Good Reads

Suggested Reading for destinations with our comments

My sister is a former reference librarian, so I figure she knows something about everything.  When I travel I request a bibliography from her and then choose books to take on my trip.  I try to mix it up with some historical fiction along with a travel guide and a field guide.   ... Jean

Belize    Colombia   Costa Rica   Cuba   Dominican Republic     Ecuador     Guatemala     Honduras     Kenya     Mexico     Panama     South Africa     Trinidad and Tobago

BELIZE

  • The Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw by Bruce Barcott.  Random House. 2008     Very well written report on the fight to prevent the damming of the Macal River in western Belize, home to the last remaining group of Scarlet Macaw in that country, not to mention jaguar, tapir, and loads of other wildlife.  The fight was led by Sharon Matola, founder of the Belize Zoo.  JB Journeys is a supporter of the Belize Zoo. If you so wish, you can add any amount to your final payment that we will donate in your name to the Zoo.  We have chosen the Belize Zoo as recipient of donations in our Reduce your Climate Footprint program.
  • A Forest of Kings: The Untold Story of the Ancient Maya by David Friedel and Linda Schele.     The mystique of the pre-Columbian Maya has prompted much speculation about the nature of this sophisticated people.  With the recent breaking of their elaborate hieroglyphic code, Schele and Freidel, Mayan scholars of note, provide a new look at the Maya.  Structured on sound scholarly principles, their presentation abounds in notes, references, indexes, and chronologies with profuse line-drawings of temple and other inscriptions.  They devote a chapter to each of the major Mayan city-states.  What makes this volume more accessible and of greater impact than the average scholarly study are the frequent vignettes of great events, kingly acts, etc., told dramatically, in a fictive but plausible style that allows the ancient Maya at last to speak for themselves. Recommended for informed laypersons, as well as specialist and YA reader.
  • Birds of Belize by H. Lee Jones.     With nearly six hundred identified species of birds--and an average of five "new" species discovered annually--Belize is becoming a birding hotspot for amateur and professional birders from around the globe.  Thousands of birders visit the country each year to enjoy Belize's amazing abundance and variety of both temperate and tropical birds in natural habitats that remain largely unspoiled.  But until now, despite the growing need for an authoritative identification guide, birders have had to rely on regional field guides that offer only limited information on Belizean birds. Birds of Belize provides the first complete guide to the identification of all currently known species--574 in all.  The birds are grouped by families, with an introduction to each family that highlights its uniquely identifying characteristics and behaviors.  The species accounts include all the details necessary for field identification: scientific and common names, size, plumage features, thorough voice descriptions, habitat, distribution, and status in Belize.  Full color, expertly drawn illustrations by noted bird artist Dana Gardner present male and female, juvenile and adult, and basic and alternate plumages to aid visual identification throughout the year, while 234 range maps show the birds' distribution and seasonality in Belize.  A comprehensive bibliography completes the volume.
  • Our Man in Belize: A Memoir by Richard Timothy Conroy.     After sloshing around in the Great Mercury Spill at Oak Ridge, former U.S. diplomat and current mystery writer Conroy (Mr. Smithson's Bones, St. Martin's, 1993) sought a better career and was appointed vice consul to the tiny, moribund British Central American colony now called Belize. He needed to be a magician to wend his way through the intrigue of dealing with Americans of questionable character and to adjust to a society in which the city manager ran a bordello and the police commissioner drove a stolen American car. Voodoo was also a hazard when Conroy arrived, but not as dangerous as Hurricane Hattie, which he experienced when it devastated the country in 1961.  After two years he was reassigned. Conroy's memoir captures the essence of the hilarious and preposterous situations that cross-cultural relationships can bring.
  • A School for Others: The History of the Belize High School for Agriculture by George LeBard.     George LeBard began his Peace Corps career thinking there wasn't much he had to offer and discovered that the return on his investment of himself -- warts and all -- changed his own life and that of many others...and still is to this day.  We get a firsthand glimpse of how a boy from Nevada transformed into a man while serving in Belize.  This book is laced with mystery, Mayan lore, love and a vision nurtured by sheer grit and determination.  LeBard's attention to detail, his gift of recognizing people's innate goodness, his self-effacing view of himself -- all of these are ingredients in this richly-painted portrait in pages.  His writing flows effortlessly from one scene to the next; we feel the dust of the small village road on our tongues, the heat of the jungle dampens our shirts and we end up with a fresh vision of the possibilities we're all presented with, but few tackle as expertly as George LeBard did.

