Forest of Kings: The Untold Story of the Ancient Maya


The recent interpretation of Maya hieroglyphs has given us the first written history of the New World as it existed before the European invasion. In this book, two of the first central figures in the massive effort to decode the glyphs, Linda Schele and David Freidel, make this history available in all its detail. A Forest of Kings is the story of Maya kingship, from the beginning of its institution and the first great pyramid builders two thousand years ago to the decline of Maya civilization and its destruction...

See more details below
Paperback (Reprint)
$23.05 price
(Save 14%)$26.99 List Price

Pick Up In Store

Reserve and pick up in 60 minutes at your local store

Other sellers (Paperback)
  • All (67) from $1.99   
  • New (9) from $14.99   
  • Used (58) from $1.99   
Sending request ...


The recent interpretation of Maya hieroglyphs has given us the first written history of the New World as it existed before the European invasion. In this book, two of the first central figures in the massive effort to decode the glyphs, Linda Schele and David Freidel, make this history available in all its detail. A Forest of Kings is the story of Maya kingship, from the beginning of its institution and the first great pyramid builders two thousand years ago to the decline of Maya civilization and its destruction by the Spanish. Here the great historic rulers of pre-Columbian civilization come to life again with the decipherment of their writing. At its height, Maya civilization flourished under great kings like Shield-Jaguar, who ruled for more than sixty years, expanding his kingdom and building some of the most impressive works of architecture in the ancient world. Long placed on a mist-shrouded pedestal as austere, peaceful stargazers, the Maya elites are now known to have been the rulers of populous, aggressive city-states.

Hailed as "a Rosetta stone of Maya civilization" (Brian M. Fagan, author of People of the Earth), A Forest of Kings is "a must for interested readers," says Evon Vogt, professor of anthropology at Harvard University.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Two Maya archeologists base this tale of war, expansion and ritual on recently deciphered Mayan hieroglyphics and artifacts. According to PW , the authors ``vividly conjure the Maya world of cyclical time and multiple levels of reality, a universe where all things are alive with meaning.'' Illustrated. Jan.
Library Journal
The mystique of the pre-Columbian Maya has prompted much speculation about the nature of this sophisticated people. With the recent breaking of their elaborate hieroglyphic code, Schele and Freidel, Mayan scholars of note, provide a new look at the Maya. Structured on sound scholarly principles, their presentation abounds in notes, references, indexes, and chronologies with profuse line-drawings of temple and other inscriptions. They devote a chapter to each of the major Mayan city-states. What makes this volume more accessible and of greater impact than the average scholarly study are the frequent vignettes of great events, kingly acts, etc., told dramatically, in a fictive but plausible style that allows the ancient Maya at last to speak for themselves. Recommended for informed laypersons, as well as specialist and YA readers. See also William Ferguson and others' Mesoamerica's Ancient Cities, reviewed in this issue, p. 122.--Ed.-- Jo-Ann D. Suleiman, Sanad Support Technologies, Rock ville, Md.
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780688112042
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 1/28/1992
  • Series: Quill
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 544
  • Sales rank: 621,880
  • Product dimensions: 7.00 (w) x 10.00 (h) x 1.36 (d)

Meet the Author

David Freidel has been a Maya archaeologist for twenty years. He teaches at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

Linda Schele was a well-known authority on Maya writing and art, and the co-author of many books on the Maya including The Blood of Kings and The Code of Kings. She died in 1998.

Read More Show Less

Read an Excerpt

A Forest of Kings
The Untold Story of the Ancient MayaChapter OneTime Travel In the Jungle

Once, many years ago, when we were just beginning our adventure with the Maya, a friend observed that to cross the Texas border into Mexico was to enter a different world where time and reality dance to a different rhythm. After twenty years of moving in and out of that world, both of us have confirmed the truth of that observation for ourselves.

