Mexico City is one of the oldest cities in the Western Hemisphere. While its modern-day iteration was founded by Spanish colonists in the 16th century, its history extends back hundreds of years further when it was Tenochtitlán, the capital of the Aztec Empire. Throughout its existence, the city has lived many lives. No single book about Mexico City can capture its many faces.
Instead, we’ve collected 10 books about Mexico City, though even that may not be enough. This collection of fiction and nonfiction set in and around the capital of Mexico will take on the subject from a number of different angles. While we would encourage language learners to seek out these books in their original language — which for the most part is Spanish — all of the titles are currently available in English.
Nonfiction Books About Mexico City
For Those Who Want An Eclectic Tour Of The City: Horizontal Vertigo By Juan Villoro
The title Horizontal Vertigo gets at one of the defining features of Mexico City: new construction spreads outward, not upward. This essay collection provides an eclectic and very personal tour of the city, touching on history, mythology and the problems facing the city currently. While it’s not a comprehensive book about every single thing in the city, Villoro’s book is an excellent overview, touching on all the different aspects that make up the capital.
For Scholars Of The Ancient: Mexico: From The Olmecs To The Aztecs By Michael D. Coe, Rex Koontz & Javier Urcid
Before Mexico City, there was Tenochtitlán, capital of the Aztec Empire. While the Spanish conquest certainly reshaped the whole country, the history before is still very much present. While Mexico: From the Olmecs to the Aztecs doesn’t cover the area of Mexico City specifically, it’s an excellent look at the ancient civilizations that existed throughout modern-day Mexico.
For Readers Who Want The Whole Story: La Capital By Jonathan Kandell
If you’re interested in a more straightforward, all-encompassing history of the city, La Capital is your best bet. Though it stops in the 1980s — it was published in 1990, after all — this book covers the entire history of the city up to that point, starting with the geological conditions that formed the city in the first place. The book is on the longer side at over 600 pages, but it’s still a feat to condense so much of the city’s past into one tome.
For Those Who Want To Know More About The Earthquake: Nothing, Nobody By Elena Poniatowksa
The site of Mexico City is prone to earthquakes. That’s why the city spreads instead of building up; it would be dangerous for tall buildings. Even with that safety measure in place, however, disaster has struck. In 1985, a massive earthquake hit the city, causing death and destruction. In Nothing, Nobody, journalist Elena Poniatowksa interviews the survivors and surveys the damage. It’s a look at one of the darkest chapters in the city’s history that also spotlights humanity’s infinite capacity to rebuild.
For The Artists: The Diary Of Frida Kahlo By Frida Kahlo
Frida Kahlo was born in Mexico City. Her former home — Casa Azul — has been transformed into a museum and is one of the most-visited spots in the entire city. Reading The Diary of Frida Kahlo is a way inside the mind of an artist who is completely identified with Mexico City, and Mexico as a whole. You’ve almost certainly seen her iconic image before, but there’s much more to her life than that.
Fiction Books About Mexico City
For The Classics Lover: The Savage Detectives By Roberto Bolaño
Roberto Bolaño is a Chilean author, but The Savage Detectives starts its story in Mexico City. The book spirals outward from there, following characters from across the continents and advancing forward in decades. The protagonists of this book are in search of a Mexican poet who invented a genre of Visceral Realism. While the book is an ode to poetry, it’s also a thrilling romp around the world that has intrigue, thrills and lots of other things you might not necessarily associate with poets.
For The Family Epic Reader: Caramelo By Sandra Cisneros
This book is really set between two cities: Mexico City (of course) and Chicago, Illinois. In Caramelo, the young protagonist Lala travels from Chicago to her grandmother’s home in Mexico City every summer. In the course of her discussions with family and explorations on her own, she unearths a century of Mexican history. The intergenerational family drama is intertwined with Mexico City itself.
For Those Who Want To Know How The Other Half Lives: The Death Of Artemio Cruz By Carlos Fuentes
The novelist Carlos Fuentes’ books were meant to shine a spotlight on the poverty and inequality that he saw in Mexico City. The Death of Artemio Cruz is the story of the titular character’s life as he lies on his deathbed, reflecting on how he rose from poverty to wealth. While it focuses on just the one man, the book is about the soul and evolution of Mexico as a whole.
For Experimental Fiction Readers: The Story Of My Teeth By Valeria Luiselli
Born in Mexico City, Valeria Luiselli is one of the most interesting authors working today. Though her more recent novels have been in English — like the excellent Lost Children Archive — The Story of My Teeth is one of her earlier works. It’s an odd, poetic book, set in the suburbs of Mexico City. While it’s definitely fiction, it’s hard to place the genre exactly, because the book includes real-life contributions from workers at a juice factory.
For Goths (Or Gothics): Mexican Gothic By Silvia Moreno-Garcia
The most recently published book on this list, Mexican Gothic is a horror story set in Mexico during the 1950s. A woman believes her new husband is trying to murder her for her money, and so she reaches out to her socialite cousin in Mexico City for help. As you might guess, the husband is indeed up to something horrifying. While that could be enough to drive the plot, the story also touches on the intricacies of race and class.