Books about Mexico are always nice to read. This rings true whether you are in the midst of planning a trip to the gorgeous Latin American country or you simply have an interest in Mexico’s history and culture.
Better yet, there are countless books about Mexico to choose from. Books about Mexico range from charming fiction books that will have you envisaging life living in the rural reaches of Oaxaca or in the luxuries of a Yucatan hacienda, to historical accounts.
Part of really getting to understand and appreciate a country is to get beneath the skin of its history and culture. Mexico has a long and fascinating history.
At times, it is heartbreaking and tragic, particularly where the Spanish colonization and the treatment of the indigenous peoples are concerned. Mexico is often misunderstood and undervalued but the works enclosed here will help you to better appreciate this colorful place.
Best Fiction Books About Mexico
The Underdogs – Mariano Azuela
The Underdogs is a fiction book written by Mexican author Mariano Azuela about the Mexican Revolution. Azuela witnessed the events of the Revolution firsthand and has used his experiences and traumas to create a beautiful piece of Mexican literature.
Indeed, the Jalisco-born writer is often referred to as being the first of the “novelists of the Revolution”. His book follows the story of two men who have been reluctantly dragged into the fighting, one of whom becomes a General in Pancho Villa’s rebel army.
The novel was originally written in Spanish but the translated English version is widely available. Despite the complexity of the topic, the book is written in very simple terms and is easy to follow. Even with the short, simple prose, The Underdogs is filled with emotion.
La Milagrosa (The Miracle Worker) – Carmen Boullosa
On the surface, “La Milagrosa” (the miracle worker) is a book about a woman in Mexico who is able to perform miracles. The story starts with the discovery of a body of a man found clutching a bundle of papers as well as a tape recorder with evidence that appears to discredit the miracle worker.
The book then goes back in time to tell the events that led up to this point. Today, Boullosa is one of the most-translated female Mexican writers.
The story, though simple on the surface, exists to explore more controversial and troubling themes that affect life in Mexico today. Notably, corruption in the country, religion, controversy, and sexism.
Like Water for Chocolate – Laura Esquivel
Like water for Chocolate (originally named Como agua para chocolate) is one of the most beloved pieces of Mexican fiction. It tells the story of Tita De La Garza, a young Mexican woman that lived in Mexico at the turn of the 20th century.
One day, the love of her life, Pedro Muzquiz, comes to the family ranch to ask Tita to marry him. However, her mother forbids it, and instead, he marries her older sister, Rosaura.
Throughout their marriage, Pedro remains enamored with Tita and it becomes apparent that he only agreed to marry Rosaura in order to be close to the woman that he really loved. They encounter various challenges, stresses, and traumas over the years, and although all they want is to be together, there is always something keeping them apart. Think of the book as a Mexican version of Romeo & Juliet. (Sort of).
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Mexican Gothic is one of the more modern and contemporary books about Mexico on this list. It is written by Mexican Canadian author Silvia Moreno-Garcia.
The book follows a woman named Noemí Taboada as she investigates claims from her terrified cousin who is convinced that her husband is trying to murder her. It is set in Hidalgo and is based in the British mining town of Real del Monte.
(A settlement that is known as “Little Cornwall” and whose cuisine and culture have been significantly influenced by British culture. The book is a terrifying page-turner whose story stays with you long after you have finished reading. It is mostly a psychological thriller, although there are some aspects of violence and gore.
Since its release in 2020, Mexican Gothic has been met with huge international acclaim. It is a New York Times Bestseller and in 2020, it was named “book of the year” by various publications. Work is now underway in the US to turn the book into a series.
Mornings in Mexico – D.H. Lawrence
The English Author D.H. Lawrence is perhaps best known for writing “Lady Chatterley’s Lover”. However, Lawrence was also an avid traveler.
Mornings in Mexico is a collection of travel essays he wrote to document his experiences living in New Mexico and Mexico in the 1920s. The essays all focus on separate simple aspects of daily life in Mexico.