COLOMBIA

  • A Guide to the Birds of Colombia   1986 by Steven L. Hilty  (Author), William L. Brown (Author), Guy Tudor (Illustrator)     Describing all of Colombia's birds, Steven Hilty and William Brown bring together information on one of the world's largest avifaunas-nearly 1,700 species. Over half of all the species of birds in South America are included, thus making the book useful in regions adjacent to Colombia, as well as in the country itself. The primary purpose of the work is to enable observers to identify the birds of the region, but it also provides detailed species accounts and will serve as an important handbook and reference volume. Fifty-six lavish color plates, thirteen halftone plates, and ninety-nine line drawings in the text illustrate over 85% of the species, including most of the resident birds. Notes on the facing-page of each place, and range maps of 1,475 species, facilitate identification.Maps depicting vegetation zones, political boundaries, national parks, and the most text localities are included.
  • Field Guide to the Birds of Colombia  August, 2014 by Miles McMullan and Thomas Donegan (Author), Dr. Paul Salaman (Foreword)     4500 color illustrations, over 3500 new illustrations; almost 2000 color range maps; new mammal identification section with 60 common species.
  • Cloud Forest, A Chronicle of the South American Wilderness,  1987  by Peter Matthiessen,  The author recounts with wit and insight a 20,000-mile journey through South America, including a marvelous wild goose chase in the Amazon, an obligatory visit to Machu Picchu and travels in Tierra del Fuego. A deceptively straightforward travelog, this book displays Matthiessen's sense of humor, great style and unbounded curiosity. 
  • A Neotropical Companion, 1999, by John Kricher  •  Mark Plotkin (Introduction)  A tropical primer aimed at the motivated general reader. It's a systematic overview of the ecology, habitats, animals, plants and ecosystems of Central and South America. For those not put off by Latin names and concepts like Batesian mimicry, this handbook is a great introduction to the region. 
  • Tropical Nature,   1984,  by Adrian Forsyth  and  Ken Miyata   A lively, lucid portrait of the tropics as seen by two uncommonly observant and thoughtful field biologists. Its 17 marvelous essays introduce the habitats, ecology, plants and animals of the Central and South American rainforest. With a lengthy appendix of practical advice for the tropical traveler.  
  • Anything by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, especially 100 Years of Solitude, about the Buendia family and the mythical town of Maconda, . the political struggles, civil war, love, lust, revolution, myths and corruption. An utterly amazing read.
  •                 Also, The General in his Labyrinth, an historical novel about Simon Bolivar and his final trip along the Magdalena River to Santa Marta. Although a novel, it is an historical account of the Liberator at his final moments.
  •                 Living to Tell the Tale is Garcia's memoir, covering his youth in Aracataca, the town where Maconda is based.
  • The Robber of Memories, A River Journey Through Colombia  2013  by Michael Jacobs  Inspired by a chance encounter with Gabriel Garcia Marquez in Cartagena, the adventurous Michael Jacobs travels to Baranquilla to journey 1,000 miles across western Colombia on the great Magdalena, the "river of our lives." He captures the conflicts, troubled past and spirit of isolated communities along the way. 

COSTA RICA

  • The History of Costa Rica by Ivan Molina and Steve Palmer
  • The Ticos: Culture and Social Change by Richard, Karen and Mavis Biesanz
  • Tropical Nature by Adrian Forsyth and Ken Miyata
  • Costa Rica National Parks by Mario Boza
  • The Field Guide to the Wildlife of Costa Rica by Carrol Henderson
  • The Birds of Costa Rica, A Field Guide by Richard Garrigues and Robert Dean
  • A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica by F. Gary Stiles, Alexander Skutch and illustrated by Dana Gardner

