Best Books about the Maya – Mayan History Books
From the famous pyramids of Chichén Itzá and the hidden gems like Muyil to the food and culture, the Mayan people have left a huge impact on the Yucatán. There are many Maya people around today, keeping their customs alive. Whether you’re living in the area, plan on visiting, or just curious about the Maya people, there are quite a few Mayan history books worth reading. We’ve compiled this list of books about the Maya to help you learn about these crucial people in Mesoamerica.
If you’re coming to the Riviera Maya, you may want to check out our post Visiting Mayan Ruins Near Playa del Carmen for information on how to see some ruins yourself!
An Illustrated Dictionary of the Gods and Symbols of Ancient Mexico and the Maya
An Illustrated Dictionary of the Gods and Symbols of Ancient Mexico and the Maya is exactly as it sounds: a basic guide to the gods, symbols, and practices of the Maya people. With useful illustrations and incredibly in-depth research, this is great way to dive into the basics of Mayan culture. It’s a bit dry, but a great reference book!
The Complete Illustrated History of the Aztec & Maya
The Complete Illustrated History of the Aztec & Maya contains over 500 pages of illustrations, explanations, and clarifications about the Maya people. It’s one of the best book about Mayans out there, and one of our favorite places to start. It’s a great introductory book, and definitely one worth checking out if you’re new to Mayan history and culture.
The Maya (Ninth Edition)
The Maya (Ninth Edition) is one of the bestselling books about Mayans, and this edition is no exception. Michael Coe and Stephen Houston include recent discoveries and research in this 2015 edition of their classic. For anyone serious about learning the history of the Mayans, this is a must-have.
The Lost City of the Monkey God: A True Story
The Lost City of the Monkey God: A True Story by Douglas Preston was a New York Times bestseller, and named one of its Notable Books of 2017. National Geographic also named it as one of their 12 Best Books the same year. Douglas Preston went on an expedition himself, and writes about his journey, the findings of the scientific team, and the adventures that follow. This book is riveting, informative, and a real page-turner. You can learn about Mayan history, discover the wilderness of the Yucatán, and get sucked into the journey.
Maya Civilization: A Captivating Guide to Maya History and Maya Mythology
Maya Civilization: A Captivating Guide to Maya History and Maya Mythology offers a fairly complete view of the Mayan people, their culture, mythology, customs, and more. It starts with a bit about Mayan history, offering a foundation for understanding this important culture. It then moves away from Mayan history and into modern understanding of the Maya and why we we are (and should be) fascinated by the people who once ruled the Yucatán.
A Forest of Kings: The Untold Story of the Ancient Maya
A Forest of Kings: The Untold Story of the Ancient Maya has earned praise from many different people including authors, Harvard professors, and researchers. This is one of the best books on Mayan history, offering a look at the kings of the Mayans through their history of thousands of years. This book is interesting, informative, and one of our top recommendations to anyone interested in learning about Mayans.
The Well of Sacrifice
The Well of Sacrifice by Chris Eboch is actually a piece of Mayan historical fiction, but it makes our list anyway. Although not a traditional nonfiction book, The Well of Sacrifice offers deep insight into the way the Mayan people lived. With the storyline, you will be sucked in and interested. If you don’t like reference books and nonfiction pieces so much, this is definitely the book for you to learn about the Mayans!
Incidents of Travel in Yucatan, Vols. I and II
Incidents of Travel in Yucatan, Vols. I and II by John Lloyd Stephens was originally published in 1841 as two volumes. It has earned praise from people like Edgar Allen Poe, and remains one of the best Mayan books to this day. It covers the travels of Stephens to Mesoamerica to see Mayan sites himself, long before they became popular or known. This is a great book about Mayan discovery, and ideal for those with some wanderlust in their hearts.
Other Ways to Learn about the Maya
Breaking the Maya Code
Breaking the Maya Code was an extremely popular documentary about the Mayan people from 2013, and it’s a great way to dive in and learn. In the two hours of the production, you’ll learn quite a bit about the Mayan people. Although you won’t go quite as in-depth as you would if you read a book about Mayan history, you may be surprised just how much you learn!
Maya to Aztec: Ancient Mesoamerica Revealed
Maya to Aztec: Ancient Mesoamerica Revealed is part of a course from The Great Courses. We love these, and recommend checking them out in general. With amazing research, great structure, and wonderful production, all of The Great Courses pieces are wonderful. Their Maya to Aztec piece is a bit less popular than Breaking the Maya Code, but a little more informative!