For instance, one focuses on his observations of seeing people shopping for wares in a local market, another on how his neighbor’s parrot would imitate the owner, etc. During his time in Mexico, Lawrence based himself near Lake Patzcuaro and in Oaxaca.
Down the Rabbit Hole – Juan Pablo Villalobos
Down the Rabbit Hole provides a strange and unsettling glimpse into the life of a little boy whose father is a prominent figure within a Mexican drug cartel. It reads like a series of diary entries and there is little plot aside from the young narrator jotting down his thoughts and activities for each day.
However, the result is a book that is equal parts unsettling and massively thought-provoking. This is particularly true when you consider the fact that there are indeed Mexican children living in these kinds of realities.
The contrast between the narrator’s childlike dreams of new toys and funny hats, with his observations of the violence around him, is dark and disturbing. The book reads as though it has been written by an intelligent child and it is a truly unique piece of Mexican literature.
Pedro Páramo by Juan Rulfo
The book Pedro Paramo by Juan Rulfo makes for an interesting read. It tells the story of the small town of Comala, in the rural Mexican state of Colima.
However, instead of following one character and timeline, it jumps back and forth in time. The book tells the stories of various people who lived in the village through the centuries and hops back and forth between the past (a prospering, charming village) to the present (a creepy, abandoned ghost town).
The different perspectives are written in different ways too. Parts of the book are written in the first person, while parts are written in the third person.
Aside from the exploration of the town of Comala, one of the main themes of the book is family dynamics and identity. The book starts with one of the main protagonists, Juan Preciado heading to Colima after his mother’s death to find his estranged father, Pedro Páramo. It provokes a lot of discussion about our ties and heritage with our families.
The Old Gringo (Gringo Viejo) – Carlos Fuentes
The Old Gringo (Gringo Viejo) is widely regarded as being one of Mexican Writer Carlos Fuentes’ greatest works. It was first published in Spanish in 1985 and an English-translated version was released later that same year.
The book was quickly met with success and record sales in the United States, helping it to become the very first US bestseller written by a Mexican author. The Old Gringo provides a fictional account of what may have happened to American short story writer Ambrose Bierce.
The real Bierce had disappeared in Chihuahua, Mexico around 1913/1914 after he traveled to Mexico. He had announced that he was visiting the country so that he could see “first hand” what was happening in the midst of the Revolution.
In Fuentes’ book, Bierce lives among Pancho Villa’s soldiers. As well as being an interesting story that reignites a decades-long fascination with what really happened to Ambrose Bierce, the Old Gringo explores some complex, thought-provoking topics.
Most notably, the matter of cultural clashes between the US and Mexico. Fuentes has published several other works that were met with a positive response in the US. Notably, Aura and The Death of Artemio Cruz.
The Death of Artemio Cruz – Carlos Fuentes
The death of Artemio Cruz, first published in 1962, is widely regarded as being one of the most important Latin American literary works in the world. In the book, Mexico is seen through the lens of Artemio Cruz, a young soldier living in the midst of the Mexican revolution.
Cruz starts out being dedicated to the cause of redistributing land from the wealthy to the lower classes. The principal aim is to help the poorer people live better lives.
However as time goes on, Cruz realizes that he can use his power and influence to his advantage. He turns to greed and corruption and abuses his position to make himself wealthy.
Carmelo – Sandra Cisneros
Carmelo, released in 2002, is a book by Mexican American writer Sandra Cisneros. It tells the story of a Mexican American family living in Chicago, who head to visit their grandparents in Mexico City every year.
If you are of Mexican descent, or indeed, you are of some other mixed cultural heritage, you will strongly identify with the topics of the book. Carmelo clearly draws on Cisneros’ own experiences growing up with different cultures (Mexican and American).
It also explores the theme of familial ties and the idea of how important it is to be a part of a family, regardless of the challenges and dramas. Carmelo is a bestseller in the US, and the author Sandra Cisneros had previously won the 2019 PEN/Nabokov Award for Achievement in International Literature for her first book “The House on Mango Street”.
