Enlightening, informative, provocative, playful... Here are some essential books for any Mexico guru’s library. While some of them may be out of print, online booksellers today make it easier than ever to get used and out-of-print books, and at great prices. At the bottom we’ve listed books recommended by some of our favorite authors.
Aztec, by Gary Jennings. This historical fiction describes the rise and fall of the Aztec empire from the point of view of an aging indigenous scribe.
In the Shadow of the Angel is the fictionalized account of true events during three pivotal decades in Mexican history: 1900—1930. Based on the life of artist and intellectual María Antonieta Rivas Mercado Castellanos. By Kathryn S. Blair.
The Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver, is a fascinating account of lonely, bicultural Harrison William Shepherd, whose journeys take readers to the heart of the twentieth century’s most tumultuous events, including interaction with his friends Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo and Leon Trotsky.
The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire, by C.M. Mayo, is a portrait of tumultuous, mid-19th century Mexico, its short-lived Habsburg sovereign, and his adoptive, half-American heir.
Last Train to Cuernavaca, by Lucia Robson, is a historical drama describing some of the events of the 1910 Revolution through the eyes of a feisty female immigrant and hotel owner.
Like Water for Chocolate, by Laura Esquivel. Set during the Revolution, this love story describes familial duty, devotion, and traditional recipes from rural, early-20th-century Mexico.
The Heart of Jade (El Corazón de Piedra Verde), by Salvador de Madariaga, is excellent historical fiction about pre-Conquest Mexico.
A majestic story, The Hummingbird’s Daughter, by Luis Alberto Urrea, embraces the heart and soul of Mexico’s rich history. The sequel, Queen of America, continues the saga of “the healer from Caborca” as, outcast from her native Mexico for helping instigate the Revolution, she makes her way around the early-20th-century United States pursued by her fans as well as would-be assassins. Both books are based on stories passed on from the author’s family members about their relative, Teresita Urrea.
By author and statesman Carlos Fuentes, The Old Gringo is the tale of an American and his involvement in the Mexican Revolution.
The Power and the Glory, by Graham Greene. During the tumultuous period of persecution of Catholic priests in Mexico, after the Mexican Revolution, the “whiskey priest” was on the lam from the law.
By Jennifer Clement, Prayers for the Stolen is the warm, witty and profound story of a teenage girl growing up in the mountains of Guerrero State, in the shadow of drug lords and an absentee father.
Rain of Gold, by Victor E. Villaseñor, tells a multigenerational story of two families, from their homes in early 20th-century Mexican towns to immigration to southern United States, and all that they experience during this period. A well-told and riveting tale.
The Tortilla Curtain, by T.C. Boyle. Here’s a modern drama set in and around Los Angeles. Everything bad that one can imagine happens to a hapless illegal immigrant looking for luck in Los Angeles.
Treasure of the Sierra Madre, by B. Traven. “Badges? We don’t need no stinkin’ badges!”
Distant Neighbors: A Portrait of a People, by Alan Riding. Filled with facts and figures, this is a scholarly but very readable description of Mexican society and the U.S.--Mexico relationship. The author was Mexico City bureau chief for the New York Times for six years before publishing the book in 1984 (reissued in 1989).
First Stop in the New World, by David Lida. Published in 2008, Lida’s book is a street-level panorama of metropolitan Mexico City, covering among other topics the sex industry, urban politics, religion, art and soccer. Read excerpt
The Hummingbird and the Hawk: Conquest and Sovereignty in the Valley of Mexico: 1503--1541, by R.C. Padden. A must-read for anyone interested in Aztec (AKA Mexica) civilization, this book sheds new light on the civilization that conquered most of Mesoamerica. Tells about the Aztec’s humble origins, rise to power, rituals, ruthless political agenda, and eventual fall from power.
Into a Desert Place, by Graham MacKintosh. One man’s travelogue about his 3,000-mile walk along the Baja California coast, it’s ultimately about the people MacKintosh met on his ambitious journey.
The Labyrinth of Solitude, by Octavio Paz. The magnum opus by one of Mexico’s most distinguished statesmen/writers on the Mexican culture, persona, and psyche.
In Mañana Forever?, Mexican scholar and former secretary of foreign affairs Jorge Casteñeda sheds light on the puzzling paradoxes of modern Mexico’s politics and culture.
The Mexican Mind, by Boyé Lafayette de Mente, is a study of the national Mexican psychology.
The Mexicans: A Personal Portrait of the Mexicans, by Patrick Oster. This brilliant journalist dedicates chapters to an honest cop, a philanthropic medical doctor, a stressed-out maid, and other real people in an exquisitely revealing glimpse into the Mexican persona.
