Reading List for Northern Peru and beyond

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  • A far-from-exhaustive list of literature on the topics of Peru, Amazonia and South America in general.

  • Academic tomes from historians, botanists & archaeologists to works of pure fiction.

  • Categorised thematically.

At PeruNorth, we certainly see travel as a mind-broadening exercise, and many clients enjoy reading about the region they are visiting before, during and after their trip.

Below is a list of recommended reads that range from scholarly works investigating specific pre-Columbian ruins or Amazon tribes, to fictional books offering a more general feel for the atmosphere of Latin America.

As a hugely diverse and unexplored country, Peru has also attracted many writers and journalists wishing to explore the lesser-known corners of the Andes Mountains or Amazon River … or even the bars of Lima! The result is a number of very entertaining, insightful travelogues.

We are always keen to hear of any other books that you feel should be on the list.

Archaeology:

The White Rock: an exploration of the Inca heartland by Hugh Thomson (2001)

Hugh Thomson is a British explorer, writer and filmmaker who brings Peru’s remarkable archaeology to life in this book that is ostensibly about the search to find the Inca ruins of Chuquipalta – the ‘white rock’ of the title - but which also touches upon the history of Inca exploration, as well as his thoughts on modern Peru and Bolivia.

Cochineal Red: travels through ancient Peru by Hugh Thomson (2006)

Continuing on from his investigation of the Incas in The White Rock, Thomson expands his research to include many of the other ancient civilizations to be found in Peru. In so doing, he makes a journey back from the world of the Incas to the first dawn of Andean civilisation, seeing how it all interrelates.

Highly recommended, if visiting the many archaeological wonders of Northern Peru.

The Ancient Kingdoms of Peru by Nigel Davies (1997)

Similar to Cochineal Red, this book examines the civilizations in Peru that preceded the Inca. Inspired by the spectacular discovery of the Lord of Sipan at Huaca Rajada in 1987, Davies, a British archaeologist, analyses and assesses the latest theories surrounding the Moche, Chimu, Nazca, Huari and Tihuanaco cultures.

Lost City of the Incas by Hiram Bingham (1948)

American historian and explorer, Hiram Bingham, relates the story of how he ‘rediscovered’ Machu Picchu in 1911, despite actually searching for the legendary city of Vilcabamba.

Anthropology:

One River: Exploration & Discoveries in the Amazon Rainforest by Wade Davis (1996)

Davis is a Canadian anthropologist and ethno-botanist who has lived for long periods with indigenous groups throughout Latin America. He is particularly interested in the native use of plants, and has a rare ability to mix technical science writing with a coherent knowledge of history, culture and politics.

A must-read for anyone interested in the cultures and history of the Amazon basin.

History:

River of Darkness: Francisco Orellana's Legendary Voyage of Death and Discovery Down the Amazon by Buddy Levy (2011)

A lively recounting of the Conquistador’s landmark voyage down the Amazon River, from present-day Ecuador to the Atlantic, with plenty of accidents and drama en route.

A Penguin History of Latin America by Edwin Williamson (1992)

UK academic Williamson has created an excellent single-volume history of Latin America that is both knowledgeable and readable.

Updated in 2009.

Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent by Eduardo Galeano (1971)

A left-wing masterpiece by Uruguayan journalist, Galeano, examining the debilitating effects of physical, political and economic colonization on the Continent, from Columbus to the present.

At the 5th Summit of the Americas in 2009, Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez, gave Barack Obama, a copy of the book (in Spanish) as a gift. I wonder if he read it?!

The Conquest of the Incas by John Hemming (1970)

Despite being nearly 50 years old, this history is still considered the definitive account of the conquest of the Inca Empire. The author is an Anglo-Canadian explorer and historian, who has also written extensively on the indigenous peoples of Amazonia, based on his own explorations.

Travelogues:

Walking the Amazon by Ed Stafford (2011)

Setting off in April 2008, from Arequipa in Southern Peru, it took British Explorer, Ed Stafford, 860 days (nearly 2.5 years) to become the first man to walk the entire length of the Amazon River. This is the account of this daring and daunting challenge, offering insight into the current state of the region and its inhabitants.

Andes by Michael Jacobs (2011)

A description of the British writer’s journey along the length of the Andes, through seven countries, starting in Venezuela and ending in Tierra del Fuego.

Cloud Road: A Journey Through the Inca Heartland by John Harrison (2010)

This relates the British author’s five-month journey following the Qhapaq Ñan - the Great Inca Road System - that traversed the whole of the Inca Empire. Starting in Quito, Ecuador, Harrison covers 1,500 km (932 miles), through remote Andean villages, to arrive in Machu Picchu.

Motorcycle Diaries: A Journey Around South America by Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara (1996)

Published almost 20 years after Che’s death, this tells the fascinating and comic story of the road trip that he made around South America as a 23-year-old medical student, in the company of his friend, Alberto Granada. The journey, took in Argentina, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, and Miami, over the course of seven months.

