Cover image for On the trail of the Maya explorer : tracing the epic journey of John Lloyd Stephens
On the trail of the Maya explorer : tracing the epic journey of John Lloyd Stephens
Glassman, Steve.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Tuscaloosa : University of Alabama Press, [2003]

Physical Description:
xii, 283 pages : illustrations, maps ; 24 cm
Electronic Access:
Table of contents
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
F1435 .G555 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



A Mesoamerican travel book from two perspectives and two centuries.

In 1839 John Lloyd Stephens, then 31 years old, and his traveling companion, artist Frederick Catherwood, disappeared into the vast rain forest of eastern Guatemala. They had heard rumors that remains of a civilization of incomparable artistic and cultural merit were moldering in the steamy lowland jungles. They braved Indian uprisings, road agents, heat, and biting insects to eventually encounter what is today known as the lost civilization of the Maya.

In 1841 Stephens published Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan to instant acclaim with both American and international audiences. His conversational style was fresh and crisp and his subject matter, the search for lost cities on the Central American isthmus, was romantic and adventurous. Stephens's book has been characterized as the "great American nonfiction narrative of the 19th century." Indeed, what Stephens wrote about the Maya makes a major contribution to Maya studies.

Steve Glassman retraces Stephens's route, visiting the same archaeological sites, towns, markets, and churches and meeting along the way the descendants of those people Stephens described, from mestizo en route to the cornfields to town elders welcoming the Norte Americanos. Glassman's work interlaces discussion of the history, natural environment, and architecture of the region with descriptions of the people who live and work there. Glassman compares his 20th-century experience with Stephens's 19th-century exploration, gazing in awe at the same monumental pyramids, eating similar foods, and avoiding the political clashes that disrupt the governments and economies of the area.

Stephens's books are still widely available, but his importance to literary professionals has been overlooked. With this new travelogue, Glassman reaffirms Stephens's reputation and brings his work to wider critical and public attention.

Author Notes

Steve Glassman is a Professor of English and Creative Writing at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida, and author of Blood on the Moon and The Near Death Experiment.

Reviews 2

Library Journal Review

John Lloyd Stephens (1805-52) graduated in law from Columbia University, but, burning with wanderlust, he turned adventurer and amateur archaeologist, traveling to Egypt, Arabia, Turkey, Greece, and Central America. His elaborate descriptions of Mayan ruins accompanied by Frederick Catherwood's fine illustrations made his Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan (1841) a best seller. In 1992, using Incidents as a guide, Glassman (The Near Death Experiment) traced Stephens's journey, trekking from Belize to Guatemala, south to El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica, then finally north through the Yucatan peninsula, where he revisited the archaeological sites at Copan, Uxmal, Tulum, Palenque, and Chichen Itza. Glassman's narrative, replete with historical and political significance, interweaves text from Stephens's book, projecting both past and current perspectives. His approach and research are academic but the presentation and tone are such that the book will appeal to both the serious student of Meso-America and the informed lay reader. A complement to Ian Graham's Alfred Maudslay and the Maya, a biography of Stephens's intrepid successor, Glassman's work should be purchased by large public and academic libraries.-Lonnie Weatherby, McGill Univ. Lib., Montreal (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Four tomes of exploration around the world, each entitled Incidents of Travel in ... made John L. Stephens famous in the mid-19th century, and some rate him still as the greatest of US travel writers. His descriptions of ancient ruins in the forests of Yucatan and Central America awakened interest in a lost civilization that we now know to have been Maya, and for that he is best known, and his books are still read by scholars and tourists alike. During the 1990s Steve Glassman, a professor of English and creative writing, retraced much of Stephens's Central American journey. In this sprite narrative, Glassman intersperses long passages from Stephens with his own verbal pictures of those lands today. With concise and accurate synopses of the region's history and good summaries of the progress of Maya archaeology over the last century and a half, this is an engaging read and fine introduction to Stephens, Central America, and the Maya. ^BSumming Up: Recommended. All levels and libraries. P. R. Sullivan independent scholar