CUBA

  • Havana Nocturne   How the Mob owned Cuba ... and then Lost it to the Revolution  by TJ English​   HarperCollins, 2008.  Very well researched and written book about the early days of the mob in the USA and their efforts to turn Cuba into a money machine. Names like Meyer Lansky, Lucky Luciano and Bugsy Siegel and more, the empire they built, the glamour, the gambling, Hollywood, and money. Fascinating.  Many say that Havana is lost in time, and several of the beautiful hotels they built are still standing. This excess was undoubtedly a lead up to the Revolution, and the Castro brothers and Che Guevara are profiled in the book. 
  • Tropicana Nights by Rosa Lowinger and Ofelia Fox. Hardcourt, 2005.   The most glamorous night club in the Caribbean, maybe the world. Lowinger's parents used to party there with Fox and her husband, Martin Fox, the owner of the Tropicana. Pictures included of some of the stars that used to attend as well as perform there. The Tropicana still puts on a spectacular show every night of the year! 
  • Havana, Before Castro, When Cuba was a Tropical Playground by Peter Moruzzi. Gibbs Smith, 2008. Coffee table book filled with beautiful pictures of Havana, then and now, along with history. 
  • Cuba, What Everyone Needs to Know by Julia Sweig, Second Edition.  Sweig was director of Latin American Studies at the Council of Foreign Relations, so knows what she's talking about. Written as a brief and concise Q & A, she touches briefly on any number of topics. Very informative.
    Our Man in Havana, Graham Greene. Classic Greene, spy vs spy, written just before the revolution, about a vacuum cleaner salesman in Havana recruited by the British secret service. Also made into a movie which was filmed right after the revolution. Fidel even visited the set and made comments. Not so much informative, but hilarious.
    The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway. A short story of a fisherman who makes the big catch after 84 days of trying. An affectionate portrait of life in Cuba back then. Won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1953. 
    Field Guide to the Birds of Cuba, Orlando Garrido, Arturo Kirkconnell, Roman Company (illustrator), 2000. Compact field guide including 51 color plates, detailed species accounts and 144 maps. The two authors are curators at the National museum of Natural History of Cuba. Arturo Kirkconnell is our birding  guide. Arturo told me that he is in the process of updating the field guide, which will feature photos by his son, an excellent photographer. It is several years off, so this is the only field guide available now. 
    A Birdwatchers' Guide to Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola, Puerto Rico and the Caymans, Guy Kinwan, Arturo Kirkconnell, Mike Flieg, 2010.  More of a bird-finder's guide with detailed locations and maps and lists of birds. Not inclusive like the Field Guide. 

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC

  • In the Time of Butterflies by Julia Alvarez.     This beautiful novel, based on historical facts, tells the story of the Maribel sisters, who gave their lives in the struggle against a cruel dictator.  Also a very good depiction of life in the Dominican Republic in the 50s and 60s.
  • A Cafecito Story by Julia Alvarez.     A simple tale about sustainable growing and harvesting of coffee, the DR’s top crop.
  • The Feast of the Goat by Mario Vargas Llosa.      Well written history of the last days of the Trujillo dictatorship.  Somewhat picks up where Butterflies leaves off.
  • Birds of the Dominican Republic and Haiti, Latta,Steve et al. Princeton University Press. 2006      Very good field guide with nice artwork.  There are a few full page plates of some endemics.  Our guide in the DR, Kate Wallace, contributed to the book. (Maybe she’ll sign your copy!)
  • The Birds of the West Indies, by Herbert Raffaele.     Paper version fits the pocket better.
  • The Birds of Hispaniola BOU Checklist Series 2003 by Allan Keith.     Hard to find, but a fantastic resource.
  • History of the Dominican Republic by Frank & Moya Pons.  Markus Wiener Publishers 1998.     THE definitive history of the Island and the Dominican Republic from 1492 to 1990 by " the best-known contemporary Dominican historian.

ECUADOR

  • The Panama Hat Trail by Tom Miller.     While following the trail of Panama hats in Ecuador from their origins as coastal toquilla palms to the finished product as straw hats in the Sierra.  Miller is adept not only at describing the geography of Ecuador and the history of the hat, but also at observing of the quirks of Ecuadorian culture.  The hats got their name from Panama Canal workers and Teddy Roosevelt brought it to world's attention.
  • Savages by Joe Kane.     The politics of petroleum have had a profound effect on Ecuador, its people, its government, its trade.  One of the tribes most dramatically affected by oil production in Ecuador is the traditional Huaorani – like the oil, based in the Oriente, or Amazonian jungle.  Kane spent time with the Huaorani investigating the impact of oil production on their community.  Savages has been criticized for its clear bias in favor of the Huaorani, but it is a fascinating account of what can happen in populations affected by the quest for oil.  Just remember to keep a grain of salt at hand while you read.
  • Tropical Nature by Adrian Forsyth & Ken Miyata.      A lively, lucid portrait of the tropics as seen by two uncommonly observant and thoughtful field biologists. Its 17 marvelous essays introduce the habitats, ecology, plants and animals of the Central and South American rainforest.  With a lengthy appendix of practical advice for the tropical traveler.
  • The Mapmaker's Wife by Robert Whitaker.      Colonial politics, the travails of the cartographer, and good old-fashioned murder all add intrigue to this absorbing tale of 18th-century European exploration of the Amazon -- and one woman's quest heading from Quito to find her husband deep in the jungle. (One of my all-time favorite books.)
  • Birds of Ecuador, A Field Guide by Paul Greenfield & Robert Ridgely.      A comprehensive, gorgeous and exhaustively researched field guide to the birds of Ecuador (and adjacent countries), featuring 96 color plates.  It's also the best bird guide for travelers in the Peruvian Amazon.
  • Neotropical Rainforest Mammals, A Field Guide by L.H. Emmons.      Compact enough to slip into your daypack, this field guide to the mammals of the New World tropics features 29 color plates of more than 200 species.
  • Ecuador in Focus, A Guide to the People, Politics, and Culture by Wilma Roos & Omer van Renterghem.      This slim guide provides a lively overview of Ecuador's history, cultural heritage and political, environmental and economic challenges.

