|Aztec & Maya
||[Apr. 28th, 2013|11:22 am]
The Complete Illustrated History of the Aztec & Maya, by Charles Phillips, is one of those heavily illustrated (in color) coffee-table-ish books that Hermes House has been turning out over the last few years. They are really designed to be sold on the "Discount" shelves in the front of a chain bookstore, and when I was younger that usually meant a purely hack job of a book, not really worth owning.
However, the trend I've been seeing lately is that these publishers are now working directly with museums (whose excellent collections mostly sit unseen in storage) to obtain their images, and with credentialed curators and academics to produce the text. The result is that these books are often worth picking up; and, gasp, even worth reading.
I've always kept an eye out for articles on the Mesoamerican civilizations, and I've read the books that John L. Stephens wrote back in the 1800s, after his adventures, but when I saw this book on the discount shelf, I realized I didn't have anything systematic or specific in my library on the Aztecs or the Maya. (The book also proclaims that it covers Olmec, Mixtec, Toltec, and Zapotec; and it does, with decreasing order of frequency.) The pictures looked good, so I picked it up.
For the last few months I've been reading through it, at a quota of five pages per day. I'm glad I did, but in retrospect I should have picked an even number of pages, because the book is rigidly organized in two-page spreads.
There are some weaknesses, even for the "general reading" design of the book, so let me mention those. First, the maps are ill-planned. Nothing wrong with the maps themselves, but in almost every instance the text on the spread that includes a map, also includes place-names that AREN'T ON THE DANG MAP. The book needed endpaper maps that included everything that would be mentioned.
With all the wealth of archeological sites in Mexico and Central America, the book shouldn't have to show anything more than once. However, there are several sites that have a dozen or more pictures, spread through the book. I'm guessing there are 20 pictures of the square tower at Palenque. Since the tower is unique, it is also atypical; which suggests that we really ought to be seeing typical things, rather than the atypical, over and over and over. (Okay, I exaggerated, it seems there are only 8 pictures of it.) The unique Caracol at Chichén Itzá, and the Toltec warrior columns of Tula get similar repeat appearances.
Finally, there's a good deal of repetition, since the two-page units seem to have been written as independent modules.
That said, I'm quite happy with the book, and I learned a lot in reading it. I didn't know about the household shrines that remind one of lares and penates. There was a good deal, including pictures, on the surviving Aztec and Mayan codices, about which I knew fragments only. The interconnections between the various cultures and eras was also very illuminating. There's good work on the calendar cycles, and the writing systems, and the architecture; though none of it is in great depth. I've got quite a list of things to follow up on, and that usually indicates a worthwhile reading experience.
Will I be using this as a reference book in the future? Yes, indeed.
CBsIP: (a thousand pages of student manuscripts)
Life of the Empress Josephine, anonymous (Cecil B. Hartley?)
Year's Best SF 17, David G. Hartwell & Kathryn Cramer, eds.
Mr. Lincoln's Army, Bruce Catton
The Bhagavad Gita, Laurie L. Patton, trans.