In the grand scheme of things, there aren’t really that many books about Central America. It is a place that flies under the radar until it doesn’t, usually because things have gotten so bad that people are fleeing towards the US. That gets people’s attention.
However, Central America really is my favorite place to learn about and travel to. So it is something I try to read up on.
Of course, the books about Central America tend to lean towards tales of interference by the rest of the world, particularly the US, in it’s affairs. These things are important to learn about and understand. It deepens your understanding not only of the world, but gives some background into why things are the way they are.
Best Books About Central America
The Fish that Ate the Whale: The Life and Times of America’s Banana King
The Fish That Ate The Whale is one of my most recommended books of all time.
This true, yet unbelievable, story of how Sam Zemurry a Jewish immigrant, and pauper, came to control one of the most powerful corporations of the time – The United Fruit Company – and use it to influence life and politics in Central America.
From the Horatio Alger tale of rags to riches, to running guns, buying politicians, and thumbing his nose at the CIA, that Zemmurry remains a relatively unknown character in American history is a testament to how events in Central America have always flown under the radar.
Again, this story is important in understanding the view of the US from down south.
William Walker’s War: How One Man’s Private American Army Tried to Conquer Mexico, Nicaragua, and Honduras
William Walker’s War is an unbelievable true account of one of the most bold and blatant attempts by a private US citizen to just go and take over a country – in this case, Nicaragua.
While there are plenty of tales of influence by governments and corporations, the idea that an ordinary fellow could raise money and troops with the idea of taking over a sovereign nation tells a lot about what Manifest Destiny really meant at the time.
The land grab was on, and no one was safe.
Lost City of the Monkey God
My first impression of Lost City of the Monkey God was shock. The kind of shock that makes you run into the other room, get someone’s attention, and say “You’ve got to hear this”.
The part that made me do this? Disease. Diseases and parasites. The kind of creepiness you could make a TV series out of.
One of the themes that runs through the book, parallel to the main theme of finding the Lost City, is the cost that the team of researchers paid to be there in physical terms.
The Old Patagonian Express
While The Old Patagonian Express isn’t a book just about Central America, it is impossible to take a train from Boston to Patagonia without cutting through the region.
In classic Paul Theroux style, The Old Patagonian Express takes the readers on a ride, educating us along the way with insight and history.
The sections through Guatemala tell an amazing tale of this country, and the fact that Costa Rica is left out tells yet another.
The Mosquito Coast
While most of this list of books about Central America are non-fiction, any list of book recommendations on this region would be incomplete without a mention of The Mosquito Coast.
Paul Theroux’ classic escape tale of a father dragging his family to the wilds of Nicaragua is a Robinson Crusoe tale gone wrong (or more likely gone realistic).
There is reference in The Old Patagonian Express to the fact that that previous trip definitely influenced the writing of The Mosquito Coast, so there is a bit of a closed-loop there and insight into the method of this prolific travel writer.
Books About Central America – To Be Read
This is a short list of books about Central America that I haven’t read yet but either look good or are on other recommended lists that I follow. I’m always looking to learn more and understand better this region that is often overlooked yet is so impactful on our life at home and travel.
Central Americas Forgotten History: Revolution, Violence, and the Roots of Migration
To fully understand the issue of migration and illegal immigration in the US, you have to educate yourself on the realities of life on the ground in Central America.
Path Between the Seas: Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870-1914
It is impossible to understand the outside world’s effect on Central America without digging a little into the history of the Panama Canal.
Path Between the Seas is widely considered to be a must-read on this topic.
A History of Violence: Living and Dying in Central America
El Salvador and Honduras have the highest homicide rates in the world. Guatemala is close behind. This is a rough neighborhood to say the least.
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