The best books about South America

9 authors have picked their favorite books about South America and why they recommend each book.

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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…


By Marie Arana,

Book cover of Bolivar: American Liberator

This fabulous book tells not only of Bolivar’s struggle to create an independent united states of South America, but why. The author graphically describes what it means to be a colony, subject to Crown rule. The control exerted by Spain over her colonies was nothing less than feudal. This book illuminates what it is like to have your country pillaged as a colony. Franklin Roosevelt’s original 1941 reason for going to war, if we had to, was to help liberate all the enchained European colonies through a treatise called the Atlantic Charter

Who am I?

I grew up just north of Chicago, took courses at the University of Madrid (La Complutense), and graduated from Marquette University.  I speak 5 languages and have written for such diverse reviews as The Journal of the American Revolution and Atlantic Coastal Kayaker. Nothing has possessed me like my father’s Navigation Case. Besides learning how this young college graduate helped pioneer the nascent aviation industry training in 11 different types of aircraft, I take pride in the astonishing role he played in American history. He was a combat pilot in the first-ever demonstration of air superiority over an enemy, leading to the greatest campaign victory in the history of the US Air Force. 

I wrote...

The Navigation Case: Training, Flying and Fighting the 1942 to 1945 New Guinea War

By John E. Happ,

Book cover of The Navigation Case: Training, Flying and Fighting the 1942 to 1945 New Guinea War

What is my book about?

I lived 18 years under my father’s roof. In all that time he never spoke about what he did in the Pacific War. After he died I inherited a mysterious, crusty leather case, found in our long-ignored attic: my father’s pilot Navigation Case. In there I was shocked to learn that he flew 64 violent and deadly attack missions as a combat pilot in New Guinea. But if we were fighting Japan, what was he doing in New Guinea of all places? When he was rotated off the front lines he flew Battle of the Bulge wounded to hospitals closer to their native homes. It was called Medical Air Evacuation Transport. And in that role he went missing, lost, completely unaccounted for...


By RH Disney,

Book cover of Up

It sure takes a village to turn an award-winning Disney Pixar movie, Up into a Read-Aloud Storybook, and this cast of creative characters does it well! A terrific story about those significant changes in life and about not closing doors to the inevitable new adventures to come. Heart-warming and brilliantly crafted. See the movie! And do certainly read this lovely book version too.

Who am I?

I grew up living above our family funeral home. My parents were exceptionally compassionate people. I learned through their kind upbringing that heaven was and is, here and now. Death was not only an inevitable part of life but a daily part. As an adult, I became a Yoga Teacher. Yoga means union. It's an exploration into the intimate balance between body and mind. One particular yoga pose essential to every single class – Savasana or Corpse PoseA coincidence a young girl raised in a funeral home would end up teaching daily classes of corpse pose? I think not. And through it all bloomed Floretta. The story of life and death coming together into a magnificent circular experience. Bilingual yet parallel worlds amidst beautiful chakra colors.

I wrote...


By Joan Budilovsky, Brooke Dahmen (illustrator),

Book cover of Floretta

What is my book about?

Floretta is the story of an old woman who discovers life beautifully anew thru the helping hand of a child. The chakra colors of dawn and twilight are woven through the pages by the brilliant illustrations of Brooke Dahmen. Written in English and Spanish, an MP3 comes with to easily learn the spoken translations. Josephine Budilovsky masterfully reads the Spanish translation alongside Joan’s Chicago English. Subtle harp music guides the page turns. A simple way to begin learning either language. The Academy Award-winning movie Coco inspired the publication of Floretta - a story written by Joan decades earlier.

Island Queen

By Vanessa Riley,

Book cover of Island Queen

Dorothy Kirwan was a real woman, who did real feats of magic and strength. In Riley’s book, we get to peer into this woman who became a Caribbean real estate mogul, despite her disadvantage of being born into enslavement. This Dorothy doesn’t always make the best decisions because she follows her heart—a dalliance with a handsome prince on a boat? Why not? But the times I really want to be Dorothy’s friend is when she goes down to the parties with the not-rich folk. Where she dances and laughs, spins around flirting with whoever happens by. Not to say she isn’t complex, because she is. She’s loyal to a fault, but cross her and she’ll cut you as deep as she can. Just stay on her good side. 