GUATEMALA

With a violent history, much written about Guatemala can be hard to read. Here is a selection of books with ancient history, present day government, early travel writing, and stories by indigenous people.

  • I, Rigoberta Menchu: An Indian Woman In Guatemala by Rigoberta Menchu, translated by Anne Write. Verso, 1983.    This is the autobiography of Rigoberta Menchu, winner of the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize.  She is a Quiche-Mayan woman who grew up in a community in the Guatemalan Highlands.  Her book recounts her childhood growing up in poverty and her work at home and on the coffee fincas.  She lived through the civil war, worked to educate herself and fought for the rights of her community and the indigenous people in Guatemala.
  • Bitter Fruit: The Story of the American Coup in Guatemala by Stephen Schlesinger & Stephen Kinzer.      Bitter Fruit is a comprehensive and insightful account of the CIA operation to overthrow the democratically elected government of Jacobo Arbenz of Guatemala in 1954.  First published in 1982, this book has become a classic, a textbook case of the relationship between the United States and the Third World.  The authors make extensive use of U.S. government documents and interviews with former CIA and other officials.  It is a warning of what happens when the United States abuses its power.
  • Men of Maize by Miguel Angel Asturias. London and New York: Verso, 1988.     The Guatemalan literature Nobel Prize winner writes about the mixture of life and mythology among the Maya of Guatemala.
  • Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan by John Lloyd Stephens,illustrated by Frederick Catherwood. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1993, c1843. This is a beautiful photo- and drawing-filled, superbly edited edition of the classic travel book by America's first major travel writer. Stephens discovered many Mayan ruins, including Copán, which he bought for $50.
  • Antigua Guatemala: The City and Its Heritage by Elizabeth Bell.     An in-depth description of the city of Antigua including its history, 33 monuments and historical sites, museums, houses, fiestas and holidays.  It also covers the physical environment and historical figures, and provides a record of earthquakes and Fuego Volcano Eruptions and has an extensive bibliography.  If you spend any time in Antigua, chances are you'll meet Elizabeth.
  • Beyond The Mexique Bay by Aldous Huxley.     Classical account of cruise through Central America in the 1920's.  Beautiful photographic plates.  Insight into the Victorian/Post Victorian American era and the modernization/collapse of Colonial Britian.  Out of print, but you may find in the library.  Interesting to compare travel then with now.
  • The Guatemala Reader: History, Culture, Politics edited by Greg Grandin, Deborah Levenson, Elizabeth Oglesby.  Duke University Press, 2011     This reader brings together more than 200 texts and images in a broad introduction to Guatemala’s history, culture, and politics.  Many pieces were originally published in Spanish, and most of those appear in English for the first time.
  • The Heart of the Sky by Peter Canby.     New Yorker editor Peter Canby spent two years studying Mayan culture, both past and present, to provide this vivid portrait of these enigmatic people, their life style and beliefs.  A fascinating glimpse into a world long forgotten by outsiders.
  • Guatemalan Journey by Stephen Connely Benz. 1996 University of Texas Press      Benz casts an honest and funny modern traveler’s eye on the country.
  • Sacred Monkey River by Christopher Shaw.     Shaw explores by canoe the jungle-clad basin of the Río Usumacinta, a cradle of ancient Maya civilization along the Mexico Guatemala border.

