"Thrilling.... A captivating history of two men who dramatically changed their contemporaries' view of the past." (Kirkus)
In 1839 rumors of extraordinary yet baffling stone ruins buried within the unmapped jungles of Central America reached two of the world's most intrepid travelers. Seized by the reports, American diplomat John Lloyd Stephens and British artist Frederick Catherwood - each already celebrated for their adventures in Egypt, the Holy Land, Greece, and Rome - sailed together out of New York Harbor on an expedition into the forbidding rainforests of present-day Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico. What they found would rewrite the West's understanding of human history.
In the tradition of The Lost City of Z and In the Kingdom of Ice, former San Francisco Chronicle journalist and Pulitzer Prize finalist William Carlsen reveals the unforgettable true story of the discovery of the ancient Maya. Enduring disease, war, and the torments of nature and terrain, Stephens and Catherwood uncovered and documented the remains of an astonishing civilization that had flourished in the Americas at the same time as classic Greece and Rome. Their remarkable book about the experience became a sensation and is recognized today as the birth of American archeology. Most importantly, Stephens and Catherwood were the first to grasp the significance of the Maya remains, recognizing that their antiquity and sophistication overturned the West's assumptions about the development of civilization.
By the time of the flowering of classical Greece (400 BC), the Maya were already constructing pyramids and temples around central plazas. Within a few hundred years, the structures took on a monumental scale. Over the next millennium dozens of city-states evolved, each governed by powerful lords, some with populations larger than any city in Europe at the time. The Maya developed a unified cosmology, an array of common gods, a creation story, and a shared artistic and architectural vision. They created dazzling stucco and stone monuments and bas reliefs, sculpting figures and hieroglyphs with refined artistic skill. At their peak an estimated 10 million people occupied the Maya's heartland on the Yucatan Peninsula. And yet, by the time the Spanish reached the "New World", the classic-era Maya had all but disappeared; they would remain a mystery for the next 300 years.
Today the tables are turned: The Maya are justly famous, if sometimes misunderstood, while Stephens and Catherwood have been all but forgotten. Based on Carlsen's rigorous research and his own 2,500-mile journey throughout the Yucatan and Central America, Jungle of Stone is equally a thrilling adventure narrative and a revelatory work of history that corrects our understanding of the Maya and the two remarkable men who set out in 1839 to find them.
©2016 William Carlsen (P)2016 HarperCollins Publishers
I studied several books to prepare for a trio to the Yucatan focused on Maya archeological sites.
This book covers much of what I learned, skillfully interwoven with the story of two adventurers who (at great personal risk and pain) brought some of the mysteries of the Maya to the world.
Well worth the read.
A great story with inspiring characters. The level of depth is astounding and paints a strong picture of the two men as they travel throughout central America. The book is very tangential at times and this doesn't play well with the audiobook format as it is easy to get lost.
In terms of information on the Maya, it is certainly there and is very interesting, but is only introduced about half way through the book. This title is first and foremost about Stevens and Catherwood, with the Mayan cities as a backdrop for their life stories.
Nevertheless, a good overview of Mayan civilization, its successes and eventual downfall is given. The 1800s were an incredible time and discovering many of these ruins for the first time in Western history is a marvel well conveyed by the author.
I found the story to be disappointingly Eurocentric. It focused on the Europeans that found the ruins and there story rather than the civilization which created them.
An interesting narrative of the 1840s - both archaeological and biographical. I never realized that central America had such a rich archaeological heritage. The discovery of the Mayan sites , laying of the Panama railroad, and struggles in the lives of RL Stevens and Fredrick Catherwood are all interwoven in this interesting narrative. Be sure to see Catherwood's wonderful lithographs of the Maya on the net.
I have always been a bit perplexed on things Mezoamerican and this book provided a lot of much needed focus. Its not as if I never put my toe in and I even have a Great Courses lecture series. But its really all about the Maya. A seriously high civilization from a seriously small place and very very alien. I spent half my time googling places and people and it was well worth the effort. Google mayan art and think about it!
A fascinating and broadly researched work. Carlson is careful not to write beyond his sources. Covering so many topics and so much material made the flow difficult to follow at times. My manor complaint is with Mr Garcia. Just because his name is Spanish does not mean he can speak it. Surely WITH ALL THE HISPANICS IN THIS COUNTRY one would hope they could find someone who speaks the language!
This amazing tale of adventure and discovery is well written and well married. I learned a lot enjoyed listening to it while I walk. Having been to Guatemala, I was pleased to recognize the names of several locations I have visited, but I had no idea that these ruins existed. Maybe it's time for return.
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