Who am I?

I’m a writer of relatable misfits, and a misfit myself. My outsides and insides have never matched, and my accent has always been wrong. I’ve lived all over the United States, and no matter what, I’m always from somewhere else, no matter how long I’ve lived there. I usually end up good friends with other interesting folx who are the same as me: a little different, a little crafty, and a hell of a lot of fun. 

I wrote...

A Lady's Finder (When the Blood Is Up)

By Edie Cay,

Book cover of A Lady's Finder (When the Blood Is Up)

What is my book about?

Lady Agnes is a scandal thanks to her sister’s marriage to a prizefighter. Or rather, she should be. Suddenly, receiving attention from the unpredictable Mr. Townsend, Lady Agnes finds herself believing he might love her and not her dowry. Or is she a means to an end as her family insists?

Jack About Town is London’s best Finder of Lost Things. What few realize is that Jack transcends the spheres of men and women, existing as both—neither?—sex. Now he has found Lady Agnes who accepts him—a jewel so rare that even Jack is surprised he could find it. When Jack is commissioned to steal from Lady Agnes’s cousin, can Jack prove his love and earn the money he needs to protect himself?

The Adventures of Alexander Von Humboldt

By Andrea Wulf, Lillian Melcher (illustrator),

Book cover of The Adventures of Alexander Von Humboldt

I love comics of all kinds, so found it impossible to resist Andrea Wulf’s idea of adapting her popular biography of ecological pioneer Von Humboldt to the graphic form. Illustrator Lillian Melcher combines her comic chops and inventive design sense with Von Humboldt’s own drawings, maps, and specimen papers to create a book that truly enhances Wulf’s scholarly investigations. Plus it’s so much fun. 

Who am I?

I have studied the intersection of human and natural history as an enthusiast, newspaper columnist, teacher, museum curator, and author. I strongly believe in the value of local knowledge, which has led me to work with and learn from several Plateau tribal communities. I use primary documents, including field journals, maps, artwork, oral histories, and the landscape itself as my building blocks. If I can arrive at a confluence of rivers on the same day of the year as some early white visitors and search for the living things that they wrote about during their stay, then I have something that I can compare directly with tribal oral histories. 

I wrote...

The Collector: David Douglas and the Natural History of the Northwest

By Jack Nisbet,

Book cover of The Collector: David Douglas and the Natural History of the Northwest

What is my book about?

Two centuries ago, David Douglas arrived at the mouth of the Columbia River to collect flora for the Royal Horticultural Society. A master at his trade, Douglas’s specimen papers and plant introductions have provided a boundless source of raw material for anyone interested in the ecology of the region. But it is his written depictions of the entire tapestry of his travels, including prickly fur traders, their mixed-blood wives and children, and tribal families across the entire Columbia River drainage, that inject passion and emotional insight into his larger story. While Douglas’s name remains tagged to the region’s iconic conifer, his enlarged naturalist vision offers a path forward for anyone who wants to protect the priceless resource of a living landscape.

Where the South Winds Blow

By Laura Miotti (editor), Monica Salemme (editor), Nora Flegenheimer (editor)

Book cover of Where the South Winds Blow: Ancient Evidence for Paleo South Americans

Many archaeological site reports from South America are published in non -English languages and are often hard to locate. Where the South Wind Blows is an English language collected edition with chapters authored by South American archaeologists. Chapters included numerous discussions of archaeological sites throughout South America that pre-date Clovis sites.

Who am I?

As an Indigenous person, I have a lived experience of the negative impacts of an erased history on all people. Students I teach are shocked to hear that Indigenous people have been in the Americas for over 60,000 years. The violence against archaeologists publishing on older than Clovis sites in the Americas is intense; that got me asking why? I sought the truth about the evidence for Pleistocene age archaeology sites in the Americas. Global human migrations attest to the fact that humans have been migrating great distances for over 2 million years. Reclaiming and rewriting Indigenous history is one path of many, leading to healing and reconciliation. 

I wrote...

The Indigenous Paleolithic of the Western Hemisphere

By Paulette F.C. Steeves,

Book cover of The Indigenous Paleolithic of the Western Hemisphere

What is my book about?