HONDURAS

  • Bananas!: How The United Fruit Company Shaped the World by Peter Chapman.     How the importer United Fruit set the precedent for the institutionalized power and influence of today's multinational companies, this is a sharp and lively account of the rise and fall of this infamous company, arguably the most controversial global corporation ever – their reach is seen throughout the world for over 100 years, including such international incidents as the Bay of Pigs crisis, invasion of Honduras and a bloody coup in Guatemala.  United Fruit wreaked havoc in the “banana republics” of Central America.  How terrifyingly similar the age of United Fruit is to our age of rapid globalization.
  • Popol Vuh by Anonymous, Dennis Tedlock (Translator)      Popol Vuh, the Quiché Mayan book of creation, is not only the most important text in the native languages of the Americas, it is also an extraordinary document of the human imagination.  It begins with the deeds of Mayan gods in the darkness of a primeval sea and ends with the radiant splendor of the Mayan lords who founded the Quiché kingdom in the Guatemalan highlands.  Originally written in Mayan hieroglyphs, it was transcribed into the Roman alphabet in the sixteenth century.
  • The Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux.     In a breathtaking adventure story, the paranoid and brilliant inventor Allie Fox takes his family to live in the Honduran jungle, determined to build a civilization better than the one they've left.  Fleeing from an America he sees as mired in materialism and conformity, he hopes to rediscover a purer life. But his utopian experiment takes a dark turn when his obsessions lead the family toward unimaginable danger.
  • A Walk in My Shoes: Our Lives of Hope: An Oral History of the Artists of the "Made in Honduras Craft Co-Op," Trujillo, Honduras by Diane Karper.      A collection of musings from interviews Karper conducted with the people of rural Honduras, sharing their stories through a stage that they would have never before shared with others.
  • Changing Forests: Collective Action, Common Property, and Coffee in Honduras by Catherine M. Tucker.     Drawing on ethnographic and archival research, this book explores how the indigenous Lenca community of La Campa,Honduras, has conserved and transformed their communal forests through the experiences of colonialism, opposition to state-controlled logging, and the recent adoption of export-oriented coffee production.  The book merges political ecology, collective-action theories, and institutional analysis to study how the people and forests have changed through various transitions.
  • A Field Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America by Steve N.G. Howell and Sophie Webb.     Currently the only field guide for the area.  We hear of new books to come out in the near future but for now it's Howell and Webb.  This is a large book, really to big to carry in the field, or even in a suitcase.
  • A Field Guide to the Mammals of Central America and Southeast Mexico by Fiona Reed
  • A Swift Guide to the Butterflies of Mexico and Central America by Jeffrey Glassberg
  • A Field Guide to the Amphibians and Reptiles of the Maya World by Julian G. Lee City
  • States of the Maya: Art and Architecture edited by Elizabeth Benson.     Features color architectural drawings of El Mirador, a map of El Mirador, and color photographs of Copan, out of print, but can be found on-line.
  • Maya Sculpture of Copan: The Iconography by Claude-Francois Baudez.    Among the great artistic achievements of pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, none exceeds the sculpture of the Maya city of Copan.  Baudez's massive, methodical catalog scrupulously enunciates the monuments' figurative quality, garniture of costume and attributes, ambient symbolic motifs, and structural context.
  • Scribes, Warriors, and Kings: The City of Copan and the Ancient Maya, Revised Edition by William L. Fash, illustrated by Barbara W. Fash.     For this revised edition, Professor Fash shows how recent discoveries in the Acropolis, urban wards, and rural redoubts of the Copán kingdom reveal fascinating insights into the life and times of royalty, nobles, and commoners in this distinguished Maya city.
  • Ancient Maya: The Rise and Fall of a Rainforest Civilization (Case Studies in Early Societies) by Arthur Demarest.     Brings the lost civilization of Maya to life by applying a holistic view to the most recently discovered archeological evidence.  His theoretical interpretation simultaneously emphasizes the brilliant rain forest adaptations of the ancient Maya and the Native American spirituality that permeated all aspects of their daily life.  Drawing on data from the latest significant archeological research in Central America, this new study appeals to those interested in the ecological bases of civilization, the function of the state and the causes of the collapse of civilizations.

