First-rate color photography makes this look at the cultures of pre-Columbian Mesoamerica a valuable addition to any art lover's library collection. Among the civilizations represented in nearly 450 illustrations are the Maya, the Aztecs, and the Toltecs. Readers will learn not only about the mighty pyramids of Tenochtitlan and Cacaxtla, the Temple of the Paintings at Bonampak, and the ball courts of El Tajin, but about smaller ceramic vessels, jade figurines, and other ceremonial objects. Although the text does acknowledge the near-complete destruction of these vibrant cultures by Spanish conquistadors, the majority of its contents are devoted to celebrating what the Mesoamericans did accomplish--and what has been preserved for us to remember those accomplishments.
It is all but impossible to discuss ancient cultures without focusing on religion, and ancient Mexico is no exception. Nearly every extant structure and artifact created by the Maya, Aztecs, Olmecs, and other peoples of the pre-Columbian era--works of surpassing and timeless magnificence--have some spiritual, religious, or ritualistic significance, and the role of religion in every aspect of life is historian and archaeologist Longhena's underlying theme. Myriad books have been produced about Mexico's glorious past, but new discoveries are being made each day, and no volume has color photographs superior to the 445 offered here in this scientifically current, generously proportioned, and finely produced treasury. Longhena conveys the complexities and sophistications of each era and each people in engaging and detailed accounts, reflections of how deeply immersed she is in the spirit of their times via the powerful media of sculpture and architecture. Maps, diagrams, and close-up photographs provide perspectives both panoramic and intimate, a visualization of the way Longhena's histories of individual cultures coalesce into the big picture. Donna Seaman