The Best Books about the Guatemalan Civil War

Guatemala flag
Guatemala flag | © RonnyK / Pixabay
Jack Guy

From 1960 to 1996 the Central American nation of Guatemala was riven by a civil war that resulted in the death or disappearance of more than 200,000 people. Here are the best books to read if you want to try and make sense of the Guatemalan civil war.

The indigenous Maya made up 83% of the casualties of the Guatemalan civil war

Shattered Hope: The Guatemalan Revolution And The United States, 1944-1954 by Piero Gleijeses

This academic text examines the root causes of the civil war, with a particular focus on US involvement in Guatemala. After a CIA-led coup brought down the democratically elected reformist government in 1954, it wasn’t long before the country descended into chaos. A good book if you want to understand why the war started.

What War?: Testimonies of Maya Survivors by Laurie E. Levinger

The author of this important book collected testimonies from dozens of survivors of the Guatemalan civil war. Not only do they discuss what happened during the war, but also their hopes for peace. If you want to read first-person accounts, this is a good choice.

The indigenous Maya community was persecuted during the civil war

Bitter Fruit: The American Coup in Guatemala by Stephen Schlesinger & Stephen Kinzer

This detailed study of the CIA coup that sparked the civil war has become a must read for scholars interested in Guatemala. The updated editions bring the book into the present day by looking at how the legacy of the Guatemalan civil war continues to affect the country today.

Buried Secrets: Truth and Human Rights in Guatemala by Victoria Sanford

Sanford tells the story of those who are searching for justice for over 600 massacres that took place during the civil war. The book brings the horrifying statistics to life by telling the stories of survivors of the genocidal campaign against the indigenous Maya.

A poster commemorates deposed president Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala City © Lesther Castillo / flickr

Paper Cadavers: The Archives of Dictatorship in Guatemala by Kirsten Weld

In this book Weld looks at the struggle to deal with 75 million pages of documents from the archives of the Guatemalan National Police. The treasure trove was uncovered by investigators in 2005, and is still being used in the fight for justice today.

Searching for Everardo: A Story of Love, War, and the CIA by Jennifer K. Harbury

Author Harbury fell in love with a guerrilla leader during the civil war, and spent years trying to find out what happened to his remains after he was tortured and killed by the Guatemalan army. In this book she tells the story of her struggle and what it revealed about the CIA operations in Central America.

Silence on the Mountain: Terror, Betrayal & Forgetting in Guatemala by Daniel Wilkinson

Now working for Human Rights Watch, Wilkinson spent years as a researcher in Guatemala. He found a way to get people to break the code of silence that had been adopted as a survival strategy by many people during the conflict, and allowed them to tell their stories.

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