KENYA

  • The Birds of East Africa: Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi by Terry Stevenson & John Fanshawe.  Princeton University Press (January 30, 2002)
  • The Safari Companion: A Guide to Watching African Mammals by Richard D. Estes.  Chelsea Green; Rev Exp edition (December 1, 1999)
  • Wildlife of East Africa by Martin B. Withers & David Hosking.  Princeton University Press; 1 edition (July 22, 2002)
  • The Flame Trees of Thika: Memories of an African Childhood by Elspeth Huxley.  Penguin Classics (February 1, 2000)
  • West with the Night by Beryl Markham.  North Point Press; Later Printing edition (January 1, 1982)
  • Out of Africa and Shadows on the Grass by Isak Dinesen.  Vintage (October 23, 1989)
  • Don't Look Behind You!: A Safari Guide's Encounters with Ravenous Lions, Stampeding Elephants, and Lovesick Rhinos by Peter Allison.  Lyons Press (September 1, 2009)
  • The Tree Where Man Was Born by Peter Matthiessen.  Penguin Classics; Revised edition (August 31, 2010)
  • Bill Bryson's African Diary by Bill Bryson.  Broadway; 1 edition (December 3, 2002)
  • Kenya - Culture Smart!: The Essential Guide to Customs & Culture by Jane Barsby Kuperard; Reprinted edition edition (October 23, 2007)
  • Kenya: Between Hope and Despair, 1963-2011 by Dr. Daniel Branch.  Yale University Press (November 15, 2011)
  • I Laugh So I Won't Cry: Kenya's Women Tell The Story Of Their Lives by Helena Halperin.  Africa World Press (March 1, 2005)
  • Rough Guide Swahili Phrasebook Rough Guides, Rough Guides Upd Blg edition (February 20, 2012)
  • THE LUNATIC EXPRESS - An Entertainment in Imperialism by Charles Miller. Ballantine Books (1973)
  • The Scramble for Africa (3rd Edition) (Seminar Studies in History Series) by M.E. ChamberlainLongman; 3 edition (July 29, 2010)
  • Among the Elephants by Iain Douglas-Hamilton & Oria Douglas-Hamilton.  Penguin (Non-Classics) (May 1, 1978)
  • Collins Guide to the Wild Flowers of East Africa by Michael Blundell.  Harpercollins Pub Ltd (February 1999)
  • The Serengeti Lion: A Study of Predator-Prey Relations (Wildlife Behavior and Ecology series) by George B.Schaller.  University Of Chicago Press (March 15, 1976)
  • Portraits in the Wild: Animal Behavior in East Africa by Cynthia Moss.  Univ of Chicago Pr (T); 2 edition (August 1982)
  • Peoples of Kenya by Joy Adamson.  Harcourt (March 1975)
  • Facing Mount Kenya by Jomo Kenyatta. Vintage Books edition (February 12, 1962)
  • Vanishing Africa by Gianni Giansanti. White Star Publishers;Har/DVD edition (September 7, 2010)
  • You Will See Fire: A Search for Justice in Kenya by Christopher Goffard.  W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (December 5, 2011)

MEXICO - YUCATAN

  • The Ancient Kingdoms of Mexico by Nigel Davies. New York: Penguin Books.     An excellent study of the preconquest of the indigenous peoples of Mexico.
  • Fire and Blood: A History of Mexico by T.R. Fehrenbach.New York: Collier Books, 1973.     Over 3,000 years of Mexican history, related in a way that will keep you reading.
  • The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene.New York: Penguin Books, 1977.     A novel that takes place in the 1920's about a priest and the anti-church movement that gripped the country.  I love anything he writes.
  • Maya: Divine Kings of the Rain Forest. Könemann, 2006.      A beautifully compiled book of essays, photographs, and sketches relating to the Maya, past and present.  Too heavy to take on the road but an excellent read.
  • A Tourist in the Yucatan by James McNay Brumfield. Tres Picos Press, 2004.     A thriller that takes place in the Yucatán Peninsula; good for the beach or a long bus ride.
  • Popul Vuh: The Great Mythological Book of the Ancient Maya by Ralph Nelson.Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974.     An easy-to-read translation of myths handed down orally by the Quiche Maya, family to family, until written down after the Spanish conquest.
  • The Mayas Mexico: Panama Editorial S.A. by Demetrio M. Sodi (in collaboration with Adela Fernández).     This small pocketbook presents a fictionalized account of life among the Mayas before the conquest.  Easy reading for anyone who enjoys fantasizing about what life might have been like before recorded history in the Yucatán.
  • Five Letters by Hernán Cortés. Gordon Press, 1977.     Cortés’ letters to the king of Spain, telling of his accomplishments and justifying his actions in the New World.
  • Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatán by John Stephens.2 vols. New York: Dover Publications, 1969.     Good companions to refer to when traveling in the area.  Stephens and illustrator Frederick Catherwood rediscovered many of the Maya ruins on their treks that took place in the mid-1800s.  Easy reading.  Was this the first travel guide to Yucatan?  Just imagine what it looked like back then!
  • The Art of Mexican Cooking by Diana Kennedy. Clarkson Potter; 2 edition (April 8, 2008)     This indispensable cookbook, an instant classic when first published in 1989, is now back in print with a brand-new introduction from the most celebrated authority on Mexican cooking, Diana Kennedy.  The culmination of more than fifty years of living, traveling, and cooking in Mexico.  The Art of Mexican Cooking is the ultimate guide to creating authentic Mexican food in your own kitchen, with more than 200 beloved recipes as well as evocative illustrations.
  • Triumphs and Tragedy: A History of the Mexican People by Ramón Eduardo Ruíz.    A narrative study of Mexico's tumultuous origin and development--from its Olmec, Aztec and Mayan heritage to its present-day incarnation as an independent, but struggling, modern country.
  • A Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America by Steve N.G. Howell. Oxford University Press, USA (April 27, 1995)
  • Aztec by Gary Jennings. Forge Books; First Edition edition (March 20, 2007)     This historical fiction describes the rise and fall of the Aztec empire from the point of view of an aging indigenous scribe.
  • The Buen Provecho Book by Patricia Juana Merrill Marquez. First edition (June 11, 2010)      A fun and unique Mexican Cookbook that explores the exceptional significance Mexican food and cooking has on Mexico and its people, its traditions and its history.  This book is not only about recipes, it is also about the psyche of the Mexicans, and about understanding that essential nature through their food and their cooking.
  • Seasons of My Heart: A Culinary Journey Through Oaxaca, Mexico by Susana Trilling.Ballantine Books; 1 edition (November 9, 1999)

