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4.4 out of 5 stars
A Forest of Kings: The Untold Story of the Ancient Maya
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90 of 94 people found the following review helpful
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
It is so sad that we have lost Linda Schele. But we can rejoice that we still have her wonderful books. This book is among her best. It is almost magical in the way she and David Freidel create the atmosphere of the Mayan culture. There are wonderful pictures and illustrations. She unfolds the stories of the archaeological discoveries and then helps us understand the real lives revealed in the evidence.

The book also shows how the Mayan glyphs and counting systems work. There are nowadays very good texts on the writing system itself, but this book shows us how the glyphs are woven into the culture and religion of these people. We learn how the lineage worked and how the monuments were used as what we would call propaganda to support one line over other possibilities. We learn about the role of magic and visions and the way the leaders were the empowered by those visions.

There is just so much here that any reader will be richly rewarded. The Mayan civilization is incredibly fascinating because it is so foreign to our own and yet it is a part of the heritage of the American continents.

This book isn't just a text, it is a work of art in itself. You will have a hard time putting it down.
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75 of 78 people found the following review helpful
on April 4, 2004
Format: Paperback
Of the various books available on Mayan culture that a layman has any chance of engaging profitably, this is one of the best. Detailed and well-organized, it presents a wealth of material on the subject, with plenty of accompanying illustrations that are well linked to the text, unlike other books which drop in pictures seemingly at random or which fail to explain why they are placed as they are. (Or, my personal favorite, those that assume you know why the picture is there, and what it's of, and don't bother to provide captions.)
If you're not afraid of "tomes," this is an excellent book for you, though it's not an introductory text. I'd recommend starting with something a little more basic before you tackle this fellow. But once you've familiarized yourself with the lay of the land regarding the Mayas, you won't find many books that cover so many different aspects of their life and culture in such a deep, dense way. You can feel these authors' love for their subject.
However, that being said, I must warn you this is a fairly dry book, and I am a reasonably tolerant reader when it comes to subjects I enjoy such as this one. It's chock full of great stuff, but its tone and style are heavily scholastic, so be prepared. It's still worth it. I have read any number of books thicker than this in a few sittings, but I found I retained more of the material and stayed more engaged by taking small bites of it over a few weeks.
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65 of 67 people found the following review helpful
on July 12, 1998
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
When I was first introduced to "A Forest of Kings" by Linda Schele and David Freidel, I was, frankly, a bit suspicious. Another book on the Maya by a couple of well-meaning outsiders focusing on bloodletting and the mysterious ballcourts? I was surprised to find this book to be scholarly, highly readable and not goulishly focused on the bloodier aspects of this ancient culture. Their deft translation of Mayan pictographs and symbolism is very well done. The book is loaded with black and white line drawings of carvings and inscriptions with translations along side. There are detailed explanations of Mayan cosmology and an explanation of the calendar reputed to be the most accurate ever invented. It also includes extensive notes for each chapter. I don't know how else they could have been handled, but reading "A Forest of Kings" involved having several book marks at once, so I could read the notes, refer back to other illustrations and photos and keep my place in the text. Over all, it's fascinating reading for an amatuer who's fascinated with the Maya. I only wish I'd had this book when I visited the Yucatan!
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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on November 3, 2006
Format: Paperback
I bought this book prior to visiting the Mayan ruins at Copan, Honduras. I found it a very useful guide to the Mayan world. I have a purely amateur interest in the Mayas, with no academic background. I wish I had this book with me when I visited Tikal, Chichen Itza and other sites in Mexico. The book devotes a chapter each to the major Mayan sites such as the two I just mentioned, Palenque, Copan, and others. It provides basic cultural information about Mayan language and social structure, interspersed with interesting if unconventional narrative passages in which the writers imagine what a day in the life of a historical Mayan figure might have been like. Some might be put off by these passages, but I liked them well enough. You can read the book simply for general cultural background, or take it with you on a stela-by-stela tour of the ruins. At times, there was a bit too much detail for my purposes, but I would rather have too much information than too little, and mostly the amount of information was just right. The book also provides a few portraits of archaeologists who have devoted their lives to uncovering the history of the Mayas, including some discussion of the cracking of the Mayan Code. It was informative and a worthwhile read, particularly if you are planning a trip to see the ruins for yourself.