Mexico, by Michael D. Coe. This textbook---along with Maya by the same author---gives accurate and readable information about ancient Mesoamerican culture. Written by professor emeritus from Yale University Dr. Michael D. Coe, it includes photographs, drawing, and archaeological site maps. Not a casual read, but great for history buffs.
Mexico: A Traveler's Literary Companion, edited by C.M. Mayo. A portrait of Mexico through contemporary Mexican literary fiction written by Carlos Fuentes, Carlos Monsivais, Laura Esquivel, and others.
In Midnight in Mexico, Mexico-born reporter for the Dallas Morning News writes about his experiences: the political situation, drug issues, security and culture, and his hopes for the future of Mexico.
On the lighter (and sillier) side is Puerto Vallarta on 49 Brain Cells a Day, by Gil Gevins, who with wife Lucy Muñoz owns the handcrafts shop Lucy’s CuCu Cabana, in Puerto Vallarta.
True Tales from Another Mexico: The Lynch Mob, the Popsicle Kings, Chalino, and the Bronx, by Sam Quinones. This intriguing non-fiction covers all sorts of not-so-traditional topics from popular Mexican culture: from gang members deported from L.A. back to their home towns in Mexico to that icon of Mexican corridos, Chalino, gunned down in the prime of his musical youth.
Viva Mexico!, by Antonio Haas. Mazatlan’s native son and historian has written a coffee table book with chapters like “Understanding Mexico,” “The Route of Cortés,” and “Tierra Caliente.” Lots of illustrations and photographs make it a great gift as well as a good read.
Travelers’ Tales: Mexico, edited by James O’Reilly and Larry Habegger. A great compendium of essays about the Mexican experience by Alma Guillermoprieto, Carlos Fuentes, Alan Riding, and lesser-known writers.
Mexican Short Stories
Sky Over El Nido: Stories, by C.M. Mayo. Winner of the Flannery O'Connor Award, this is a book of short stories set in different parts of Mexico.
Travel Advisory: Stories, by David Lida. Wonderful characters and good writing.
Mexican Travel Guides
Mexico Guru editor Jane Onstott has written several travel guides for major publishing companies, including National Geographic Traveler Mexico and Fodor’s Puerto Vallarta, both updated in 2010.
The People’s Guide to Mexico, by Carl Franz. Treatises on driving and busing in Mexico along with many other practical and humorous tips about traveling for maximum enjoyment and edification. It’s been updated many times since its first printing in 1972. You’ll find everything from lists of famous market towns throughout the country to penalties for carrying a handgun and instructions on what to do if you’re thrown in the slammer. Definitely dated … but some consider it a classic.
Yucatan: A Guide to the Land of Maya Mysteries, by Antoinette May.
Suggestions from writers ... and readers.
Recommended by author and editor C.M. Mayo:
- Life in Mexico, by Frances Calderón de la Barca
- The Prison Angel, by Mary Jordan and Kevin Sullivan
- The Bandits from Río Frío, by Manuel Payno
Recommended by Dana Burton, former owner of La Pared bookstore in San Cristóbal de las Casas
- Traveller's History of Mexico, by Kenneth Pearce
- Mexico: Biography of Power, by Enrique Krause
- Lawless Roads, by Graham Greene
- Book of Lamentations, by Rosario Castellanos
- anything by B. Traven
Susan Dorf, an artist who leads art journal workshops in San Miguel de Allende (www.susandorf.com), recommends Sliced Iguana (essays on Mexico), by Isabella Tree; Consider This, Senora, by Harriet Doerr; and Canasta de Cuentos by B Traven.
Patrice Wynne, owner of Abrazos gift shop in San Miguel de Allende, recommends Dreaming in Color, a photographer’s love affair with Mexico, by Michael Sudheer, and Made in Mexico, a treatise by Joanna van der Gracht de Rosado on a foreigner’s adaptation to life in Mexico.
David Simmonds, editor of the online magazine Mexico Premiere, admires two books by T.M. Spooner: The Salvation of La Purisima and Notes from Exile.
Barbara & Bill Kirkwood, of Casa Obelisco, San Pancho, Nayarit like God & Mr. Gomez, by Jack Smith, and Gringos in Paradise, by Barry Golson.
Journalist and literary writer David Lida likes Viva Mexico: A Traveller’s Account of Life in Mexico, by Charles Flambrau.
Pat Cordes, webmaster for Mexico Guru, likes God's Middle Finger: Into the Lawless Heart of the Sierra Madre by Richard Grant.