Taj Mahal: Passion and Genius at the Heart of the Moghul Empire

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The dazzling story of the Taj Mahal and the empire whose spirit it epitomizes.

Built by the Moghul emperor Shah Jahan as a memorial to his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal, the Taj Mahal’s flawless symmetry and gleaming presence have or centuries dazzled everyone who has seen it, and the story of its creation is a fascinating blend of cultural and architectural heritage. Yet, as Diana and Michael Preston vividly convey in the first narrative history of the Taj, it also reflects the magnificent history of the Moghul Empire itself, for it turned out to mark the high point of the empire’s glory at the same time as it became a tipping point in Moghul fortunes. With the storytelling skills that characterize their previous books, the Prestons bring alive both the grand sweep of Moghul history and the details that make it memorable. A tale of overwhelming passion, the story of the Taj has the cadences of Greek tragedy and the ripe emotion of grand opera, and puts a memorable human face on the marble masterpiece.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Filled with quotes, anecdotes and evocative prose, this true tale has, at times, the texture of a historical novel.”—Seattle Times

“This history breaks through the legendary facade to reveal a powerful backstory.”—Publishers Weekly

“In describing the Moghul Empire, the Prestons tell tales of Sunni and Shiite tensions; battles that are won by bribery as much as by force; and religious and clan wars that sweep from Kandahar to Kabul to Kashmir.”—San Diego Union-Tribune

Publishers Weekly

Built in 1631 by the Moghul emperor Shah Jahan after the death of his wife, Mumtaz, the Taj Mahal is one of the world's few instantly recognizable architectural landmarks, "an expression not only of supreme love but also of confident power and opulent majesty." To tell its story, the Prestons (A Pirate of Exquisite Mind), British historians, trace several generations in the violent family history of India's Moghul rulers and the elaborate mausoleums they built. Though Shah Jahan—who ascended to the throne after killing his brother—undoubtedly loved Mumtaz dearly, their lives turn out to have been slightly less romantic than the legend. Mumtaz died while delivering the 14th child of their 19-year marriage, after which her husband honored her wish that he never take another wife but relied on the constant companionship of concubines. It's the family saga and the exotic palace life that hold the Prestons' attention, but they supply just enough architectural details to satisfy those who might be more interested in how the building supports its massive central dome. Though many questions about the Taj remain unanswered, this small history breaks through the legendary facade to reveal a powerful backstory. 8 color and 55 b&w illus. (Apr.)

Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
The Taj Mahal (1631), one of the Seven Wonders of the World, has been beautifully exalted in the hands of the Prestons (coauthors, A Pirate of Exquisite Mind), Oxford-trained historians living in London. They skillfully unveil the history of the 16th-19th-century Mogul Empire, especially its architecture, campaigns, and court life. Drawing on Mogul and Indian original sources, individual accounts of Europeans travelers to the Indian Subcontinent, and various scholarly sources, the authors set the Taj Mahal in context and acknowledge the existence of unresolved questions, such as who the architect was. The map of India, genealogy, and pictures of Mogul architecture and gardens will help novice historians to understand better this era in India. The Prestons' occasional use of contemporary and later poetry enriches the work. If one is looking for an administrative study of the Mogul dynasty, this book doesn't offer much; it is, however, a reliable source for readers wanting to understand the splendor of the Taj Mahal in historical context. Recommended for academic and public libraries with collections in Indian history.
—Uma Doraiswamy
Kirkus Reviews
The legendary shrine to love and power viewed as a defining statement of two centuries of Moghul rule in India. The Prestons (co-authors, A Pirate of Exquisite Mind, 2004) brook no casual approach to appreciation of the architectural masterpiece in Agra, India, long known as one of the world's wonders. Readers should be prepared to trek back to the roots of the Mongol/Turkic people, direct descendants of conquerors Genghis Khan and Tamburlaine, who flooded through the Khyber Pass into Hindustan (northern India) early in the 16th century, led by Babur, the first Moghul emperor. A century of conquests, internecine rivalries and political intrigues, plus the melding of the Moghuls' Islamic customs with the Hindu ways of their Indian subjects, is given considerable detail before the emergence of Shah Jahan (1592-1666), the grandson of the emperor Akbar, who was Babur's grandson. The familiar tale of the tragic death in childbirth of Jahan's beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal ensues, along with the enduring passion of his grief and the erection of an extraordinary monument and tomb in her honor. The authors give a mere nod to modern factions at odds with consensus history (claims include that the Taj Mahal actually incorporates a pre-existing Hindu temple). They acknowledge that the actual architect has never been named, nor are there indisputable records of the total cost of erecting the Taj as a new structure (both cited as arguments for pro-Hindu claims of origin). However, their statement that the Taj not only incorporated both Muslim and Hindu elements but synthesized them into "a building that is much greater than the sum of its influences" seems well buttressed by generations of breathlessobservers glimpsing its marble and sandstone exterior in the changing light of late afternoon. Perhaps more than some architecture buffs may bargain for, but enriching in its historical sweep and context.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802716736
  • Publisher: Walker & Company
  • Publication date: 2/5/2008
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 999,690
  • Product dimensions: 5.95 (w) x 7.85 (h) x 0.92 (d)

