The Peru Reader: History, Culture, Politics

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Sixteenth-century Spanish soldiers described it as a land filled with gold and silver, a land of untold wealth. To the Europeans who heard these stories it was a place of tantalizing mystery that mirrored dreams and desires unsatisfied by the Old World. Nineteenth-century travelers wrote of soaring Andean peaks plunging into luxuriant Amazonian canyons of orchids, pythons, and jaguars. Early twentieth-century adventurer Hiram Bingham told of the raging rivers and the wild jungles he traversed on his way to "discover" the "Lost City of the Incas," Machu Picchu. The richest treasures, the bloodiest conquest, the most poignant ballads, the most violent revolutionaries—all have been attributed to Peru.

Unparalleled in its scope, comprehensive, and written for the traveler and specialist alike, The Peru Reader offers a deeper understanding of the country that lies behind these images. Beginning with extensive historical material on topics ranging from Peru’s extraordinary pre-Columbian civilizations, through the Spanish conquest, to colonial and postcolonial rule, it weaves together a vast array of essays, folklore, historical documents, poetry, songs, short stories, autobiographical accounts, and photographs about this largest of the Andean nations. Works by contemporary Peruvian intellectuals and politicians, many translated for the first time, are presented here. The voices of the country’s often silenced underclass—peasants, street vendors, maids, Amazonian Indians, African-Peruvians—will also be found in this richly textured anthology. Blending together with the best of Western journalism and scholarship, these voices also address matters of contemporary Peruvian culture and politics such as the Maoist insurgency of the Shining Path, the cocaine economy, and the ongoing struggle for dignity and justice in a multicultural nation where Andean, African, Amazonian, and European traditions meet.

Unique among books on Latin America, intellectually ambitious, but with appeal to a wide readership, The Peru Reader provides an in-depth look at the history and cultural complexity of this Latin American nation.

About the Authors:
Orin Starn is Associate Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Duke University.

Carlos Ivan Degregori is Director of the Institute of Peruvian Studies and Professor at the National University of San Marcos, Lima.

Robin Kirk is Research Associate at Human Rights Watch -Americas and a contributing journalist to The Boston Globe, Ms., The Nation, The Progressive, and other periodicals.

"Vast, multidisciplinary collection contains previously published articles and excerpts from books on Peruvian themes. Concerns archaeology, history, political systems, resistance movements, drugs, and cultural issues. Includes ethnographic contributions of Peruvianists such as Irene Silverblatt, John Murra, Josâe Marâia Arguedes, Catherine Allen, Orin Starn, and others"--Handbook of Latin American Studies, v. 57.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“A livelier, more literate introduction to a foreign world could not be hoped for. A Peruvian trove, indeed; so much that one hardly knows where to begin dipping into its treasures.”—Alma Guillermoprieto, author of Dancing with Cuba: A Memoir of the Revolution

“This is an extremely deep, broad, and insightful collection on Peru.”—Jorge Castañeda, author of Utopia Unarmed: The Latin American Left after the Cold War and former Foreign Minister of Mexico

Jessaca B. Leinaweaver

“[A] thoughtfully-chosen range of primary historical documents, anthropological and journalistic analyses, and literary endeavors. . . . The book is a compelling and convincing mix; there’s nothing else like it.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822316176
  • Publisher: Duke University Press
  • Publication date: 1/28/1995
  • Series: Latin America Readers Series
  • Edition description: Older Edition
  • Pages: 531
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Orin Starn is Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Duke University. He is the author of Ishi’s Brain: In Search of America’s Last “Wild” Indian and Nightwatch: The Politics of Protest in the Andes, also published by Duke University Press.

Carlos Iván Degregori is Professor of Anthropology at the National University of San Marcos in Lima. He served on Peru’s government-appointed Truth and Reconciliation Commission and has written dozens of books and articles about Peru.

