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Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan: v. 1 (Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas & Yucatan) Paperback – 1 Apr 1970
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John Lloyd Stephens (1805–1852) was an American politician who is renowned for his pioneering research into the ancient Maya civilisation. First published in 1841, this book describes the ancient Mayan sites he visited in 1839 and 1840. Volume 2 contains his descriptions of Palenque, Uxmal and other Mayan sites. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Volume 1 relates the first half of the journey; and, I must say, the lesser half. In its 400+ pages, Stephens and Catherwood explore exactly one Mayan site, Copán. The rest of the pages relate the journey by boat from the U.S. to Belize, onward to Guatemala, overland to the capital, various excursions and diversions, ending with Stephens crossing from Nicaragua to Honduras. A great deal of time is spent on a blow-by-blow account of the civil war which tore Central America, until then a unitary state, into warring fragments. While this would no doubt have fascinated Stephens's contemporary audience, the exhaustive detail may try the patience of all but scholars. Further, plans were underfoot to build a transoceanic canal through Nicaragua; and Stephens spends a great deal of time exploring the region and discussing the plan's feasibility. Up to Teddy Roosevelt's administration, Nicaragua and the Colombian isthmus (now Panama) were both in play as potential sites for such a canal, but we now know how it turned out, and the detail lavished on the losing proposition, again, might strain the lay reader's interest.
I would recommend starting with Volume II of this book, and then reading Incidents of Travel in Yucatan. Both are fascinating accounts, chock full of one fascinating Mayan site after another, and offer the thrill of original discovery that Stephens and Catherwood shared during their groundbreaking expeditions.
A masterful depiction of Central America in the early 1800's. Easy to read, a travel log that reflects the curiosity of a scholar, but written in a straightforward, easy to read language. Almost naive in some passages, Stephens admires the people and its natural surroundings, describes them vividly from his very American point of view. His relentless commitment to explain and understand better "The Lost Civilization" in Meso-America is a timeless inspiration.
Lawyer, Diplomat, Explorer and Entrepeneur, he played a role as a precursor of the Panama Canal, the Panama Isthmus Railroad, which served as a shorter, safer route to California. This books tell us of the times just before big things were about to happen in Central America and at worldwide scale.
The contributions of this book to Maya archaeology are huge (the detailed descriptions and beautiful drawings by Frederick Catherwood of Maya sites), basically by putting many archaeological remains later looted in its original context. A must read for archaeology students around the world and for anyone interested in Central America in the 19th Century. Mr. Stephens, your place in history is guaranteed through this book, the others you wrote and your contributions to the cause of a inter-oceanic route through Central America and the advancement of Maya archaeology.
The tightening of the prose and the absence of trivia makes this book a joy to read and I highly reccomend it to all those like me who are fascinated by the great cultures that existed on the American continent long before the Europeans arrived.