The Ruins – Scott Smith
If you enjoy thrillers and horrors that keep you on the edge of your seat, you will no doubt enjoy reading “The Ruins” by Scott Smith. The book is set in Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula and follows a group of American friends and a German tourist as their adventures in Mexico turn dark.
One friend of the group disappears, and the others set out into the jungle to search for him. The book had such a positive response that it was made into a movie with the same name in 2008.
The Power and the Glory – Graham Greene
The Power and the Glory is a 1940 novel by British Author Graham Greene. It follows the story of a Catholic Priest that was living in Tabasco during the 1930s, at a time when the Mexican Government was trying to suppress the Catholic church.
The characters in the story are fictional, although the story itself is based on true happenings. Indeed, this kind of religious persecution was taking place across Mexico in the 1920s.
At that time, hundreds of priests were hunted down, rounded up, and killed. In the book, the main protagonist hurries from town to town, trying to escape the persecution of the police.
The Power and the Glory is an anxiety-inducing page-turner. It tells an aspect of Mexican history that few people are aware of on an international scale.
The Murmur of Bees – Sofia Segovia
The Murmur of Bees, like several other books about Mexico on this list, is a piece of historic fiction that focuses on the events of the Mexican Revolution. It is set in a rural area outside the city of Linares, southeast of Monterrey.
It follows the story of a family who rescues a disfigured baby that they find abandoned under a bridge. He has a severe cleft lip and cleft palate.
They name him Simonopio. The boy grows up with the gift of being able to see things that nobody else is able to see.
Into the Beautiful North – Luis Alberto Urrea
Into the Beautiful North follows the story of a nineteen-year-old Mexican girl that works in a taco shop in her hometown in Sinaloa. Her father has long since left her and her family behind, after moving to the United States for work.
The main protagonist, Nayeli, reflects on the fact that so many men in her town have left Mexico in search of a better life north of the border. With few men around to protect its borders and cultural heritage, the town starts to see a crime wave and falls victim to banditos.
Nayeli, feeling inspired after watching the American movie ¨ the magnificent seven” heads toward the United States. She plans to recruit her own ¨magnificent seven¨ to help her hometown.
The book does a great job of displaying the beauty and rich culture of Mexico. Its demonstration of a woman´s love for her country and hometown is a great alternative perspective to the stereotype that believes all Mexicans dream of living in the US.
Historical Books About Mexico
Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo – Hayden Herrera
Frida Kahlo is not only one of the most famous Mexican artists of all time. She is also one of the most famous symbols of Mexican culture. Even those who know very little about her artwork or her life, will immediately recognize her image and her signature unibrow.
The Biography of Frida Kahlo by Hayden Herrera tells the fascinating story of Frida’s life. It looks at her childhood in the Casa Azul in Coyoacan and how a terrible accident left her crippled.
It goes on to discuss her marriage with Diego Riviera, and the various influential men that she had relationships and affairs. The book was made into a movie in 2002, with Salma Hayek starting as Frida.
The Labyrinth of Solitude – Octavio Paz
Octavio Paz (1914-1998) was one of Mexico’s most revered poets and diplomats. He received numerous awards for his written works over the course of his lifetime, including the Nobel prize for literature.
Arguably one of his most famous pieces is “The Labyrinth of Solitude” which he published in 1950. It is a nine-part book-length essay that discusses various aspects of the Mexican identity.
The original book was amended in 1975 to include further reflections on more recent, traumatic events in Mexico’s history. Throughout the publication, Paz delves into an in-depth analysis of Mexican history – dating all the way back to the pre-Colombian era.
His essays offered an existentialist and psychoanalytic interpretation of Mexican culture. They were massively revered by intellectuals and thought leaders across the country and would go on to have a huge influence on Latin American essayists all over the Americas.
The book makes for good intermediate reading for anyone who already has a vague understanding of Mexican history, culture, and traditions.
