecies, scientist and mathematician Maurice Cotterell, weaves together the esoteric knowledge of modern secret societies with Egyptian religion and the ancient Mayan people. I’m chuffed to have a signed hardback copy of this book, which I seem to recall I found in a charity shop. Actually, now I come to think of it, the bloke that sold it to me gave me a rather funny handshake… Hm…

By Maurice Cotterell,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This text reveals the remarkable similarities between Tutankhamun and Lord Pacal of the Maya. Re-examining the life, times and tomb of Tutankhamun, Maurice Cotterell explains many of the mysteries that have puzzled scholars.


Book cover of Maya and the Robot

Christina Uss Author Of The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle

From my list on powerful introverts.

Who am I?

Every one of my books is centered around characters finding a place where they can be fully, unapologetically, joyfully themselves. If you had asked my child self where my happy place was, I would have told you it was my room, empty of other people but full of books. I am very friendly and would love to meet you, but I also delight in solitude, and my imagination sparks and cartwheels when I am quiet. It turns out there’s a word for this inborn trait of mine: introversion. I’m always looking for stories that celebrate the strengths of us quietly powerful introverts. 

Christina's book list on powerful introverts

Christina Uss Why did Christina love this book?

Maya shows us readers why so many successful creative and science-loving people tend towards introversion. Maya notices what’s going on around her, and what’s going on inside of her. She absorbs. She ponders. She interprets. Then she acts. Then she repeats the process. I love, love, love how Maya gets support from those around her who see her clearly for who she is and let her know that she’s awesome. “Always remember, Maya,” says her mom, “being yourself is a gift to others around you.” So true.

By Eve L. Ewing, Christine Almeda (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Maya and the Robot as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 8, 9, 10, and 11.

What is this book about?

From award-winning author Eve L. Ewing comes an illustrated middle grade novel about a forgotten homemade robot who comes to life just when aspiring fifth-grade scientist Maya needs a friend -- and a science fair project.

Maya's nervous about fifth grade. She tries to keep calm by reminding herself she knows what to expect. But then she learns that this year won't be anything like the last. For the first time since kindergarten, her best friends Jada and MJ are placed in a different class without her, and introverted Maya has trouble making new friends.

She tries to put on…


Book cover of Lamar and Maya Build A Robot

Tiffani Teachey Author Of What Can I Be? STEM Careers from A to Z

From my list on engaging kids in STEM.

Who am I?

As a Sr. Mechanical Engineer, STEM advocate, TEDx international speaker and international best-selling author of children's books, I have a deep expertise and passion for inspiring young minds in the world of science, technology, engineering, and math. Through my books, including What Can I Be? STEM Careers from A to Z and the STEM Crew Kids Adventures series, I aim to introduce kids to diverse STEM careers and empower them to pursue their dreams fearlessly. My background in engineering and dedication to youth mentorship drives me to promote STEM education and underrepresented voices. I believe in the power of books to spark curiosity and open doors to endless possibilities for future innovators and problem-solvers.

Tiffani's book list on engaging kids in STEM

Tiffani Teachey Why did Tiffani love this book?

If you're looking for a fantastic book to engage kids in STEM, Lamar and Maya Build a Robot is the perfect pick!

Picture recommending this book to a friend, you'd rave about its celebration of teamwork and robotics. Personally, I loved this book because it beautifully teaches kids about collaboration, problem-solving, and perseverance in a fun and exciting way.

As I read through Lamar and Maya's journey, I learned the importance of working together and following instructions while exploring the world of robotics. It made me feel inspired and reminded me of the joy of friendship and the power of imagination.

This book is an excellent resource for young readers, and they'll be captivated by the story while unknowingly absorbing valuable STEM concepts. Grab this gem for the little ones!

Book cover of The Blood of Kings: Dynasty and Ritual in Maya Art

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

From my list on ancient Maya religion.

Who am I?

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?

No list of books on the Maya religion would be complete without The Blood of Kings. This was the first book on the topic I ever saw—and from the moment I did, I was hooked. Like most people at the time of its publication, I had never seen so many gorgeous photographs, line drawings, and religious concepts in one place. Even though many of the hieroglyphic translations are dated (particularly the royal names), the book remains a treasure trove of general information. Visually, this is the book by which all exhibit catalogues on the Maya are judged—and essential to anyone wanting an introduction to Maya religion. 

By Linda Schele, Mary Ellen Miller,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

"[A] work as remarkable for its text as for the photographs and drawings that illustrate it."―Octavio Paz, The New York Review of Books

A comprehensive guide to the Maya which reveals kingship rites, ritual warfare, with a vast array of color plates and drawings. 122 color plates, 300 drawings and 50 black-and-white illustrations