"Ancient Maya civilization thrived in the tropics of Central America for more than a thousand years and produced some of the world's finest architecture and art. Then it mysteriously vanished, leaving a landscape of ruins smothered by forests. The Classic Maya collapse is one of the great puzzles of history, ranking alongside the Fall of Rome as an enigma that has intrigued scholars for generations." "Drawing upon recent archaeological research and hieroglyphic decipherments, David Webster evaluates the theories and dispels the myths surrounding this contentious topic. Contrary to popular belief, not all Maya centers were abandoned, and Spanish explorers of the 16th century encountered still-vigorous Maya polities. Yet the Maya of the southern Lowlands did suffer a calamitous decline beginning in the late 8th century AD. Monuments were no longer carved, royal buildings ceased to be constructed or maintained and whole populations dwindled or simply moved away." What brought about this collapse? Webster paints a picture of a brittle Late Classic world. Ambitious kings, scheming nobles and courtly extravagance are set against a backdrop of ever-more destructive wars and an exploding population that led to unsustainable stress on cultivable land. Without the means to intensify agricultural production, the system simply failed.
Webster inserts people and color into a discussion of the evolution of Maya political organization.