Jungle of Stone – William Carlsen
William Carlsen is an experienced Journalist that has won various awards and accolades for his published works, including a Pulitzer Prize. His book “Jungle of Stone” is a New York Times bestseller.
It tells the story of American diplomat John Lloyd Stephens and British artist Frederick Catherwood who are recognized for discovering some of the most notable Mayan ruins in Mexico. In 1839, after hearing rumors of mysterious temples made of stone hidden deep in the jungle, they set out to uncover whether the rumors were true.
The book is an account of their adventures and discoveries. It also features a history and description of the major Maya sites.
Popol Vuh: The Definitive Edition of the Mayan Book of Creation
Popol Vuh, the Quiché Mayan book of creation, is considered to be one of the most important books written in a native language created in all of the Americas. It was originally written in Mayan hieroglyphics, however, it has been translated into English.
This edition by Dennis Tedlock is one of the world’s bestselling Mayan history books. Popol Vuh provides readers with a fascinating glimpse of what life as a person belonging to the Ancient Mayan civilization was like.
The Popol Vuh is a sacred text, in some ways comparable to what the Bible or the Quran is today. It includes the Mayan creation myth, the exploits of the Hero Twins Hunahpú and Xbalanqué, stories about Mayan Gods, and a chronicle of the Kʼicheʼ people.
This does not make for light reading so it is best recommended for those with a strong interest in Mayan history. The translator has added notes and commentary alongside all of the translated passages to aid a deeper understanding of the text.
The Other Mexico, Critique of the Pyramid – Octavio Paz
The Other Mexico, Critique of the Pyramid was written by Octavio Paz in 1970 and provided some very interesting and thought-provoking suggestions to the Mexican society of that time. The book examines the historical development of the character and culture of modern Mexico.
It has a specific focus on political unrest in the 20th century. The book was originally written in Spanish but it has been translated into English and other languages. It aids in getting a deeper understanding of more recent Mexican history.
The Secret Book of Frida Kahlo – Francisco Haghenbeck
Francisco Haghenbeck was widely regarded as being one of Mexico´s best ¨new¨ writers. Born in 1965, he sadly lost his life during the global pandemic in April 2021.
One of his most unique books is ¨The Secret Book of Frida Kahlo¨. The book has been written based on notebooks and diaries that were found in Frida Kahlo’s house and focuses on Kahlo’s romantic relationships.
It reimagines the encounters that she may have had with her lovers and tells an exaggerated, fictional version of her life. One thing that was found in Frida’s home (Casa Azul) after her passing was a little black book now known as “The Hierba Santa Book¨.
In it, Kahlo had scrawled down recipes, thoughts, and ideas. Some of the recipes have been shared in Haghenbeck´s book, while others act as the titles for each riveting chapter.
This is a must-read if you have an interest in Frida Kahlo. The book is simple, and a pleasure to read.
Conquest: Montezuma, Cortes, and the Fall of Old Mexico – Hugh Thomas
Conquest: Montezuma, Cortés, and the Fall of Old Mexico is a historical book about Mexico written by Hugh Thomas, Baron Thomas of Swynnerton. Thomas is widely regarded as being one of the world’s most gifted historians.
When you read conquest, it is very clear to see why. The book provides a narrative of the struggle between Spanish Conquistador Cortes and Montezuma and the Aztecs.
It is written in such a riveting and gripping way that you almost forget that these events actually happened. “Conquest” is like reading a fast-paced fiction book set centuries ago.
As you read, it quickly becomes clear that Thomas has a substantial interest in this era. His writing is exciting without in any way being detrimental to historical facts.
Hernan Cortés and about 500 conquistadores conquered a settled and established civilization in three short years, from 1519 to 1521. Cortés had great confidence in what he set out to achieve in new Spain.
Shortly after arriving in Veracruz, he had all of his boats burned so that nobody could leave even if they wanted to. He and his men were victorious in countless battles even when they were significantly outnumbered.
The Spanish admired many aspects of the Aztec civilization with the exception of human sacrifices. This book gives an unabashed glimpse at the events of this particular era of Latin American history.
