Book of the Week: Jungle of Stone –

Imagine standing in a new world jungle populated by what you believe is a primitive civilization and seeing a Mayan pyramid rise above the trees. Talk about a mind-blowing paradigm shift. It happened to European explorers over and over and the tales riveted 19th century readers. Incidents of Travel in Yucatan by John Lloyd Stephens was one such book. (As a point of literary trivia, that book was published in the U.S. by Harper Brothers in 1843 and called “Perhaps the most interesting book of travel ever published” by Edgar Allan Poe.)

This modern adventure marries travel, history and archeology to trace the original 19th century journey of Stephens and his illustrator Frederick Catherwood. There’s plenty of adventure as the Carlsen intertwines his own adventures with those of the original expedition, which face densely forested jungles, disease, hostile indigenous populations and even a civil war. Even more interesting, Carlsen shows how Stephens and Catherwood made the breakthrough that proved the Mayans themselves—and not some lost culture—were responsible for these architectural marvels. Fans of The Lost City of Z will not be disappointed.

 “Thrilling. … Carlsen traces the arduous journeys of lawyer John Lloyd Stephens and architect/artist Frederick Catherwood into the jungles of Central America. … In a battered Toyota, Carlsen followed their footsteps, and he evokes in palpable detail the tangled forests, punishing deserts, and cliffhanging mountain paths that they traversed. … A captivating history of two men who dramatically changed their contemporaries’ view of the past.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

 Carlsen fully captures [Stephens’ and Catherwood’s] awe before the ruins they described, illustrated, and published to such popular acclaim. Beyond their adventures, Carlsen credits the duo with an intellectual breakthrough about Mayan civilization: that it was an indigenous evolution, not derivative of another culture. Ably researching this pair and affectingly depicting their friendship, Carlsen makes an exemplary contribution to the lost-cities genre.”
Booklist (starred review)

“Journalist Carlsen travels through Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras, tracing the footsteps of Frederick Catherwood and John Lloyd Stephens, the amateur archaeologists whose 1839 expedition offered Euro-Americans their earliest awareness of Mayan civilization. At the time, the cultural and religious chauvinism of whites on both sides of the Atlantic encouraged the view that indigenous Americans had been nothing more than ‘primitive, inferior people.’ But Stephens and Catherwood’s journey, as described through their pivotal writings, provided irrefutable evidence the Maya had created ‘one of the most sophisticated early civilizations on earth’ and forced their readers to rethink basic assumptions about race, culture, and evolution. Carlsen depicts the two men’s arduous expedition with verve and vigor…”
—  Publishers Weekly

“Carlsen’s cogent and well-written dual biography successfully illuminates the fascinating tale of these intrepid pioneers of a lost civilization.”
Library Journal

Jungle of Stone: The True Story of Two Men, Their Extraordinary Journey, and the Discovery of the Lost Civilization of the Maya (9780062407399) William Carlsen. $28.99 hardcover. 4/26/16 on sale.

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