This list is aggregating from my reader recommendations:
Jorge Castaneda “Manana Forever” on 21st Century Mexico isn’t as polished but it’s pretty informative.
“To count, the book must have some aspirations to be a general survey of what the country is…” Mexico: Riding, Distant Neighbors, — definitely. Being up to date is not that relevant for attempting to show “what the country is…”. As good or better: Octavio Paz, El laberinto de la soledad (The Labyrinth of Solitude) (1950) and Charles Macomb Flandrau, Viva Mexico! (1908)
El Laberinto also came to my mind as a better candidate on Mexico. And then there is Understanding Mexicans and Americans: Cultural Perspectives in Conflict (Rogelio Diaz-Guerrero and Lorand B. Szalay) originally published in 1991.
If you are going to go with a dated option for Mexico, Paz’ “Labyrinth of Solitude” is considerably better than “Distant Neighbors”.
El Nicaragüense by Pablo Antonio Cuadra (for Nicaragua)
On Mexico: Enrique Krauze’s book “Mexico: Biography of Power” has the reputation of “best book about [modern] Mexico,” but I’ve struggled to read it.
The textbook answer should be “The Peruvian Experiment Reconsidered” ed. Cynthia McClintock & Abraham F. Lowenthal.
My personal favorite is another book by McClintock (the aforementioned editor and GWU Professor of Political Science and International Affairs) titled “Peasant Cooperatives and Political Change in Peru.” Unlike the broad surveys of political and economic history given in the McClintock and Lownthal edited book, “Peasant Cooperatives” gives a great case study of agrarian co-ops and the socio-economic horrors of military rule.
On Nicaragua: Stephen Kinzer’s “Blood of Brothers: Life and War in Nicaragua”
On Guyana: “Wild Coast” by John Gimlette
And Michael Reid’s “Forgotten Continent” is a useful book about South America.