The Maya – Michael D. Coe
Michael D. Coe is Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at Yale University. His Book “The Maya” is one of his most acclaimed published works.
Many consider this as being one of the most accessible introductions to Mayan history. It is written in a simple, easy-to-understand manner and is free from complex terminology.
The book is frequently updated to reflect new information and findings. It is currently in its ninth edition which was first published in 2015.
The book lays out the story of the rise and fall of the Mayans. It touches on matters of religion, warfare, gender roles, and day-to-day life.
The Maya is beautifully illustrated, containing more than 200 drawings and photographs. There are also decipherments of fascinating Ancient Mayan hieroglyphics.
The Great Book of Mexico – Bill O’Neil
The Great Book of Mexico by Bill O’Neil is a lighthearted and easy-to-read account of Mexico’s history through the centuries. It doesn’t focus specifically on the Ancient Maya or on one set period of history.
Instead, it discusses both the ancient history of Mexico (the Aztecs, the Maya, etc) and the more modern aspects. For instance, the politics, the identity struggles, and the issues with drug trafficking.
There are also many fun facts about Mexico, interesting stories, and insights into the diverse culture of Mexico. For instance, famous Mexican telenovelas, Mexican pop culture, sports, celebrities, the development of various types of Mexican music, etc.
As you make your way through the book’s pages, you are also presented with light-hearted quizzes that help you test what you have learned. The intended audience for this book is young adults and teens.
However, you are likely to enjoy it and learn something new, even if you consider yourself as being well informed on Mexican history and culture. The Great Book of Mexico is a fun and easy read for your plane journey to Mexico.
Warlords of Ancient Mexico – Pete Tsouras
The Warlords of Ancient Mexico by Pete Tsouras was first published in 2014. Instead of focusing on the Spanish conquest of Mexico, an overview of the Maya or their downfall, it focuses on some of the most notable figures in the warrior tribes of Ancient Mexico.
These figures have largely been missed from historical accounts of Ancient Mexico. In his book, Tsouras personifies them and provides detailed biographies.
They are accompanied by fascinating stories of conquest and warfare, and dozens of beautiful illustrations and photographs. Tsouras focuses mostly on Central Mexican history, the Aztecs, and the Mexicas.
The Ancient Maya is only touched upon briefly. The book is succinct and easy to read for someone who is relatively new to Ancient Mexican history.
Log from the Sea of Cortez – John Steinbeck
The log from the Sea of Cortez is an interesting read by American Author John Steinbeck. If that name sounds familiar, it is because Steinbeck is perhaps best known for being the author of “of Mice and Men” and “ The Grapes of Wrath”.
First published in 1951, the book details Steinbeck’s 40-day expedition out at sea around Baja California with his friend Ed Ricketts. The main purpose of his trip was to document the various marine life that was living in these warm translucent waters.
During their 6 week study, they discovered several new species. Even if you have zero interest in marine biology or science, the book is a great read, purely because the book contains Steinbeck’s signature wit and humor. He goes into great detail about what life was like on the boat, and he draws interesting cultural parallels between Americans and people from other cultures and backgrounds.
The People’s Guide to Mexico – Carl Franz
The People’s Guide to Mexico by Carl Franz has been the definitive guide to visiting Mexico for the first time in several decades. It covers a broad range of topics in a fun, easy-to-read format.
Within its pages, you will find everything from Mexico travel tips, funny stories and anecdotes, and practical advice on topics such as driving in Mexico, renting a car in Mexico, and planning a trip. The book is currently in its 14th edition.
It was last updated in 2012. If you are not sure what to expect from your first trip to Mexico and want to understand more about Mexican traditions, celebrations, and culture, Franz’s book is deeper and more cultured than your typical Mexico guidebook. It helps you learn what to appreciate and look for in Mexico beyond just seeing the sights.
Have you read any books about Mexico? Which were your favorites? Are you familiar with the ones discussed here?