Mexico Travel Guide › Books About Mexico
Updated: September 15, 2020
Best Books set in Mexico
The Lawless Roads & The Power and the Glory – Graham Greene
Greene wrote two excellent books on Mexico after being sent there in the 1930s to investigate the effects of Plutarco Elías Calles’ crackdown on religion. The Lawless Road is his intriguing non-fiction account of his travels, while The Power and the Glory is the tale of a fictional priest, desperately trying to escape the government authorities.
Under the Volcano – Malcolm Lowry
Lowry’s classic describes the last day in the life of the British consul in Cuernavaca, spent mostly in an alcohol and mescal-induced haze. See also Lowry’s Dark as the Grave Wherein My Friend Is Laid.
Log from the Sea of Cortez – John Steinbeck
Fascinating account of Steinbeck’s sailing trip around Baja California in 1940, though it’s only part travelogue; Steinbeck’s main aim was to chart the incredible biodiversity in the Sea of Cortez.
Best Mexican Fiction
The Underdogs – Mariano Azuela
“The Novel of the Mexican Revolution” from a writer who served under Pancho Villa. The Underdogs follows a group of peasants, led by outlaw Demetrio Macías, as they are pulled into the conflict.
The Miracle Worker – Carmen Boullosa
An exploration of Catholicism, corruption, and poverty in Mexico by one of the country’s best contemporary writers – it’s a sort of magical realist allegory about the Mexican political system.
Like Water for Chocolate – Laura Esquivel
The film was a huge hit, but Esquivel’s original novel is still a great read – the romantic tale of Tita, whose lover marries her sister, and who decides to use her cooking skills to win him back. Each episode is prefaced with a classic Mexican recipe.
The Death of Artemio Cruz and The Old Gringo – Carlos Fuentes
Mexico’s best-known writer produced many highly-acclaimed novels but these are two of the best. In the haunting Death of Artemio Cruz, the corrupt hero reviews his life from his deathbed, while the Old Gringo is a fictional imagining of American writer Ambrose Bierce’s last days, as part of Pancho Villa’s army.
Signs Preceding the End of the World – Yuri Herrera
A very contemporary tale of Mexican migrants crossing the US-Mexican border from the popular US-based writer. The story focuses on Makina, a young woman who is smuggled into the USA to search for her brother but who is also carrying a package from a Mexican drug lord – the book is loaded with mythological imagery, from Ancient Greece to Mesoamerica.
Pedro Páramo – Juan Rulfo
A precursor of magical realism, Rulfo’s novel follows the journey of Juan Preciado to his mother’s home village, now a literal ghost town inhabited by spirits, thanks to the actions of Juan’s malevolent father, Pedro Páramo.
Down the Rabbit Hole – Juan Pablo Villalobos
This hilarious first novel from Villalobos concerns the life of Tochtli, the son of a Mexican drug lord, growing up in a luxurious hideout inhabited by gangsters, prostitutes, drug dealers, and corrupt politicians. See also Quesadillas and I’ll Sell You a Dog.
Best Books about Mexican History & Culture
A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies – Bartolome de Las Casas
Dominican priest Las Casas wrote his account of the Spanish Conquista of the Americas after being horrified at the atrocities suffered by the indigenous peoples, as well as the devastation caused by disease.
Manana Forever? Mexico and the Mexicans – Jorge G. Castañeda
This former foreign minister writes perceptively about modern Mexican culture in a series of essays that cover everything from the poor performance of Mexico’s soccer team to Mexico’s troubled and complex relationship with the US.
The Conquest of New Spain – Bernal Díaz
Díaz accompanied Cortés on his conquest of Mexico and this remains the classic eyewitness account (usually available in a readable, abridged form).
The Mexican Revolution – Adolfo Gilly
Though it was published in the 1970s, this book remains the classic account of Mexico’s Revolution (1910–1920), covering Villa, Zapata and all the main political and military participants.
A Concise History of Mexico – Brian R. Hamnett
Part of the Cambridge Concise Histories series, this is the best (and most affordable) short history of Mexico from the pre-Columbian era to the present day.
Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo – Hayden Herrera
Definitive biography of the celebrated Mexican artist, beginning with her childhood in Mexico City and covering her stormy marriage to Diego Rivera. The book includes numerous color reproductions of her artwork.
Mexico: Biography of Power – Enrique Krauze
Easy-to-read but comprehensive history of Mexico from 1910 to 1996, and an excellent introduction to Mexico’s complicated recent past.
Conquest: Montezuma, Cortés, and the Fall of Old Mexico – Hugh Thomas
Fabulous and readable history of the Spanish Conquest by the British historian, much of it based on archive material only unearthed in the 1980s and 1990s.
The Labyrinth of Solitude – Octavio Paz
The most famous book from Mexico’s Nobel Prize winner in literature. These philosophical essays explore Mexican history, culture and the social and political identity of modern Mexico.
Best books on Mesoamerican civilization
Aztecs: An Interpretation – Inga Clendinnen
Fascinating social history of the Aztecs that sheds light on the meaning of human sacrifice and other rituals.
The Maya – Michael D. Coe & Stephen D. Houston
The best general introduction to the Maya civilization, regularly updated to include the latest scholarship. The late Michael Coe was one of the world’s foremost authorities on the Maya, and was Professor of Anthropology at Yale.
The Ancient Kingdoms of Mexico – Nigel Davies
The best overview of most of the major Mesoamerican civilizations from 1500 BC to the Spanish Conquest: the Olmecs through Teotihuacán and the Toltecs to the Aztecs, though it doesn’t cover the Maya.
A Forest of Kings: The Untold Story of the Ancient Maya – Linda Schele, David Freidel
A history of the Maya kings from two foremost scholars of Maya glyphs, from the earliest pyramid builders to the coming of the Spanish.
The Quiché Maya book of creation makes for fascinating reading, with two main translations recommended: Dennis Tedlock’s classic version is the most readable, while Allen J Christenson’s approach is more faithful to the original language.
This Tree Grows Out of Hell – Ptolemy Tompkins
Tompkins’s enthusiastic attempt to understand Mesoamerican religion, and in particular the gruesome rituals and culture of the Aztecs.
Best Books on Spanish Language
Easy Spanish Step-by-Step – Barbara Bregstein
Easy introduction to the essential structures of Spanish grammar – it’s an interesting approach that really works, allowing you to communicate almost immediately.
Easy Spanish Phrase Book: Over 1500 Common Phrases For Everyday Use And Travel (Lingo Mastery)
Handy guide that provides a shortcut to speaking everyday Spanish without having to study all the rules and tenses. The focus is on pronunciation and on learning the keywords and phrases you’ll need to actually get around and hold simple conversations.
Mexislang – Raúl Jiménez
Mexican Spanish has its own nuances, accents, and inevitably, slang words. This fun book by a Mexican Spanish teacher (based on his blog, mexislang.com) not only explains the history and use of Mexican slang, but also offers insights on Mexico’s culture and people.
Lonely Planet Mexican Spanish Phrasebook & Dictionary
Solid introduction to the Spanish spoken in Mexico by the global guidebook publisher, including every phrase you are ever likely to need traveling in the country (the food and dining section is especially useful).
Best Books about Mexico for Kids
Off We Go to Mexico – Laurie Krebs and Christopher Corr
Great introduction for younger kids, with colorful artwork enhanced for easy to read sections on Mexican culture, history, and Spanish words and phrases.
Let’s Learn About MEXICO: Activity and Coloring Book – Yuko Green
A good way for kids (ages 6 to 10) to pass the time on the plane and learn about Mexican geography, language, food, arts, sports, and festivals at the same time.
DK Eyewitness Books: Aztec, Inca & Maya
Loaded with photos, illustrations, and maps, this is an excellent overview to get kids interested in Mesoamerican culture and civilization.
Mexico: Travel for kids – Belinda Briggs
The history, geography, flags and symbols, wildlife, and culture of Mexico are introduced by fictional 12 year-old Gabriella, enhanced with beautiful pictures, photos, and a host of fun activities.