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Publisher's Summary

"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

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
  • thomas
  • charlotte, NC, United States
  • 01-10-17

Unsung Explorers at the Heart of History

What did you love best about Jungle of Stone?

I enjoy micro history books. Detailed books on subjects on the fringe of what is popular history. This book is a great example of that genre and very well done. These two men lived incredible lives and were at the heart of exploration, creating a chronicle of central American and Mexican culture that changed the way we think about history in general. Fascinating account.

What was one of the most memorable moments of Jungle of Stone?

Their ability to bounce back from adversity time and time again.

What about Paul Michael Garcia’s performance did you like?

History books can be tricky. Getting overly dramatic takes away from the story but merely reading doesn't do the job. I thought he hit just the right tone.

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

The things people can do with their lives when they put their mind to it is truly incredible.These men changed the world and were on the cusp of modernity. Though I will never be an explorer it truly is inspirational.

Any additional comments?

I am not a historian. I am just a guy who likes different types of books over the course of a year. If you are a varied reader and have an interest in the Mayan and Inca cultures I think you will enjoy it.

9 of 9 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars

Great history and characters, a bit too tangential

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.

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

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  • Allen
  • Plainwell, MI, United States
  • 02-23-17

Lacking on adventure, misleading title

Reads more like a biography of Stevens and Catherwood. Narration is good, but I was disappointed how little there was about the discoveries and time in the jungle. The first third I thought I had misread the title of the book. This book is a lot more a full life biography of Stevens and Catherwood than an adventure narrative. Boring in parts even. If you seek Central American ancient civilization discovery adventure try "Lost City of the Monkey God" instead.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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Great Presentation of a Fascinating Story

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.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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rediscovering Maya

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.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • David
  • United States
  • 07-21-16

You could not find a better place to start

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!

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Well worth it!

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.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Hard to follow.

Tried twice but very difficult to listen to. Perhaps it would be a better read.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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Interesting History - Confusing Time Line

It is interesting to find out the history of the discovery of the old Mayan ruins. Parts of the narrative hold for excitement and adventure, but the constant changing of narratives concerning several individuals, and trying to go back and cover their history, makes the story more difficult to follow.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Excellent book .... very enjoyable and revealing

Great read or listen ... recommended to anyone who loves history and Central America.... The Maya rank with the Egyptians and early Greeks, we never knew until explores like these two men went into the jungle ...

1 of 1 people found this review helpful