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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on September 8, 2002
Format: Paperback
This has to be one of the best books written on the ancient Maya. You can really tell Linda not only has a great understanding of her subject, you can also tell she loves what she's doing.
The art work is great and ties to the text completely. Most books I buy now have Text text text with a few B&Ws in the middle, just so they can say they have pics, not this one. You'll find 100s of pics and believe it or not, their on the same page as the text that tells you about them.
The info contained in this book is up to date and pretty much uncontested. The book hits almost every subject possible with a few exceptions that only the very serious scholars would miss.
I really enjoyed the sections on temple design and how the Maya chose the locations for the temple sites. The section on the Mayan alphabet and it's symbology is very informative. Even though this book is quite long, it will keep you interested threw out.
If your a student in the history of the Americas or if your a casual reader with an interest in the ancient Maya, I think you'll find this book is for you.
Five Stars with two thumbs up!
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on July 30, 1999
Format: Paperback
This book is phenomenal. Linda Schele is a gift to Mayan studies. She brings the Maya to life through her work reading and translating the ancient pictographs. This book has the glyphs themselves translated syllable for syllable in the context of the history as it is understood. Pictures of Mayan art and recreative semi-fictional vignettes literally bring ancient Cental America to life.
For those who want to know more about the Maya but cannot afford a trip to Mexico or Guatemala, this book offers a fascinating look at MesoAmerica that will change your perception of the world.
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on July 8, 2001
Format: Paperback
After reading Stephens books on his explorations of the Yucatan ruins in the 1840s, this was a real revelation.. I have a very hard time putting it down. Linda and David have presented Maya history in an easy to follow text. Forest of Kings is a must read if you have any interest at all in the Maya. Wonderful... Just keep at least two bookmarks handy.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on July 21, 1999
Format: Paperback
The authors help bring to life the lives of rulers of ancient Mexico. Stories are pieced together from artifacts, stelae, buildings at Tikal, Uaxactun, Piedras Negras, Chichen Itza, and other sites. Interesting and at times speculative, rich with the flavor and color of the Mayan aristocracy of times gone by.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on February 15, 1998
Format: Paperback
If you are looking for an fascinating introduction, this is the book for you. No one writes about the Maya as Linda Schele, one of the anthropologist's responsible for the latest and most accurate translations of the Maya, did. The shamanic Maya kings intrigue many people and the authors of this book make them come alive with all their foibles and vanities intact. Knowing that the Maya continue to live in their Central American homeland means that this book is a vital history lesson for the Maya people who have often forgotten their own interesting past.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on February 10, 2013
Format: Paperback
This book (hardcover edition) contains around 500 pages. Of these, 100, or fully 20%, are detailed notes in fine print.
The title is a clever play on the Maya's own name for their stelae: "tree stones". These and other monuments reveal what the Maya Kings wanted to leave to posterity concerning themselves and their rule.
The book is truly fascinating with a carefully plotted course revealing Maya Kingship from its PreClassical beginnings to the joint committee-type rule of Late Classic times. It tells the story of many famous Maya sites including Cerros, Tikal, Uaxactun, Palenque, Yaxchilan, Copan, and Chichen Itza. It reveals how we know what we do: the careful scholarship involved to decipher the Maya hieroglyphs and credits the large number of researchers who have devoted their lives to the subject. There are dozens of illustrations showing the various sites and monuments discussed.
The knowledge gained will repay the time and energy it takes to read this work.
However, the huge number of detailed notes detracts from the flow of the text and makes keeping your place a bit of a struggle.
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