While the experiences of our first journey to that "otherworld" were distinctly our own, they have much in common with the thousands of other pilgrims who go to Yucatan out of curiosity and admiration. For Linda Schele that first journey came in 1970 when she followed the great arching curve of the Gulf Coast from Mobile, Alabama, around to the tip of the Yucatan peninsula. With three students and a husband in tow, she followed the narrow, potholed highway south from Matamoros through the vast, cactus-filled deserts of northern México, skirting the majestic Sierra Madre mountains. At the Gulf port of Tampico, she rode a dilapidated ferry across the Rio Panuco and with the gawking wonder of a first-time tourist entered a world that has known civilization for 5,000 years. The Huastecs, long-lost cousins of the Maya, I dwell in the mountains and the dry northern edge of this enormous region. Now we call this world Mesoamerica, a term which refers not only to geography, but to a Precolumbian cultural tradition that shared a 260-day calendar, religious beliefs including definitions of gods and bloodletting as the central act of piety, the cultivation of maize, the use of cacao as a drink and as money, a ballgame playedwith a rubber ball, screen-fold books, pyramids and plazas, and a sense of common cultural identity. The world view that was forged by the ancient peoples of that land is still a living and vibrant heritage for the millions of their descendants.

The first time you cross the boundary into that world, you may not have an intellectual definition for what is happening to you, but you will sense a change. If nothing else, this region is greener than the desert, and evidence of people and their communities thickens around you. As you drive south, the narrow band of land next to the sea gets squeezed against the waters of the Gulf of México by the huge Sierra Madre mountains and you see for the first time the dramatic contrast between the cool, dry highlands towering above and the hot, humid, forest-covered lowlands. This central opposition is the force that molded life in ancient Mesoamerica into a dynamic interaction between the peoples who lived in these two very different environments.

Moving through the green, hilly land of the Totonacs, another great people of this ancient world, you pass around the modern port city of Veracruz where Cortes's motley band of adventurers first established a foothold during the time of the Conquest. There you enter the flat, swampy homeland of the primordial Olmec, whose dominions lined the southernmost arc of the Gulf of México. Here amid the twisted courses of sluggish, tide-driven rivers (while carefully dodging the speeding juggernauts of modern tanker trucks that frequent this stretch of road), you see where the first civilization in North America was built. The road rises out of the swamp into a small cluster of black and mottled green volcanic mountains, the Tuxtlas, the natural pyramidal heart of this land, and you can see the flat waterworld of levees and bayous stretching to the horizon in all directions. This was the land of the Olmec, who began building cities at places like San Lorenzo and La Venta by 1200 B.C. They were the people who forged the template of world view and governance that the Maya would inherit a thousand years later when they began to build their own cities.

Southern Veracruz and Tabasco finally give way to the land of the Maya as the coast bends eastward to swing north into the Yucatan Peninsula. The narrow strip of land between the mountains and the sea, which had widened out briefly into the flat expanse of the ancient Olmec kingdoms in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, narrows again as you approach the westernmost Maya city, Palenque. It has always seemed to us that this swampy place could not make up its mind whether it wanted to be land or sea. Patches of dry land peek forlornly up through the flowering hyacinths that have replaced waterlilies to form the floating surface of the dark still waters the Maya saw as the source of creation.

A Forest of Kings
The Untold Story of the Ancient Maya
. Copyright (c) by David Freidel . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously
Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 28, 2009

    Where did they come from?

    This book is big and very detailed so my recommendation is to purchase a very detailed map to follow along with. There are maps in the book as well. I've been a Maya buff since the 70's but it wasn't till I read this book that I learned much more. The Olmec's came before the Mayan's, a time before Jesus was born and they built pyramids resembling Egypt and even Cambodia. The authors did a superb job relaying information from a time before Jesus once the hurdle of deciphering the glyphs and books were complete. The Mayans stripped the land and resources only to find them elsewhere which is exactly what were doing today. They fought and conquered just like us but it wasn't the answer. Sacrificing wasn't the answer. Working together as one, taking in your enemy instead of using violent means is the answer. They just learned it too late. Great Book!!!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 26, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted March 30, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted November 28, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews

If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
Why is this product inappropriate?
Comments (optional)