PANAMA

  • A Guide to the Birds of Panama (2nd edition) by Robert Ridgely and John Gwynne. Princeton University Press, 1992      We suggest you also get a copy of the Annotated Checklist, below.
  • A Neotropical Companion by John C. Kricher. Princeton University Press, 1999
  • A Path between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal by David McCullough. Simon and Schuster, 1999.     The bible on the canal.  Filled with history and facts as well as photos.
  • God’s Favorite by Lawrence Wright.     Fiction based on historical facts, this novel about the end of the dictatorship of Panamanian strongman General Manuel Noriega tells a lot about his country and the US.  Sometimes it’s amazing to think they recovered from such difficult times.  In 2007, Wright won a Pulitzer for his latest book, The Looming Tower.
  • A People Who Would Not Kneel by James Howe, 1998, Smithsonian History of the Kuna people of San Blas Islands of Panama.      Like so many other indigenous groups around the world, the Kuna were threatened with having their territory diminished and being relegated to poverty.  The Kuna, however, set their own terms.  Anthropologist Howe tells their fascinating story.
  • Fenwick Travers and the Panama Canal by Raymond M. Saunders.     Very light historical fiction of the building of the Canal, the revolution for independence from Colombia, and the involvement of the US government in both!  Saunders has created a series of books whereby Travers instigates great occurrences around the world.  A fun way to learn a history lesson.
  • Getting to Know the General by Graham Greene.     Interesting biography of General Torrijos, who ruled Panama before Noriega.  Martin Torrijos, son of the General, just completed a term as president in 2009.
  • Annotated Checklist of the Birds of Panama     This is an excellent companion to the field guide and is current. (Available through from JB Journeys and sales benefit Panama Audubon.)

