This is a comprehensive work on the monumental sculpture of the Olmec civilization, Mesoamerica’s first high culture, which spanned the period from 1300 to 400 b.c. It should be read in conjuction with the author’s more fully illustrated Catálogo de la escultura olmeca (1973). Here her intent is to establish general traits that characterize the Olmec style, and regional and local elements that artistically define zones and specific Olmec centers. Her approach is that of art history and formal analytical techniques, such as the use of the “golden section” to study proportion.

The book opens with an exhaustive and critical history of Olmec research, probably the best we have. I do, however, differ with some of her assessments of past Olmequistas and of earlier attempts to define the style and culture. I feel, for instance, that she has downgraded the pivotal role of the late Matthew Stirling in bringing the civilization to light in the first place.

From her analysis, the author concludes that the sculpture of San Lorenzo is the oldest, and takes this as her departure point for establishing the characteristics of the style. There is a stylistic evolution in colossal heads and other great basalt monuments through La Venta, ending with Tres Zapotes, although there is some overlap among these centers.

A final section deals with the controversial subject of Olmec iconography. Here the author puts herself on one side, and David Joralemon and me on the other. We believe that through structural analysis, many specific but interrelated gods appear in Olmec art, and that some of these might be interpreted using sixteenth-century ethnohistorical data from Mesoamerica. She rejects this approach in favor of her own, which seems to me impressionistic, romantic, and somewhat culture-bound (e.g., “the sphere is a symbol of the cosmos, the totality of what is known”).

Overall, this is a most valuable contribution, which should be read by both art historians and archaeologists interested in one of the world’s most fascinating art styles.