In 1839, rumors of extraordinary yet baffling stone ruins buried within the unmapped jungles of Central America reached two of the world’s most intrepid travelers. Seized by the reports, American diplomat John Lloyd Stephens and British artist Frederick Catherwood—both already celebrated for their adventures in Egypt, the Holy Land, Greece, and Rome—sailed together out of New York Harbor on an expedition into the forbidding rainforests of present-day Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico. What they found would upend the West’s understanding of human history.
About The Author
Just out of the army in the late 1960s, I entered the University of California, Berkeley, on the G.I. Bill. I knew I would still have to work myself through school (I majored in of all things Rhetoric—very practical). My first choice in the university’s 'work-study' program was a job in one of the university's many libraries. While in the army I had spent most of my free time in post libraries, always with my head in a book. Now, I found myself working as a library page in the university's Bancroft Library, a research repository for Western history collections. While there I was asked to retrieve handwritten correspondence from Ernest Hemingway and Mark Twain, two authors I revered, and to my disbelief I held in my hands many of their letters as I brought them up from the stacks to researchers.
Decades after my first encounter with the Bancroft Library, I found myself there once again. My wife and I lived for many years part time in Guatemala, where I had fallen in love with a nineteenth-century writer named John L. Stephens. I had traveled to several of the astonishing stone ruins of the ancient Maya scattered in the jungles of Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico. But I became ever more enthralled with that civilization through the eyes of Stephens, who in the 1840s published riveting books about his adventures with an artist named Frederick Catherwood and their discovery of the lost civilization of the Maya. I decided to follow their 2,500-mile journey through the jungle in my beat-up 1985 Toyota Corolla, a car without air conditioning or radio and the closest thing I could find to the mules the two men had used during their expeditions.
On returning to my home in San Francisco, I discovered to my surprise that Stephens's letters and personal papers were located across the Bay at the Bancroft Library. There, spellbound by his personal writings and letters that revealed his deep friendship with Catherwood, who had so brilliantly illustrated their travels of exploration and adventure together, I began my own journey that resulted in 'Jungle of Stone,' a work aimed at telling not only the story of their extraordinary lives but the discoveries they made that changed the world's understanding of the history of the Americas before Columbus.
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