Passion and Genius at the Heart of the Moghul Empire
Publication Date: March 20, 2007
While Galileo suffered under house arrest at the hands of Pope Urban VIII, the Thirty Years War ruined Europe, and the Pilgrims struggled to survive in the New World, work began on what would become one of the Seven Wonders of the World: the Taj Mahal. Built by the Moghul emperor Shah Jahan as a memorial to his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal, its flawless symmetry and gleaming presence have for 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 & 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.
The roots of the Moghul Empire lie with the legendary warriors Genghis Khan and Tamburlaine; at its height it contained 100 million people, from Afghanistan in the north and present-day Pakistan in the west, to Bengal in the east and southwards deep into central India.. With the storytelling skills that characterize their previous books, Diana & Michael Preston bring alive both the grand sweep of Moghul history and the details that make it memorable: the battles and dynastic rivalries that forged the Empire alongside an intimate chronicle of daily life within the imperial palace. 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.
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 co-authored A Pirate of Exquisite Mind, a biography of the great 17th-century adventurer, William Dampier.
"Like The Complete Taj Mahal by Ebba Koch [BKL Ja 1 & 15 07], an illustrated album by a conservator of the complex, the Prestons' history both discusses architecture and presents biographies of its entombed builder and wife. Said to immortalize the love of Shah Jahan and his consort, Mumtaz Mahal, the Taj Mahal also announced the wealth and taste of the monarch able to commission such exquisite magnificence. The authors anchor the Taj's origin in that of the Mogul Empire, of which Shah Jahan was the fifth ruler (1627-58). They discuss the Taj Mahal's ancestry in Islamic funereal architecture amid a narrative of harem customs and dynastic politics of the Mogul Empire. The latter tended toward the lethal, and the travails of Jahan and Mumtaz in obtaining the throne may have closely bonded the two. The Prestons carry off this view of the Taj Mahal's inspiration with judicious erudition and limpid clarity, traits their audience has come to expect and which are on full display in this portrait." --Gilbert Taylor, Booklist "Taj Mahal is the title of the latest offering by Oxford historians Diana and Michael Preston. In it they chronicle the blood, sweat, emotions, expenditure and history behind the construction of the world's most famous mausoleum. Filled with quotes, anecdotes and evocative prose, this true tale has, at times, the texture of a historical novel."--Bharti Kirchner, The Seattle Times