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

Overview

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 ...

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

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Overview

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

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.
From the Publisher

Praise for Taj Mahal:

“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

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802715111
  • Publisher: Walker & Company
  • Publication date: 3/20/2007
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 1,229,453
  • Product dimensions: 6.35 (w) x 9.68 (h) x 1.24 (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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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 12, 2013

    I am a High School Sophomore who had to do a Research Project ab

    I am a High School Sophomore who had to do a Research Project about the Taj Mahal, so I chose to read this book. I decided
    to choose this book because I thought it would be very interesting to read about the emperors throughout the period of the Moghul
    Dynasty. The book was not interesting at all, I nearly fell asleep once I started reading it. If you enjoy learning about history go for
    it, you'd stay awake reading it. It seemed as if I were reading facts of the world's most famous memorial to love. It did give much detail
    explaining the design of the flawless symmetry and exquisite elegance. I would've liked the book to focus on Shah Jahan and his
    wife, Mumtaz Mahal. It did begin to get a bit confusing once it started naming all of the certain places and emperors. The book mainly
    focused on the creation of the Taj Mahal, therefor it only helped me answer a few questions. I thought it was very well written, it all
    lead up to Shah Jahan being in power. It pointed out when the empire was at its highest extent and when it collapsed. If you are
    interested on how the the Moghul Dynasty came to be, this is by far the perfect book. If you fall asleep in history class I sure recommend
     you do not read this book. I thought the book was a fabulous combination of cultural and architectural heritage. 

    10 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted April 11, 2013

    I am a High School Sophomore who had to do a Research Project on

    I am a High School Sophomore who had to do a Research Project on the Taj Mahal. I chose this book because it seemed very informative.
    I thought that the book was a little boring. It mostly stated facts and didn't give much of a narrative. I was hooping for more of a story behind the book
    but it gave more of a really long history lesson. I would suggest this book to someone interested in knowing the emperors through out a long 
    period of the Moghul Dynasty. It was not for a long time, that the book actually mentions when the Taj Mahl was beginning to be built. I think that
     if the book would have painted a clear and more vivid picture of what was going on I might have been  more interested. All it really did was lay down the
    raw facts. There wasn't much detail to keee me interested. Towards the end I felt more interested because it described the love that Shah Jahan
    shared with his wife, Mumtaz.. For the Research Project I had to do, I was able to find only  a few answers to my questions. The book it self, was
    well written in my opinion. Things were pretty easy to understand for the most part. If you find yourself interested in History class i suggest
    this book to you. If you have no interest whatsoever over the emperors and how they came to rule I suggest you pick a different book. If you are
    only interested in The Taj Mahal itself and not the background of the Moghuls, I suggest you chose a different book as well. I wouldn't  be that
    interested in reading another book like this. It was a good book, but not exactly what i was looking for.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 11, 2013

    I am a High School Sophomore who had to do a Research Project on

    I am a High School Sophomore who had to do a Research Project on this book. I did not find this book
    to be very helpful. The reason why is because it talks a lot about the families and how they want to gain
    power. It gives a lot of history on India and there is a lot of names and places. It focuses on the emperors
    that lead up to Shah Jahan and the people who were involved in the building of the Taj Mahal. It kind of helped me a little with some of my questions, but not as much as I thought it would. I found it kind of boring because I do not like to read about history. It did not give me enough information from what I needed about the Taj Mahal. It mainly talks about the creation of the Taj Mahal and not as much of information about it. For me,
    it felt like forever while I was reading this book. It did not keep me interested at all. Maybe because I do not
    like history? Or because I was not finding what I needed? I do not know, but I know this book was not for me.
    If you like history and would want to know about the Taj Mahals creation, then this book is for you.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 2, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted July 12, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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