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Cochineal Red: Travels Through Ancient Peru

3.95  ·  Rating details ·  186 ratings  ·  31 reviews
Imagine that all the great discoveries of Ancient Egypt had happened in the last few years...and you will have some conception of the great excitement over recent finds in Peru.

Many of the extraordinary cultures of Ancient Peru, from the lines of Nasca to the temple-cult of Chavín, buried in the mountains, and the great pyramids of the coast, have only started to give up t
Paperback, 376 pages
Published 2007 by Phoenix (first published 2006)
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Apr 21, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Thomson is a seasoned traveler and archeologist with a great deal of experience working in South America. He begins this book recounting a revisit to Llactapata, a shrine site near Machu Picchu. He described the e trek and the personality of his international team and I thought … hmmmm, this is not too interesting. Having got his own research out of the way he then narrates a series of journeys around Peru (with a brief jaunt into Bolivia at Lake Titicaca) and relates the amazing tales of cities ...more
Dec 24, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this before my trip to Peru and was thrilled to have visited some of the areas I read about. I was so happy to read about the true landscape of Peru and different ruins in a story-telling fashion. the "characters" were true explorers and archeologists of Peru which maintained my interest as I learned. my tour guides mentioned these people Hugh Thomson spoke of and interacted with. I felt more connected to the land, culture and hisotry because of my feelings for the people who explore and ...more
Feb 28, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I only read the first two chapters to get ready for my trip to Cusco and Machu Picchu, so my opinion isn't quite fair. The pre-Columbian content is good and the writing style is unpretentious, but it feels a bit dry. I liked the anecdote about the International Young Presidents Organization (YPO), but didn't feel the other personal details were captivating enough. The first-person narration could be either more exciting or left out all together.

A good example of combining historical research wi
Tadeusz Pudlik
Dec 07, 2015 rated it really liked it
A very readable introduction to the history of pre-Columbian Peru, interspersed with an account of the author's travels through the country in the early 2000s. I bought it at the end of my two week visit to Peru, and wish I had gotten it long before: it discusses fascinating archaeological sites properly explored only in the last twenty years (e.g., Caral) that I'd now love to visit. The end notes provide a long list of references for further reading.

One of the major lessons of this book is that
Oct 22, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was so chock-full of new experiences that it took me a good six months to read. I was constantly on the internet looking up more information about all the archeological sites and references. Written in an engaging style (and not pretentious), I kept coming back to read "just another chapter".
Feb 24, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
This is a fantastic book. Read it. I promise, if you weren't interested in Peru before you picked it up, you certainly will be by the time you finish. That and you will have unwittingly become fascinated by the archeological research being done in that part of the world.
Aug 02, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
this book is slow in spots. really slow. but if you can use the high points and the flashes of humor as a springboard through the slow bits, you'll see peruvian culture from the coast to the andes to lake titicaca and further. it's a really neat view...
Apr 28, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2012
I've realized that I'm shockingly ignorant when it comes to all things South America. It feels a little wrong to know more about the court of King Henry VIII than about, you know, a whole freaking continent much closer in space and time. So, back to the beginning here.
Gail Pool
Jul 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
For decades people have lamented the death of real travel, complaining that there are no new discoveries to be made in our much-traveled, well-known world. Hugh Thomson offers a different perspective in A Sacred Landscape, warning against complacency about the extent of our knowledge. Indeed, in Peru, where excavation has been slow, monuments and artifacts of the most ancient civilizations have only recently begun to emerge, offering glimpses of the fascinating cultures that are the focus of thi ...more
Jul 08, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ancient-cultures
Very readable account of many archaeological sites in Peru, told from an archaeologist. His story-telling of his own and of previous discoveries made the accounts interesting and memorable. The people and the places came to life for me. And he convinced me that these ancient people really did create sacred landscapes through their pyramids, line drawings at Nasca, and carefully planned and situated sites that related so dramatically to the land itself, to the stars and sun, and to one another as ...more
Jan 26, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
3 1/2 stars. This account of Hugh’s travels through Peru is very interesting although I didn’t find it quite as engaging as his early book, The White Rock. It’s still a good and worthy read if you’re interested in Peru’s history. He goes back to the earliest ruins and then proceeds to move forward in time going to different locations to discover more about each ancient people and culture. The links to the Incas is fascinating.
Jim Collett
Jul 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is a really interesting book with quite readable chapters on all the civilizations that preceded the Inca in Peru. Thomson does a great job of showing how the Inca drew on centuries-old traditions for many of their customs, practices, beliefs, and even forms of government. Thomson interweaves his own personal story within this larger framework, making for a true touch of the personal. I read this under a different title A Sacred Landscape.
Aug 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
In-depth history of the amazing history in Peru. The vast assembly of cultures from 3,000 BC to the collapse of cultures by the European invasion. Book makes you want more information if you appreciate historical data, carbon data and modern data technologies.
Sofia Silva
May 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book. Found it interesting from the historic point of view but also funny.
Jun 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
fascinating subject, engagingly narrated.
Cheryl Turoczy Hart
Oct 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
Good read in preparation for my trip to Peru but doesn't include the area I will be in other than a little about Lima
Jan 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
Very interesting; I wonder how outdated the hypotheses are now, but nonetheless I'm sure I know more about Peru than I did before.
Patrick Mcdermott
Mar 03, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Read while visiting Peru and it provided great additional insight. However could be considered somewhat dry at times. Very different to tequila oil.
I very much enjoyed this book. It was easy to read and informative. I am definitely putting a trip to Peru to explore some of these sights on my travel list!!!
Mar 31, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this while traveling around Peru and it really added to my trip. So interesting to learn about how old Peruvian civilization is and about the different ancient cultures. I never knew the Incas didn't have a written language!
The author's deep love for and curiousity about his subject make what could be dry material very engaging.
Vic Heaney
Aug 25, 2011 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Anybody with an interest in the old civilisations
I am 71 years old and have wanted to visit Peru since reading my father's books 60 years ago. My wife and I were limbering up to go there about 20 years ago but were deterred by the close resemblance between the Sendero Luminoso and the Khmer Rouge, not to mention the added penchant that the Sendero had for tourists.

