Pearce, Kenneth 1921-

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PEARCE, Kenneth 1921-

PERSONAL: Born October 15, 1921, in Yorkshire, England; immigrated to United States, 1927, naturalized citizen, 1944; son of Harry and Jane Eliza Pearce; married Jeane Whitlow, November 13, 1948; children: Jon Hawley, Jan Annette. Education: Wittenberg University, A.B., 1944; University of Akron, M.S., 1951; University of Virginia, Ph.D., 1955.

ADDRESSES: Home—13076 Vista Del Valle Court, Los Altos Hills, CA 94022.

CAREER: Southwestern at Memphis, Memphis, TN, assistant professor of physics, 1954-56; Bell Aircraft Corp., Buffalo, NY, member of technical staff, 1956-58; Flight Sciences Laboratory, Buffalo, NY, vice president and principal scientist, 1958-60; Aerospace Corp., Los Angeles, CA, department head in aeromechanics laboratory, 1960-63, group director of Reentry Systems, 1963-65, senior staff scientist at corporate office, 1966-67; Lockheed Missiles and Space Co., Sunnyvale, CA, director of military systems evaluation group, 1967-78; writer, 1978—. Member of technical staff at aerodynamics and propulsion laboratory, part of Space Technology Laboratories, 1960; director of U.S. Department of Defense Ballistic Missile Technology Panel, 1965-66. Military service: U.S. Navy, fire control officer on destroyers, 1944-46; became lieutenant junior grade.


The View from the Top of the Temple: Ancient Maya Civilization and Modern Maya Culture, University of New Mexico Press (Albuquerque, NM), 1984.

Making Waves, Signature Books (Oakland, CA), 1987.

A Traveller's History of Mexico, Interlink Books (New York, NY), 2002.

SIDELIGHTS: Physicist Kenneth Pearce worked in the U.S. defense industry for more than twenty years before leaving his career and becoming a full-time researcher and writer. Pearce once told Contemporary Authors that his abrupt career change in 1978 was the result of his refusal to continue working on defenserelated projects.

"My decision to leave the defense industry in 1978 was a deliberate and carefully thought out action," said Pearce. "I spent twenty-three years in the defense industry, during which time I was one of the principal architects of some key elements of the ballistic missile program. During these years, my associates and I were highly motivated to insure the viability of strategic missiles as a deterrent to nuclear warfare, and the technical programs we embarked upon met this objective with reasonable assurance. In the past few years, program emphasis shifted from sound technical objectives to objectives more of a political nature, and I, like many other physicists, felt I could no longer justify continuing my work on this basis."

Since leaving the defense industry, Pearce has traveled extensively in Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico, where he gathered material for his book on the Maya, The View from the Top of the Temple: Ancient Maya Civilization and Modern Maya Culture (1984).

Pearce explained, "My continuing interest in ancient cultures pointed to a need for a book that covered the entire Maya area and combined archaeological studies with anthropological research. The pre-Columbian civilizations of Mexico and Central America, because of their proximity, offer many Americans, particularly those who live in the western or southeastern United States, an unparalleled opportunity to travel in areas that contain countless ruins of early civilizations. The ceremonial centers of the ancient Maya extend from the exotic rain forests of Middle America to the scrub lands of the Yucatan, and beyond the Sierra Madre to the lush slopes of the Pacific littoral. The people who conceived this magnificent civilization, however, remain dark and shadowy figures—neither their origins nor their ultimate fate, after their centers collapsed in the ninth century, are known with any degree of certainty.

"Modern day descendants of the Maya still live throughout Middle America, but the culture is a complex peasant culture, and they have retained no knowledge of the highly developed hieroglyphic writings of their ancient ancestors. The greatest tradition from the past, however, is seen in the religion practiced in modern Mayan ceremonial centers, which, in some areas of Middle America, have survived the ages better than the stone temples and monuments of the ancient cities. The framework of religion among the twentieth-century Maya retains a number of well-documented concepts, symbols, and rituals of their illustrious ancestors, such as the 260-day calendar, the ritual use of alcohol, the foliated cross, and a cosmos that is remarkably like that of the ancients. The temple cult is the most visible of the several elements of Mayan religion practiced in the region, which falls under the aegis of the Catholic church, but it openly coexists with the ancestral gods and the agricultural deities of the ancient Maya.

"Like most visitors to Mayan Middle America, I found it difficult to visualize the connection between the old civilization and the culture of the modern Maya. Local universities were of little help—the answers were there, but archaeologists and anthropologists today struggle for their very existence. There was little time to devote to courses or lectures of such a specialized nature for their students; for a physicist making casual inquiries, it was unthinkable. Fortunately, the Bay Area has two of the nation's finest research libraries: the Green Library at Stanford and the Bancroft Library at Berkeley. After a great deal of research, I realized the potential for a book that could bridge the gap in the current literature between the ancient Maya and the contemporary Maya by portraying the customs, traditions, beliefs, and rituals that not only have roots in the aboriginal past, but are observed today in the public and semipublic ceremonies of the contemporary Maya.

"The View from the Top of the Temple was written primarily for the antiquities buff, for the tourist who wants to learn more about this ancient culture than guides or guide books can offer and insists upon technical accuracy. The principal divisions of the book are ordered by geography so that it may be of direct benefit to the thousands of travelers who visit the Mayan areas of Mexico and Central America annually to tour the ancient cities and the modern villages where some of the old traditions are still observed. Archaeological sites, places of historic interest, and anthropological areas are presented for each region of the Maya heart-land in a sequence that follows transportation routes that are logistically feasible for the average traveler."

With the traveler still in mind, Pearce wrote A Traveller's History of Mexico, published in 2002. This thorough and informative work covers the history of Mexico from its earliest peoples to the twenty-first century. Beginning with prehistoric civilizations and continuing through the Olmec, the Maya, and the Aztec Empire, Pearce chronicles the conquest of Mexican natives by the Spaniards and the centuries of colonial rule. Accounts of the War of Independence and the founding of the Mexican Republic, followed by two hundred years of colorful history, bring the reader up to modern times and the problems of the struggling nation. An index of historical places throughout Mexico is cross-referenced to the text. Lee Arnold of Library Journal said that although Pearce's new book is not a traditional travel guide, it will be valuable for travelers who want to see Mexico in a historical context. Given the tumultuous past of this nation, Arnold observed that "it is a credit to the people themselves that so much antiquity and natural wealth still remain."



Library Journal, March 1, 2002, Lee Arnold, review of A Traveller's History of Mexico, p. 129.


Interlink Books, (April 30, 2002), synopsis of A Traveller's History of Mexico.*

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