Robin Kirk is Co-director of the Human Rights Initiative at Duke University. She is the author of More Terrible Than Death: Massacres, Drugs, and America’s War in Colombia and The Monkey's Paw: New Chronicles from Peru.

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Read an Excerpt




Copyright © 2005 Duke University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8223-3655-6

Chapter One


Brian Fagan

In a deep canyon in the central Andes, the stone fortress-temple of Chavín de Huántar was a tantalizing enigma until the work of Peruvian archaeologist Julio C. Tello placed it firmly at the epicenter of an emerging Andean civilization. Though later studies have identified more ancient sites, Chavín de Huántar-possibly the main temple of the Chavín culture-is unique for its labyrinthine construction and dramatic religious iconography, including the famous Raimondi Stone, named after an Italian explorer and now housed in Lima. As archaeologist Brian Fagan notes, one of Chavín de Huántar's most interesting features is the way it melds Amazonian with mountain imagery, reflecting its status as a busy crossroads between Peru's jungle and coast.

Chavín de Huántar stands high in the Peruvian Andes, dating back some 2,500 years and therefore one of the most ancient shrines in the Americas. Its U-shaped temple opens east toward the nearby Mosna River and the rising sun. The sacred precinct faces away from the nearby prehistoric settlement, presenting a high, almost menacing, wall to the outside world. The entire effect is one of mystery andhidden power, something quite alien to a Christian visitor. Worshippers entered the sacred precincts by a roundabout route, passing along the temple pyramid to the river, then up some low terraces that led into the heart of the shrine. Here they found themselves in a sacred landscape set against a backdrop of mountains. Ahead of them lay the hidden place where the axis of the world passed from the sky into the underworld, an oracle famous for miles around.

The Celestial River

The sky and the underworld-as in Mesoamerica the layers of the cosmos played a central role in Andean life from the very earliest times, especially in a world of harsh droughts and unpredictable rainfall. Life was especially risky in the mountains, where farming was an endless struggle. It was here that the changing seasons assumed great importance, where the movements of heavenly bodies provided a critical barometer for planting and harvest, for the cycles of farming life. For thousands of years, Andean astronomers used the heavens and jagged mountain ridges to measure the endless rhythm of their lives. The Maya used the sun and moon, the Andeans the Milky Way, Mayu, the "Celestial River." Their modern descendants use it to this day.

Like astronomers elsewhere in the Americas, the Andeans used sighting lines to track the movements of familiar heavenly bodies. Anthropologist Gary Urton has watched modern Quechua farmers near Cuzco use the corners of buildings and fixed points on mountain peaks to monitor the constellations. The silver tracery of the Milky Way is the fundamental reference point for defining time and space. The Milky Way divides the heavens, slanting from left to right for the first half of the year, in the opposite direction for the second half. The cloudy stream also forms two intersecting axes over a twenty-four-hour period. These NE-SW and SE-NW axes reflect the rotation of the galaxy during the day.

Ancient Andeans, like their twentieth-century descendants, divided the heavens into four quarters- suyu. Their astronomers used these four quarters to plot not only stars, planets, and sun and moon, but "dark clouds," the blank darkness between constellations. Even today, some Indian groups believe these are animals-foxes, llamas, snakes, and other creatures. All these phenomena form the basis of both the ancient and modern Andean calendar. The solstices of the Milky Way mark the wet and dry seasons, providing a way of predicting river floods. The movements of the sun and moon help in the planning of planting and harvest. A vast reservoir of astronomical knowledge was integral to Andean agriculture and to religious belief. It was also fundamental to the new beliefs that flowered with the Andean civilizations.

The roots of the religious ideology that centered on Chavín grew deep in Andean soil, among people who lived in harsh, demanding environments and depended on one another for survival. It was an ideology that borrowed from many sources, from tropical rainforest peoples, from primordial mountain farmers, and from fisherfolk at the mercy of the tides and unpredictable vagaries of the Pacific Ocean.