Their time in Peru included a spell working at a leper colony at San Pablo on the Amazon River, and it was this experience, along with many other encounters with impoverished and marginalised locals, that inspires Che’s ideological shift towards Marxism, and ultimately armed revolution.

A very successful film version was released in 2004, with Gael García Bernal in the role of Che Guevara.

In the Forests of the Night: Encounters in Peru with Terrorism, Drug-Running and Military Oppression by John Simpson (1994)

As is evident in the title of the book, this covers many of the darker elements of Peru’s recent history. The book relates the visit to Peru in 1992 by veteran BBC journalist, Simpson which includes encounters with coca farmers, Shining Path terrorists, drug runners, the Peruvian military and its leaders.

Happily, Peru is a very different place now to the one Simpson uncovered!

Inca-Kola – A Traveller’s Tale of Peru by Matthew Parris (1990)

Travelling in the late 1980s in a Peru being torn apart by terrorism, this touching and witty book by a former Conservative MP describes encounters with locals and bandits, bone-shaking bus journeys and games of football high in the Andes.

Touching the Void by Joe Simpson (1988)

The remarkable story of a climbing accident in Northern Peru’s Huayhuash Mountains, when Simpson’s partner was forced to cut the rope.

Made into a documentary film in 2003.

Eight Feet in The Andes: Travels with a Mule in Unknown Peru by Dervla Murphy (1983)

An account of the intrepid journey that Irish writer Dervla, her nine-year-old daughter and a mule called Juana made through the Peruvian Andes.

The Incredible Voyage by Tristan Jones (1977)

This book by British mariner, Jones, recounts an epic contemporary challenge to sail up the Amazon and get his boat, Fitzcarraldo-style, to Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable body of water in the world … having previously attempted the same on the Dead Sea, the lowest point on Earth.

Peregrination of a Pariah: 1833-1834 by Flora Tristan (1838)

A lively and fascinating account of life in 18th-century Peru, as viewed through the lens of an upper-class Peruvian lady with French and Spanish parents, and socialist leanings.

Fiction:

The Dream of the Celt by Mario Vargas Llosa (2010)

A dramatization of the life of Roger Casement, a complex character whose remarkable life journey began in Dublin, and saw him have a successful career in the British Diplomatic Service, culminating in a knighthood in 1911.

However, his experiences, firstly in Congo, and then in Loreto, Peru, where he witnessed atrocities against the Putumayo Indians at the hands of the British-registered Peruvian Amazon Company, which dominated the trade in rubber, turned Casement increasingly against imperialism, and in favour of the Irish independence movement.

He was executed in 1916 for his role in the Easter Rising

Tale of a Certain Orient by Milton Hatoum (2007)

Hatoum is a Brazilian of Lebanese descent, who was born in the Amazon city of Manaus. This work draws on his family history to capture the ethnic and social mix of the city in the early 20th-century.

The Dancer Upstairs by Nicholas Shakespeare (1995)

A thriller and detective story inspired by the events in Lima in 1992 that culminated in the capture of the leader of the Shining Path guerrilla movement, Abimael Guzman, in a flat belonging to a dance teacher. PeruNorth actually met the dancer in question, Maritza Garrido Lecca, in Santa Monica Prison in 2006. An interesting experience!

Made into a film starring Javier Bardem in 2002. Shot in Porto, Portugal, rather than Lima.

The War of Don Emmanuel’s Nether Parts by Louis De Bernières (1990)

Set in a fictitious South American country, this novel offers all the tragedy, ribaldry, and humour that British writer, De Bernières, can muster from a debauched military, a clueless oligarchy, and an unconventional band of guerrillas.

This is the first of a trilogy, and is followed by Señor Vivo and the Coca Lord (1991) and The Troublesome Offspring of Cardinal Guzman (1992).

Very readable and gives an accessible flavour of the magic realism literary style that informs the works of Vargas Llosa and Garcia Marquez (whom De Bernières admires greatly), among others.

The Green House by Mario Vargas Llosa (1966)

Peru's best-known writer, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, has an extensive body of work, beginning in 1963, and it is all worth reading. A few of his works are set, partially or exclusively, in Northern Peru. One such is The Green House whose complex narrative is set in both Piura and the Peruvian Amazon around Iquitos.

Deep Rivers (Los Rios Profundos) by Jose Maria Arguedas (1958)

This semi-autobiographical novel, set in Peru’s southern Andes, provides an interesting insight into the influence and conflict of pre-Hispanic cultures with modern life in Peru. The author is a rarity amongst Peru’s literary canon in that he speaks Quechua, as well as Spanish, and therefore has a real empathy with the indigenous Andean peoples.

Poetry:

General Song (Canto General) by Pablo Neruda (1950)

Consisting of 15 sections, 231 poems, and more than 15,000 lines this work by Nobel Prize-winning Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda, attempts to chart the history of the whole of Latin American.

Section 2, The Heights of Machu Picchu (Las Alturas de Machu Picchu), is of particular interest as it chronicles Neruda’s journey to the ancient Inca citadel.

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