In this first book on Paleolithic archaeology of the Americas written from an Indigenous perspective, Steeves, a (Cree-Metis) archaeologist, mines evidence from archaeology sites and Paleolithic environments, landscapes, and mammalian and human migrations to make the case that people have been in the Western Hemisphere not only just prior to Clovis sites (10,200 years ago) but for more than 60,000 years, and likely more than 100,000 years.

Steeves discusses the political history of American anthropology to focus on why pre-Clovis sites have been dismissed by the field for nearly a century. She explores supporting evidence from genetics and linguistic anthropology regarding First Peoples and time frames of early migrations. Additionally, she highlights the work and struggles faced by a small yet vibrant group of American and European archaeologists.

The Sea-Ringed World

By Maria Garcia Esperon, Amanda Mijangos (illustrator), David Bowles (translator)

Book cover of The Sea-Ringed World: Sacred Stories of the Americas

I would have loved to have had this book in my childhood! As a child, I grew up reading myths and folk tales that came mostly from Europe, however, this book gives a glimpse of myths in America long before the colonization. Thanks to this book I discovered many myths from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego—or the Sea-Ringed World, as the Aztecs called itwhich sparked my curiosity in order to know more. Also, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that some of the stories were intertwined.

Even if this is not a picture book, I decided to include it because the stylish and sophisticated illustrations (of the multi-awarded) Mexican illustrator Amanda Mijangos, fill the spaces that the text is missing and add another level of reading to each one of the tales.

Who am I?

Hello! My name is Flavia Z. Drago and I'm a Mexican picturebook maker currently living with my partner and my cat in the UK. As a child, most of the books that I read came from foreign countries, particularly Europe and the US, and these have had a huge influence on my work as an author and illustrator. However, now that I'm in charge of making the books that I would have liked as a child, I enjoy adding details of my Mexican culture whenever possible. To some extent, the books that I've shared with you collect some of the stories, experiences, and emotions that as a Mexican have impacted my life.

I wrote...

Leila, the Perfect Witch

By Flavia Z. Drago,

Book cover of Leila, the Perfect Witch

What is my book about?

Leila Wayward is a little witch who excels at everything she does. She’s the fastest flier, the most cunning conjuror, and the best shape-shifter. She has won trophies for potions, herbology, and alchemy—and now she dreams of winning the Magnificent Witchy Cake-off! As the youngest in a long line of powerful experts in the Dark Arts of Patisserie, Leila wants her baking skills to be perfect. But even with the most bewitching of recipes, she realizes a terrible truth: she’s a disaster in the kitchen. Luckily, Leila has three magical sisters who are happy to share their secrets and help her.

Filled with quirky details and references to witches in folklore, pop culture, and history from Mexico and Europe, this picturebook is about the strength of family and sisterhood.

Three Weeks At Gettysburg

By Georgeanna Muirson Woolsey Bacon,

Book cover of Three Weeks At Gettysburg

This pamphlet, although only 24 pages, is one of the best first-hand depictions of Civil War nursing.  Miss Woolsey and her mother travelled to Gettysburg in the aftermath of the battle and immediately launched into the nursing ranks of the U.S. Sanitary Commission.  She published her account shortly after returning home, when her services were no longer needed.

Who am I?

DeAnne Blanton retired from the National Archives in Washington, DC after 31 years of service as a reference archivist specializing in 18th and 19th century U.S. Army records. She was recognized within the National Archives as well as in the historical and genealogical communities as a leading authority on the American Civil War; 19th century women’s history; and the history of American women in the military.

I wrote...

They Fought Like Demons: Women Soldiers in the American Civil War

By DeAnne Blanton, Lauren Cook,

Book cover of They Fought Like Demons: Women Soldiers in the American Civil War

What is my book about?

Popular images of women during the American Civil War include self-sacrificing nurses, romantic spies, and brave ladies maintaining hearth and home in the absence of their men. However, as DeAnne Blanton and Lauren M. Cook show in their remarkable new study, that conventional picture does not tell the entire story. Hundreds of women assumed male aliases, disguised themselves in men's uniforms, and charged into battle as Union and Confederate soldiers--facing down not only the guns of the adversary but also the gender prejudices of society. They Fought Like Demons is the first book to fully explore and explain these women, their experiences as combatants, and the controversial issues surrounding their military service.