The first flowerings of these beliefs are lost in the remote past, but we are fortunate that the prehistoric Andeans themselves commemorated them on textiles, in clay, metal, wood, and stone, on artifacts preserved in the arid soils of the desert Peruvian coast. Flying over the desolate landscape, the casual observer would be astonished to learn that this was the cradle of some of prehistoric America's most elaborate and accomplished civilizations, a place where pyramids were first built as early as they appeared along the Nile. How did these remarkable states arise in such an unpromising environment? The answers come not only from the coast itself, but from excavations at archaeological sites high in the Andes inland.

Cotton: The Fabric of Civilization

In 3500 B.C., numerous fishing villages flourished along parts of the Peruvian coast. But despite its rich fisheries, the coast was no paradise. Sometimes a warm countercurrent known as El Niño, triggered by complicated pressure changes far offshore in the Pacific, reduced upwelling close inshore so much that anchovies and other fish migrated elsewhere. Even with all the technology of modern weather forecasting, El Niños are very unpredictable and can have a devastating effect on coastal communities. They bring torrential rains and trigger catastrophic flooding inland. Except perhaps locally, the coastal populations of 3500 B.C. were never large, partly because the fisherfolk lacked cotton for nets and lines and hollow gourds to use as net floats, two critical innovations for fishing on any scale.

Cotton and gourds are not native to the coastal desert. They were introduced in domesticated form around 3500 B.C., after many centuries of being grown in moist tropical environments to the north and east. Not that the coastal people were unaware of agriculture, for they grew small amounts of squash, beans, and chile peppers. Over the centuries, they developed strong reciprocal ties with inland communities, supplying them with fish meal and shellfish, also salt, all products essential for farming communities living on predominantly carbohydrate diets. In time, the coast and the highlands became interdependent, not only for food and other staple commodities, but for luxuries such as shiny mountain obsidian and ornamental sea shells. Doubtless, it was these ancient trade networks that brought gourds, and, perhaps most important of all, cotton, to the coast.

Before 1492, cotton was an expensive rarity in the Old World, grown mainly in India and the Near East, used mainly for padding jerkins worn under suits of armor and to make coarse fustian. The Andeans were growing fine quality, long-stranded cotton for thousands of years before Columbus, creating fabric sometimes so fine that the Spaniards mistook it for Chinese silk. The dry environment of the Peruvian coast has preserved cotton cloth well over two thousand years old, much of it dyed in at least 109 hues in seven natural-color categories.

The Andeans not only domesticated cotton, but developed many strains that flourished at different altitudes. Such was their breeding expertise that it soon became a staple of coastal society, used for fishing nets and lines and as a substitute for textiles made of cactus and grass fiber. Cotton could be grown on a large scale in warm, lowland environments, so a lucrative trade in fabric developed with the highlands. This may have been the trigger that opened up large areas of desert valley land on the coast to irrigation and to large-scale cultivation of cotton. Organized irrigation works perhaps began with many minor projects involving individual families and neighboring villages. Coastal populations rose rapidly. By 2000 B.C., some settlements housed between 1,000 and 3,500 people living off a combination of fishing and agriculture.

The simple cotton weaving techniques resulted in symmetrical, angular decorative motifs that were to persist for many centuries, to be copied in clay, metal, and stone. Almost invariably, the weavers used familiar designs from popular ideology: anthropomorphic figures with flowing hair or snakes dangling from the waist, birds of prey, snarling felines, and two-headed snakes. Often the weavers would combine the forms of several creatures, such as crabs and snakes, in a single design. When fresh and brightly colored, the cotton textiles recreated familiar myths and spirit creatures that inhabited the cosmos. They were not emblems of rank, of social importance. They were symbols of popular belief in societies where the community came before the individual, where membership in an ayllu, the communal institution with its obligations to fellow kin and to the ancestors who controlled land and food resources, was all-important. Judging from the general similarities between early coastal textile designs and later Andean art styles, the same beliefs were very long-lived indeed.