At last we have booked to go, and will be there in 3 weeks time.

This explains why one of my Christmas presents was "Cochineal Red" by Hugh Thomson. I thought this was going to be a t
this is a compelling read on peruvian culture... as well as what it is like to be an archaelogist (which is a profession i thought about when i did 3 ancient history papers in my first year of my BA... but then i was felled by too many black and red pots).

The incas were indeed a very different culture that is not so distant time-wise. (Human sacrifice, psychedelic drugs, and some very explicit ceramics).

The book threads together both exploration and history - so both informative and engaging.
Oct 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What I loved about this book is that Hugh Thompson, who is an archelogist, starts with Hiram Bingham's "discovery" of Machu Picchu and then goes back in time thousands of years and takes the reader through the previous successive empires in Peru. For each period, he takes us on a visit of an actual site where he goes through the process of discovery and comes to new realizations about the Peruvian peoples. In the end, you wish when you had planned your first trip to Machu Picchu that you had ano ...more
Mar 29, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: peru
Fascinating book - learned SO much about Peru and it's long, ancient history. How many areas are still to be explored, how sophisticated the culture was - despite their lack of a written language. How much climate, drought, climate changes affected the communities. (Not very much at all about cochineal or natural dyes, which I expected - but an outstanding book.)
Jan 18, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2010
Excellent book about the Incas and Peru. I loved reading about the ruins and learning more about the history of Peru. I especially loved reading about the author's pilgrimmage, definitely makes the book worthwhile!
Mar 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
A really dense read that covers a lot of ground (literally and figuratively). Thomson occasionally gives in to serious digressions and deliciously British pomposity, but overall it's an insightful and eye-opening book. There is so much we don't know! I'm glad to have read it.
May 04, 2010 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in Peru and its cultures.
Recommended to Sara by: My aunt
Tried to start this before my trip to Peru; instead, I read it during and now after my travels. Absolutely fascinating thus far...
Sep 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: peru-realated
What a wonderful, informative romp through amazing landscapes and fascinating history! Thank you, Hugh Thompson!
(note, this book was published in the UK with the name "Cochineal Red")
Jenny Hemming
Mar 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Very readable, and made even better because we're about to go to Peru.
Jun 29, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, travel
An interesting tour through the ancient civilizationa of Peru. I appreciated learning more about cultures beyond the much famed Incas, as many of the earlier cultures strongly influenced and paved the way (sometimes literally with the roads) for the Incas to flourish.

As with many books that are part memoir, part archeology, part ethnography, the author is very present in the narrative. He makes a range of observations. Some of his insights felt very smart, others felt mildly culturally insensit
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Hugh Thomson believes strongly that the world is not as explored as we like to suppose.

He writes about the wilder corners of the planet, from the edges of Peru to the Himalayas, looking for Inca ruins and lost cultures. Geographical commented that 'He is a writer who explores and not an explorer who writes.'

For 'The Green Road into the Trees', he returned to Britain to write about his own country

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