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THE MAYA by Michael D Coe & Stephen Houston

  • Written by  Mick Conefrey
  • Published in Books
THE MAYA by Michael D Coe & Stephen Houston
01 Jul
Unlike the Inca sites of Ecuador and Peru, the great cities and temples of the ancient Mayan civilisation of Central America are not on the bucket list of every gap year back-packer or middle-aged culture vulture

This has much more to do with the location where they are found, than with the quality of what’s on offer. As is made clear at the end of The Maya, the problem for anyone wanting to visit the exquisite ruins found in modern day Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico, is that these are regions more known for drug and human trafficking, than for their tourist and hospitality industries.Which is a shame, because as is made clear here, there is plenty to be awed by.

That this is the ninth edition speaks much more eloquently of The Maya’s claim to definitiveness than any review and the fact that it doesn’t really have any rivals amplifies this.

The Maya is beautifully and lavishly illustrated with more than 200 drawings and photographs, two dozen of them in colour. The only slight problem is the tone of the writing. When it was first published way back in 1966, Coe said he wanted it to be both for students and lay readers alike, but in truth it’s rather dry and hard going. Unlike recent books on the Incas by writers such as Hugh Thompson and Mark Adams, which mix travelogue and chronicle, this reads much more like an academic text-book.

For the 2015 edition, 86-year-old Coe has drafted in fellow anthropologist, Stephen Houston, as his co-author but though The Maya has been updated with the latest archaeological and epigraphical discoveries, Houston does not seem to have done anything to make it any lighter or easier to digest.

This is a great book to be inspired by, and is essential reading for any intrepid souls heading out to Central America, but it is unlikely to thrill travellers of the armchair variety, or keep them awake long into the night.    

THE MAYA by Michael D Coe & Stephen Houston, Thames & Hudson, £16.95 (paperback)

This book review was published in the July 2015 edition of Geographical Magazine 

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