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The Lost Chronicles of the Maya Kings Paperback – May 27, 2002

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Editorial Reviews Review

Much has been learned in recent years, through archaeological excavations and the decipherment of hieroglyphs, about the world of the ancient Maya peoples of Mesoamerica. But an important question continues to engage scholars: why did their powerful empire, extending from southern Mexico to Nicaragua, collapse so swiftly and completely, hundreds of years before the European arrival brought other New World empires to ruin? Popular-archaeology writer David Drew examines the existing evidence and the sometimes contentious scholarly literature in The Lost Chronicles of the Maya Kings, a well-crafted portrait of the Mayan world, in which religious orthodoxy, constant warfare, and political struggle held sway as leaders such as Smoking Frog, Shield Skull, and Flint Sky battled for supremacy.

Drew shows that there were really two Mayan empires: an "international one" verging on the Toltec and Mexica lands to the north, and an isolationist, conservative one to the south. Both constructed impressive, crowded cities marked by monumental architecture and elaborate royal tombs. Both fell victim to overpopulation and environmental failure, as drought and the depletion of the soil combined to produce famine. With them came the abandonment of the great cities. "It must be a gauge of the catastrophe and the severity of damage to the environment that in the years to come no attempt was made to revive a single one of them," Drew writes. The Mayan civilization emerged anew after the collapse, if at a much less ambitious scale--only to fall again as European-introduced diseases killed half a million Mayas between 1520 and 1547.

Drew's account of the Mayan empire's rise and fall is among the best general-interest books on this enigmatic era of New World history; scholars may prefer Martin and Grube's Chronicle of the Maya Kings and Queens. --Gregory McNamee --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Drew presents an excellent account of how Mayanists have labored to construct both a chronology of Maya rulers and a history of their accomplishments as related through the inscriptions. The book is very readable, requires little previous knowledge, and has numerous line drawings and color and black-and-white photographs."--M. J. O'Brien, "Choice"

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 461 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press (May 27, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520234588
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520234581
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 5.9 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,700,898 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Kevin T. McGuinness on January 13, 2001
Format: Hardcover
My compliments to the author. He did a good job with this book. Not since Michael Coe's "Breaking the Maya Code" have I found a book on the Maya so exciting to read and so easy to get through. David Drew doesn't bog you down in academic minutae.
I found two things in this book that were particularly fascinating. One, that the Maya were not a single pre-Columbian empire, as is so often portrayed, but rather a set of city-states involved in constantly shifting alliances with other political entities. It made the Maya seem that much more accessible and real as people.
The second item I found fascinating was the fact that the Maya city of Tayasal survived into the period of the Spanish Conquest, while the bulk of the Maya world, and its once proud city-state, had collapsed several hundred years earlier. I am curious to read more about this particular city in a book by Grant Jones.
I highly recommend this book to all those interested in the Maya. It is a good read and you don't need to be an expert on the Maya to enjoy it.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Craig Matteson HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on June 9, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This very good book is NOT just a history of what we know about the Maya. It summarizes the saga of how these ancient cities were discovered and how our knowledge of them was developed - especially during the last century.
It also offers a very insightful review of what scholars have learned of the various Mayan cities, their rise and fall, and their relations with one another.
The author also takes us through a brief review of the conquest and all that was lost and how the Maya have survived as a people under extremely difficult circumstances.
And there are some very helpful pcitures and illustrations.
I am glad I own it, have read it, and am happy to recommend it to others as a one volume look at the broad scope of out understanding of this amazing culture.
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25 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Stephen D. Houston on December 30, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I have perused this book, and been struck by two things: its more-or-less competent review of the data; and its approximate appropriation of a title for a work in press by Simon Martin and Nikolai Grube, who are frequently mentioned (and thanked) by the author of Lost Chronicles. For some years now specialists have eagerly awaited the Martin and Grube work. The use of a roughly similar title for the Drews book would seem to reflect, as far as I can tell, sharp practice and uncertain truth-in-advertising -- in fairness perhaps entirely beyond the control of Drews. I hope I am wrong, and that Drews' title existed long before this long-awaited, splendid effort by Martin and Grube. Until that book appears, readers will find a capable (but derivative) treatment of Maya history in The Lost Chronicles of the Maya Kings.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 3, 2002
Format: Hardcover
As a general reader with an interest in the Maya, I found that this book delivered. It was well written and not difficult and didn't get bogged down in archaeological minutae. But it IS thorough. Not just about the so called "Lost Chronicles" but a total survey of our knowledge of the Maya, from their "discovery", the serpentine journey to understanding them, and what is known from their origin through to recent times. But he is clear to point out that in Classical times we are restricted often to the lives of rulers, and often only of a few cites that have lots of inscriptions and are well studied. He even agrees that it is time to return the study of Mayan culture to the Mayan descendants. One still gets a sense of sketchiness in the presentation, which only reveals that even with all that has been recently aquired is still not very much. Contains maps, many b&w illustrations and color plates. He could have used twice as many, these things are really beautiful.
Aside: One aspect of Maya scholarship is the destruction in the 16th century of several Maya bark scrolls by Friar Diego de Landa. Although he is only supposed to have burned a few dozen, Drew appears to be wringing his fists as he goes on, as if at each turn these irreplacable items - and he claims the loss of hundreds or thousands - would have answered all his questions. Well, maybe.
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