Meet the Author

Diana and Michael Preston are Oxford-trained historians who live in London, England. Diana is the author of A First Rate Tragedy, The Boxer Rebellion, Lusitania: An Epic Tragedy, and Before the Fallout: From Marie Curie to Hiroshima, which won the 2006 Los Angeles Times prize for Science & Technology. She and Michael coauthored A Pirate of Exquisite Mind, a biography of the great seventeenth-century adventurer William Dampier.

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Table of Contents

Prologue     1
"A Place of Few Charms"     11
Allah Akbar     28
"Seizer of the World"     41
"Peerless Pearls and Heart-Pleasing Stuffs"     54
The Warrior Prince     75
Emperor in Waiting     91
Chosen One of the Palace     105
The Peacock Throne     119
"Build for Me a Mausoleum"     143
"Dust of Anguish"     155
"The Builder Could Not Have Been of This Earth"     170
"This Paradise-Like Garden"     193
The Illumined Tomb     204
"The Sublime Throne"     217
"Sharper Than a Serpent's Tooth"     233
Fall of the Peacock Throne     249
"His Own Tomb on the Other Side of the River"     262
Epilogue     275
Acknowledgments     287
Notes and Sources     289
Bibliography     305
Index     311
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 30, 2015

    I am a high school sophomore and i read this book for a research

    I am a high school sophomore and i read this book for a research project on the Taj Mahal. Taj Mahal by Diana and Michael Preston was an interesting book with much detail and much background. It was very helpful but at times was also very confusing. I really enjoyed when the book described the family tree and tradition of the Moghuls. There was also much of the book analyzing how empires struggled to keep land or fight for it. Since this happened for about six centuries the book went on and on about it. When it went on to the leaders and their reign there was much description. Family lineage was hard for me to comprehend because the names were confusing and most of them were alike. If you are looking for a book that has more description and detail on the ornamentation and construction this book isn’t the one. Not much was said or given If this book had clearer pictures and were put on pages
    to help understand to what they went along with I could have understood it better

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 13, 2014

    I am a High School Sophomore and I chose to read this book for m

    I am a High School Sophomore and I chose to read this book for my research project on the Taj Mahal. I chose to read this book because I thought it would be interesting and because my teacher recommended it. I did not find it interesting at all. For a good portion of the book it mainly discusses previous rulers, their history, and impact they made on the future rulers and I think that it was too informative and unnecessary. It also goes into too much detail on the ruler’s conquest and fight to keep the throne and power. The main reason I did not like this book is because it took several chapters to begin discussing the Taj Mahal, and when it did, it did not help me as much as I thought it would. I could not answer most of my research questions with this book. When the book finally discussed the Taj Mahal it is too detailed about its architecture, design, calligraphy, and techniques on how they built it. It also discusses too much about the people involved it its construction. I felt the authors should have included more about Taj Mahal itself instead of all the history about their ancient rulers. It took me a lot to read this book and I would doze off frequently. The only thing I enjoyed about this book were the pictures. They showed the unique structures and patterns inside and outside of the Taj Mahal. Overall, I thought this book was very boring and I would only recommend it to people who are interested in history.  

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 28, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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