Pyramids and a New Social Order

The strong sense of community felt by Andeans as early as 3000 B.C. expressed itself not only in textiles, but in a remarkable flowering of monumental architecture. More than one thousand years before the Olmec civilization flourished in Mexico, the people of the Peruvian coast built a series of ritual centers that rank among the most ambitious of all public works undertaken by the prehistoric Americans. One such was El Aspero on the central coast, a large settlement covering nearly 33 acres (13.2 ha.), complete with pyramid mounds, residential areas, terraces, and underground storage structures. The largest pyramid, Huaca de los Idolos, is 33 ft. (10 m.) high, measuring 131 by 98 ft. (40 by 30 m.) at the base. In about 2000 B.C., hundreds of people labored to build the pyramid in stages. During the quiet months of the farming year, teams of ayllu members constructed interconnecting room complexes, then filled them with hundreds of tons of rubble dumped in cane, fiber, or reed containers. Perhaps each person fulfilled his labor obligation by carrying a specified number of loads. Such a standard unit of measurement would have been invaluable for working out how many people were needed to build a mound. Once one layer of rooms was full, they built another, then filled that until an artificial mountain rose high above the valley. Then they faced the pyramid with angular basalt blocks brought in from more than half a mile (0.8 km.) away. This pyramid building technique was used for more than two thousand years.

Why should such technologically unsophisticated people build such enormous structures, and who organized these massive public works? Archaeologist Richard Burger believes that monuments like El Aspero were public displays of prestige and economic power, in the same way that we build ever-taller skyscrapers or send spaceships to the Moon. The individuals who directed these building works were almost certainly descendants of earlier kin leaders who used their wealth and abilities to intercede with the ancestors and the spiritual world to control the labor of hundreds of fellow kin.

Throughout the centuries that followed, power was measured by an individual's ability to marshal large numbers of people for impressive public works in the name of the gods. By this time, too, maize had arrived from the highlands and was doing well in the irrigated lands. The coastal farmers were preadapted to grow it, having already transformed many valley landscapes with major irrigation works. Their highly productive fields often yielded several crops a year, creating large food surpluses that supported a growing population of farmers, artisans, and priests concentrated in villages and occasional large towns.

By 2000 B.C., ceremonial architecture on the coast had assumed several forms. There were mounds and pyramids, some, like that at Salinas de Chao on the north coast, more than 80 ft. (24 m.) high-dwarfed by the 481 ft. (146 m.) height of Egypt's Great Pyramid, but still a very imposing structure. And there were large circular pits or sunken plazas intended artificially to raise and lower sacred spaces relative to one another, an artifice that anticipates the design of the later shrine at Chavín de Huántar. The worshipper might enter the ceremonial precincts at ground level, then descend into a circular, sunken court, before climbing a rectangular platform mound to the temple on the other side.

Around 1800 B.C., at El Paraíso in the Chillón Valley near Lima, ceremonial architecture took another form, a distinctive U-shaped layout of platform structures that circumscribed a large plaza, leaving it open on one side. This vast site consists of at least six huge, square buildings constructed of roughly shaped stone blocks cemented with unfired clay. The builders painted the polished clay-faced walls in brilliant hues. A square building surrounded by tiers of platforms reached by stone and clay stair-cases dominated each complex. The largest is more than 830 ft. (250 m.) long and 166 ft. (50 m.) wide, standing more than 30 ft. (20 m.) above the plain. Roofs of matting supported by willow posts once covered the interior rooms.

The building of El Paraíso must have taken many years. About 100,000 tons of rock quarried from the nearby hills went into the site. There are few signs of occupation around the major buildings, as if they were shrines and public precincts rather than residential quarters. Why did the architects choose a U-shape? It may be a sacred metaphor for the dual opposing forces of left and right. By building a U-shape, archaeologist Donald Lathrap believes, the priests could focus sacred energy, create a shrine which formed a symbolic vertical axis between the living and spiritual worlds. This axis was to be of fundamental importance in Andean life for many centuries.

