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Jungle of the Maya

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Jungle of the Maya
Photographs by Douglas Goodell and Jerry Barrack. Text by Jim Wright. Foreword by Archie Carr III. (University of Texas Press, Austin: 2006. Pg. x, 138. 227 Color Photos, 2 Maps.) ISBN: 0-292-71412-2.

Reviewed by Sheldon Ztvordokov - October 3, 2006

Arm chair travelers, as well as individuals interested in natural history or Mesoamerican studies, will be enthralled by Jungle of the Maya, a photographic journey through the Selva Maya (Forest of the Maya). Encompassing some nine-million acres, the Selva Maya is one of the largest contiguous tropical forests in South America. Located to the north of the Amazon, it encompasses large sections of Belize, Guatemala, and the Yucatan Peninsula.

This book contains more than 200 stunning color photos of the forest's flora and fauna, as well as many Mayan ruins such as the El Castillo pyramid at Chichen Itza and the Palace of Masks at Kabah. The photographs were taken by Douglas Goodell and Jerry Barrack, and they are enhanced with descriptive text by Jim Wright. The glimpse offered by these photographs of this vibrant and biodiverse jungle provides the reader with an introduction to the breadth of wildlife that calls this forest home, such as a wide variety of birds including the Slaty-tailed Trogon, various snakes and amphibians, jaguars, bats, insects, and monkeys. It also gives you a peek at some of the forest's more unique features such as Mayan ruins, the hauntingly beautiful Ceiba tree, and ancient waterways.

This book is not intended to serve as a comprehensive tour of the region. Rather, its goal is to provide the reader with a taste of the grandeur of the Maya forest and to give readers a chance to experience, albeit vicariously, how it feels to walk under the dense jungle canopy and to catch sight of all manner of wildlife from fragile butterflies to one of the numerous wild cats that inhabit the forest. It also provides the reader with a hint of what this tropical paradise was like when the area was under the control of the ancient Maya.

Jungle of the Maya is an informative book to read, and a mesmerizing book to look at. It does double duty as both a coffee table book, and as a reference book that will fascinate both young and old alike. As well, Wright not only provides explanatory descriptions of the photographs, but he also provides a running commentary on the region's natural and human history (both ancient and modern). He also offers advice on how best to explore the Selva Maya, and he offers tips on viewing wildlife - for those fortunate enough to visit the Selva Maya in person. This book also serves to remind readers why it is so important to work to preserve this unique biosphere, and it offers insights as to what the future might hold for the Selva Maya.

Related Reviews:

The Maya Tropical Forest: People, Parks, and Ancient Cities, by James D. Nations.
Part travelogue and part natural history guidebook; this book provides important data about the state and future of the Maya Tropical forest and the history and geography of the region.

Historical Atlas of Central America, by Carolyn Hall and Héctor Pérez Brignoli.
A superbly illustrated atlas of Central American covering the 16th century to the present. Includes a detailed overview of the history and culture of the region, and 405 color maps.

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