What a magnificent book for any general reader, like me, who loves to read about the cultures of Mesoamerica. The authors take us on a tour of seven of the best known and most visited sites: Tikal, Palenque, Copan, Seibal, Chich'en Itza, Uxmal, and Iximche'. The book opens with a most helpful introduction to the archaeology of Mayan culture and the cultural elements that are common to all the city-states / regions that we call Mayan.
Look at page 21 at the photo from 1891 that shows us what the Temple of the Inscriptions looked like before excavation and restoration. Obviously, all the trees that are cleared in the picture would have hidden them even more, but the photo could not have been taken with them there. As you read through the lessons on Mayan architecture, housing, writing, religion, and warfare, the Maya become life and blood people who existed at a time and place that becomes nearer to us through this great book.
If you are planning to visit one or more of these sites, then this book is a must read as well as a field guide to take with you on the trip. The authors take key features and each site and explain them in detail. What a great experience it would be to stand in front of these monuments, murals, and temples with this most helpful text helping you understand what you are seeing.
The book is richly illustrated with many drawings of important inscriptions, buildings, monuments, and architectural details. There are also many black and white photographs, and a section of wonderful color plates to help us understand the beauty of the natural setting that provides the context for these cultures.
After the visits to the cities there are many helpful features that comprise another hundred pages of the book. First, a concordance of Maya personal names provides the spelling used in this book, alternative and common anglicized versions of that name, and a brief description of who that person was. There is also a key to pronunciation and orthography that I found to be most helpful. It is always intimidating to see words without having any idea how they would be said.
The notes section is full of very helpful information for those readers who want to dig a little deeper as is the list of references (really, a bibliography). The Glossary of Gods and Supernaturals is amazingly interesting and helpful and the index is a handy way to get back to certain topics in each section when you are trying to tie the cultural elements together across time and geography.
As I said at the beginning, this is a fantastic and wonderful achievement that I am very grateful for and it is a final example of why we miss Linda Schele so much. The other authors are also fine and will continue to bring us much, but Prof. Schele had a special eye for the aesthetic achievements of the Maya and the ability to help us see things her way and enriched all of us who are fortunate enough to read her words.