SOUTH AFRICA

  • Twentieth-Century South Africa by William Beinart.  Oxford University Press, 1994      A succinct and authoritative account by a recognized scholar.
  • Good-bye Dolly Gray by Rayne Kruger.  Pan Books 1974     A lively and clear account of the Anglo-Boer war. (1899-1902)
  • Black Politics in South Africa Since 1945 by Tom Lodge.  Longman,1983  A Comprehensive history up to the early years following the Soweto school insurrection of June 1976.
  • Volkskapitalisme - Class, Capital and Ideology in the Development of Afrikaner Nationalism 1934-48 by Dan O'Meara.  Ravan Press, 1983.     Sophisticated Marxist concepts verses economic strength within the Afrikaner community.
  • The Political Mythology of Apartheid by Leonard Thompson. Yale University Press,1985     The ideology underlying Afrikaner nationalism. 
  • Sol Plaatje, South African Nationalist,1876-1932 by Brian Willan. Heinemann 1984.     An early account of black African nationalist development.
  • The Making of Modern South Africa by Nigel Worden.  Blackwell, 1994
  • A Land Apart, A South African Reader by Andre Brink & J.M. Coetzee.   Faber, 1986
  • The Return Of The Amanzi Bird, Black South African Poetry 1891-1981 by Tim Couzens, Patel, Essop.  Raven Press, 1982.     A key anthology of black South African poetry.
  • Penguin Dictionary of South African Quotations by Jennifer Crwys-Williams. Penguin Books 1994
  • Jock of the Bushveld by Sir Percy Fitspatrick.  Longmans, Green and Co. 1907.     A gripping account of early life in the lowveld. 
  • The Essential Gesture by Nadine Gordimer.  Jonathan Cape,1988.     A collection of her lesser-known political writing - her novels won her the Nobel Literature prize. 
  • Zulu Proverbs by CLS Myembezi. Witwatersrand University Press, 1954
  • Cry, The Beloved Country by Alan Paton.  Jonathan Cape, 1948     A critical moral indictment of apartheid.
  •  I Write What I Like by Steve Biko.  Heinemann, London, 1978.     A selection of writings.
  • One Hundred and Seventeen Days by Ruth First. Penguin, 1965     An autobiographical account of the prison detention of a journalist and political activist.
  • Move Your Shadow by Joseph Lelyveld.  Michael Joseph, 1986     1980s South African correspondent of The New York Times newspaper. 
  • Long Walk To Freedom by Nelson Mandela. Little, Brown and Company, 1994.    Mandela's autobiography.
  • South Africa by Anthony Trollope. London, 1877.     Travels in South Africa during the discovery of diamonds.
  • The Safari Companion by Richard D. Estes. Russel Friedmann Books, 1993      An excellent behavioral guide to watching African mammals.
  • South African Wine by Hughes, Hands, Kench et al. Struik,1992
  • Complete Guide to Walks and Trails in South Africa by Jaynee Levy. Struik, 1993
  • Newman's Birds of Southern Africa by Kenneth Newman. Southern Book Publishers, 1996
  • Field Guide to Mammals of Southern Africa by C & T Stuart.  Struik Publishers, 1992
  • Birds of Africa South of the Sahara: Second Edition by Ian Sinclair & Peter Ryan. Random House Struik; 2 edition July 18, 2011

TRINIDAD and TOBAGO

  • A Guide to the Birds of Trinidad and Tobago, Second Edition by Richard French, Illustrated by John P. O’Neill & Don R. Eckelberry. Cornell University Press, 1991.     Members of nearly all the families of South American birds can be found in these two beautiful West Indian islands, where the climate is pleasant and the habitats varied. This easy-to-use book is a comprehensive yet compact field guide to more than 430 species.  Individual species accounts, arranged by family, cover habitat, status, range, subspecies, field description, voice, food, nesting, and behavior.  They are illustrated by color plates and drawings—the work of two of the foremost artists in Neotropical ornithology.  First published in 1973, this second edition has been brought up to date, with some redrawn and additional illustrations.
  • Field Guide to the Birds of Trinidad & Tobago by Martyn Kenefick, Robin Restall & Floyd Hayes. Yale University Press, 2008.     Trinidad and Tobago, tropical islands on the continental shelf of northeastern South America, enjoy a rich diversity of bird species, including visitors from the nearby mainland and others traveling the migratory flyway from North America.  This compact, portable field guide is designed to provide birders and ornithologists with all the up-to-date information they need to identify birds in the field.  The book features color illustrations and descriptions of almost 470 different species—every species known to occur naturally in Trinidad or Tobago as well as those successfully introduced there.
  • History of the People of Trinidad and Tobago by Dr. Eric Williams.    Dr. Eric Williams was Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago from 1961 until his death in 1981.  He built his reputation as a historian as Professor of Political and Social Science at Howard University, before turning to active politics, founding the People's National Movement (PNM) and leading Trinidad and Tobago to independence in 1962.
  • The Steelband Movement: The Forging of a National Art in Trinidad and Tobago by Stephen Stuempfle.     The Steelband Movement examines the dramatic transformation of pan from a Carnival street music into a national art and symbol in Trinidad and Tobago.  By focusing on pan as a cultural process, Stephen Stuempfle demonstrates how the struggles and achievements of the steelband movement parallel the problems and successes of building a nation.
  • Bacchanal: The Carnival Culture of Trinidad by Peter Mason.     On the days preceding Ash Wednesday, Trinidad erupts in an orgy of excitement, noise, color, and energy known as carnival.  Other countries celebrate carnival, but none quite like Trinidad, where carnival is not just a two-day event; it is an all-year-round statement of identity.  Up to 100,000 Trinidadians, or almost 10 percent of the population, actively take part in carnival.  Everyone talks and argues about it, some boycott it, but no one ignores it.