The Great Explorers

By Samuel Eliot Morison,

Book cover of The Great Explorers: The European Discovery of America

The Great Explorers: The European Discovery of America is a seminal non-fiction work by a premiere historian detailing those intrepid early explorers who dared uncharted seas for greed and glory. The work really resonates with me because it showcases how difficult it was to navigate the world’s oceans in the days before electricity, reliable navigation aids, modern medicine, refrigeration, and dependable propulsion. Despite these handicaps, audacious seamen dared the unknown and challenged their resolve and endurance to meet their goals. I believe the inherent elements of drama and conflict in these voyages lend grist for the development of action and adventure-filled historical fiction. This book directly inspired me to develop my featured novel in an Age of Exploration setting.             

Who am I?

I have always been a fan of history. As a journalist by education and an investigator by trade, I love to carefully research my settings and weave original fictional plots through actual history in a seamless manner that both entertains and informs the reader. I also appreciate the need for compelling characters, page-turning plots, conflict, and tension to keep readers engaged. I have a long-term fascination with piracy, privateering, and exploration during the early age of sail. I am also attracted to Elizabethan England and the Renaissance period with its ideological struggles. I really love a good sea story, and who doesn’t? Enjoy my reading list!   

I wrote...

Voyage of Reprisal

By Kevin J. Glynn,

Book cover of Voyage of Reprisal

What is my book about?

An English sea-captain sailing to plunder a Spanish treasure fleet faces the elements, internal discord and a squadron of war galleons lurking in his path. If he prevails, rewards and retribution await in the wilds of the New World.

Voyage of Reprisal draws on the author’s extensive research and presents a careful reconstruction of life at sea aboard an Elizabethan war galleon. Charismatic characters come alive, from crude sailors to arrogant lords. The pains, joys, sorrows, and hopes of the age are explored aboard a 16th century privateer.


By Mikael Lindnord,

Book cover of Arthur: The Dog Who Crossed the Jungle to Find a Home

An emotional story that talks about bravery, hope, and loyalty. During an adventure race through the jungle of Ecuador in South America, a Swedish race team lead by Mikael Lindnord befriends a mangy, but determined dog. The dog (Arthur) joins the team and their adventure begins. In the end, the team saves the dog. But, as is so often the case in these animal/people encounters, it is the dog who becomes the quiet hero and ultimately saves the human.

Who am I?

Dion Leonard is an Australian/British ultra runner who competes around the globe in endurance ultra running events ranging from 100 miles to over 240 miles in some of the most extreme conditions known to man. He has numerous top 10 finishes in some of the toughest races on the planet. An international bestselling author with 5 books in over 21 languages; Dion’s story has been featured on CNN, NBC Today Show, Good Morning Britain, CBS, CNBC, ABC America, Associated Press, ESPN, Pickler and Ben, CCTV, BBC, and many others. Dion is an inspirational speaker, animal welfare advocate and raises money and awareness for animals in need.

I wrote...

Finding Gobi: A Little Dog with a Very Big Heart

By Dion Leonard,

Book cover of Finding Gobi: A Little Dog with a Very Big Heart

What is my book about?

Finding Gobi is the miraculous tale of Dion Leonard, an ultramarathon runner who crosses paths with a stray dog while competing in a 155-mile race through the Gobi Desert in China. The lovable pup, who would later earn the name Gobi, proved that what she lacked in size, she more than made up for in heart, as she went step for step with Dion keeping pace with him for 77 miles. As Dion witnessed the incredible determination and heart of this small animal, he found his own heart undergoing a change as well. Whereas in the past these races were all about winning and being the best, his goal now was to make sure he and Gobi's friendship continued well after the finish line. However, before he could take her home, Gobi went missing in the sprawling Chinese city where she was being kept. Dion, with the help of strangers and a viral outpouring of assistance on the internet, set out to track her down, and reunite forever with the amazing animal that changed his life and proved to him and the world that miracles are possible.

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