The Maya is a general information book about, of course, the Maya, written by mayanist Michael D. Coe. The book was originally published in 1966, and is now in its seventh edition. Alas, my library is not that modern, so the most current copy I could find was the fifth edition, from 1993. That means that from the start my knowledge of the Maya is 16 years out of date. Oh well.
I suspect this book is used as a textbook in classes that cover the Maya, but I found it a surprisingly easy and quick read (I finished the book in about a day). I liked the very opinionated writing style of the author – so rare now on serious scientists -, but I was frustrated about, all in all, how little information the book conferred. I come to the subject knowing almost nothing about the Maya, but with a degree in Ancient and Near Eastern History and Archaeology – which in reality meant Egyptian archaeology: I know next to nothing about other Near Eastern cultures, though once upon a time I could read Sumerian cuneiform legal texts with some ease. But while I’ve forgotten a lot about the ancient Egyptians, the book gave me the impression that I probably know more about them that Professor Coe, and probably all mayanists, know about their subject. It is understandable, Maya hieroglyphs have been decoded only in the last few decades and the texts that have survived are not only limited but they deal with limited subjects. On the other hand, trough their three thousand year history, the ancient Egyptians wrote about pretty much everything under the sun – I’m sure there are some ostraca grocery lists in some museum somewhere. But my point is that reading a book that conveys so little knowledge is quite frustrating.
I am sure that there are areas in which “our” knowledge of the Maya is quite extensive – their religion, for example. Unfortunately the book concentrated most in the possible/probable (but not certain) history of the Maya, and gave relatively little information about their culture. Perhaps the newer editions are better. I have a book on the daily life of the Maya that I’m going to read next (it’s probably just as old, if not older), perhaps it will give me a better picture of what their society was like.
And if not, there is always