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April 11, 2012 4:03 AM   Subscribe

For various reasons, I've become interested in Mexican history. Can you recommend good books that cover the pre-Colonial and Colonial eras (or any other interesting period)? I want something that's reasonably entertaining, if it exists. Interesting histories of Brazil would be cool too. Thanks!
posted by chaiminda to Education (13 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Conquistador, by Buddy Levy was a book I enjoyed earlier this year, coming - like you - from a background where I knew very little (and the little I did know was almost wholly concerned with this period - nonetheless, I learnt a lot). Levy really tells it like a narrative and puts things in a solid historical context (for this novice anyway). I thought he really broke Cortes and Montezuma out of their historical straitjackets; I came away with a much richer appreciation and understanding of both men.
posted by smoke at 4:09 AM on April 11, 2012

I highly recommend, The Conquest of New Spain by Bernal Diaz.
Diaz was a soldier in Cortes' Army. Since it was written in 1520, it is a little thick -
but nothing beats a primary source.

Even if you just dip into this book here and there, reading small pieces,
this is a famous and essential primary source about a key moment in Mexican history.
posted by Flood at 4:29 AM on April 11, 2012

Very readable: Heroic Mexico by William Weber Johnson.
posted by steinsaltz at 4:35 AM on April 11, 2012

1491 and 1493 by Charles Mann cover the whole of "The Americas" not just Mexico - but they are the best books on the area that I have read, highly recommended. They delve much deeper than just the surface history. Here is a review/excerpt.
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 4:44 AM on April 11, 2012

I enjoyed Mexico: Biography of Power. It seems well reviewed, but I don't know its scholarly reputation. It 'starts' in 1810. My recollection is that it kind of drags in the second half of the 20thC. I also think I enjoyed Alan Knight's trillogy, but to be honest I read a bunch of related books in a row and don't clearly remember which is which. My understanding is that Michael Meyer's The Course of Mexican History is a standard and good introduction text.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 5:42 AM on April 11, 2012

I have found the "A Traveller's History of ____" series to be GREAT! They do a really good job of making the history of a particular place both accessible and interesting. I've not read "A Traveller's History of Mexico," but have several others in the series and they are all excellent.
posted by richmondparker at 7:13 AM on April 11, 2012

Came in here to suggest Diaz's Conquest of New Spain, but I see it's already covered, so I'll just have to 2nd that recommendation.

I found it quite easy reading actually- because Diaz actually participated in the events he recounts, it's much more interesting than most after-the-fact secondary source analyses by modern historians.
posted by EKStickland at 7:35 AM on April 11, 2012

Seconding The Course of Mexican History. It will give you an excellent overview that you can supplement with more colorful reading.
posted by chrchr at 7:46 AM on April 11, 2012

by no means the final word, but you might want to sample the full spectrum of voices
Open Veins of Latin America: 5 Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent by Eduardo Galeano
posted by stavx at 7:47 AM on April 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

I enjoyed The Buried Mirror by Carlos Fuentes quite a lot when I read it in college. For more modern stuff, Sam Quinones' "True Tales of Another Mexico" is fabulous (that's more modern journalism) as is anything by Alma Guillermoprieto (sp?).

Mexican/Latin American history is FASCINATING. I have many more recommendations should you be interested--feel free to memail me.
posted by supercoollady at 9:54 AM on April 11, 2012

Latino: USA should fit into the "reasonably entertaining" category,
posted by Rash at 11:51 AM on April 11, 2012

Brazil? Try An Invincible Memory, by our beloved João Ubaldo. It's a fun and ironic "anti-history" of Brazil — "Whaling, war, macumba, slavery, murder, cannibalism and Brazil's struggle for independence" and was translated to English by the author himself.
posted by Tom-B at 10:33 PM on April 11, 2012

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