Mary Ellen Miller and the late Linda Schele put this book together in 1986. The field of Mayan studies is a fast-moving arena, and Mayanists already know a lot more now than they did when this book came out, but in my opinion this book is still the place to start if you want to begin learning about the Maya.
For one thing, the photography of the artwork is fantastic - the book is worth acquiring for that alone. Secondly, the commentary is by the greatest names in the field, including an introduction by Michael Coe. Thirdly, the book never strays from academic discipline, unlike a great deal of New Agey-type material written about the Maya. In fact, the book studiously avoids making any observations that cannot be substantiated - perhaps a reaction in the field of Mayan studies against the sometimes too pat assumptions that Eric Thompson made when he dominated the subject. Fourthly, it covers all the major cultural features of the Maya, providing abundant commentary on each piece of art portrayed. Last but not least, it tackles the thorny subject of Maya iconography. This is a field about which we already know a great deal more about now than we knew in 1986, but in fact if the book were written today there is probably very little that would actually be changed.
The book was printed in Japan, for some reason. No harm in that - the Japanese have a tradition, and a reputation, of producing quality bindings and excellent photographic reproductions, both of which are evident in this edition and which add to the quality of the book. I can't recommend it too highly to anyone interested in the Maya.
The Blood of Kings by Linda Schele and MAry Ellen Miller was written on the occasion of the Kimbell Art Mesuem's exhibition of Maya Art in 1986. The hope was to draw attention to the rich legacy of Maya art along with a book that would give texture to these artistic recordings of the singificant ritual events in the lives of the Maya. What better way, since art has been our keyhole to understanding the magnificance of there thought, language, science and culture? Schele and Miller do an incredble job of focusing on these artifacts to bring us inside the current understanding of what th experts perceive the maya ritual and life to be about-- including the deciperment of the syllables of the maya language.
The book begins with a history of the road to understanding the Maya culture, complete with its meadering and diversions. This "age" delights in knowing that the Maya are filled with blood, both their own in bloodletting and those of captives that they sacrifice, unlike previous interpretations of a more peaceful existence. Blood, the ooze of life, was offered to eh gods in hopres that they would continue to give their ooze of sap, rain and other life-sustaining things. The book is based on 8 sections of art and interpretation: person, accession rites, courtly life, bloodletting, captives, the ballgame, and death, and the kingship of the Maya Cosmos. Of note as weel is the colors on p.158 where one can get an interpration of what the colors might have been in the Classic period.
In this book Coe prefaces the book commenting on the profound understandng that the world of the Maya is filled with notions of death. But the myth of the Mayas is that the hero twins went to the underworld and by trickery defeated death and those rose to take their place in the Mayan night sky. Perhaps these indiscernible Maya have continued to trick us as well in our attempts to traverse the road of their culture-- and their greatest preoccupation, enscribed on their ceramics and reliefs ---is not death, but life, in all its oozing forms.