We know little or nothing of the religious beliefs of these coastal kingdoms, but the variations in temple architecture hint at a diversity of cults. In the highlands, where people lived off hunting and seasonal agriculture, populations rose more slowly. They built much smaller ceremonial centers at places like Kotosh on the eastern slopes of the Andes, mostly along major trade routes to the coast, places that maintained contacts with the tropical rainforest. Japanese archaeologists working at Kotosh even found the jaw of a voracious piranha fish from the humid Amazon lowlands, apparently prized as a woodworking tool. Highland shrines centered around small chambers where burnt offerings "fed" the gods, as they did in much later times. Although there were many common beliefs, there was, apparently, no pervasive doctrine that unified Andeans of many cultural loyalties. Then, after 900 B.C., a flamboyant, shamanistic ideology swept much of the highlands and lowlands, redefining many of the fundamental beliefs of Andean life.

The Chavín Phenomenon

In 1919, Peruvian archaeologist Julio Tello was exploring the remote Pukcha River basin in the foothills of the Andes. To his surprise, he came across the remains of a remarkably sophisticated, stone-built temple pyramid near the small village of Chavín de Huántar. Tello excavated part of the temple. He uncovered carved stelae, monoliths, and many potsherds adorned with a remarkable array of forest animals-felines, birds of prey, lizards, caymans, and mythical creatures, part human, part animal, all executed in a distinctive style. Later that year, Tello recognized the same animal motifs on pottery and goldwork from the north coast of Peru, far from Chavín de Huántar itself.


Excerpted from THE PERU READER Copyright © 2005 by Duke University Press . Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

A Note on Style
Introduction 1
The Chavin Cult 17
Nazca Pottery 28
The Huarochiri Manuscript 29
Moon, Sun, Witches 35
The Origins of the Incas 49
Cloth, Textile, and the Inca Empire 55
Taxation and the Incas 70
Officials and Messengers 75
Atahualpa and Pizarro 84
In Defense of the Indians 107
Our House 111
The Tragedy of Success 112
Diary of Colonial Lima 137
Friar Martin's Mice 142
The Rebellion of Tupac Amaru 147
"All Must Die!" 157
The Battle of Ayacucho 166
Comas and the War of the Pacific 168
Priests, Indians, Soldiers, and Heroes 187
Women of Lima 195
Amazonian Indians and the Rubber Boom 203
Tempest in the Andes 219
Water! 223
Reflections 228
Human Poems 234
The APRA 240
The Massacre of Chan Chan 245
Lost to Sight 253
The Pongo's Dream 258
"The Master Will No Longer Feed Off Your Poverty" 264
The 24th of June 270
Villa El Salvador 272
Recipe for a House 278
Featherless Vultures 281
Peru's African Rhythms 290
A Guerrilla's Word 292
Liberation Theology 293
A World for Julius 297
"A Frightening Thirst for Vengeance" 308
We Are the Initiators 310
The Quota 316
Memories of a Cadre 328
Oath of Loyalty 336
Vietnam in the Andes 342
Death Threat 348
Women and Terror 350
Chaqwa 354
Huamanguino 368
"There Have Been Threats" 371
Peasants at War 377
The Hold Life Has 388
My Little Coca, Let Me Chew You! 401
The Cocaine Economy 402
Drugs, Soldiers, and Guerrillas 415
Soup of the Day 422
Nightwatch 425
"A Momentous Decision" 438
Choleric Outbreak 446
Simply Pascuala 452
Chayraq! 460
The Choncholi Chewing Gum Rap 464
Sarita Colonia Comes Flying 466
Is Peru Turning Protestant? 471
Interview with a Gay Activist 477
Adrenaline Nights 482
Reencounter 484
I Am the Bad Girl of the Story 486
Conversation in the Cathedral 487
Aguaruna Adventures 504
Self-Images 513
Suggestions for Further Reading 517
Acknowledgment of Copyrights 521
Index 525
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