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Comment: Ex-library book. The item shows wear from consistent use, but it remains in good condition and works perfectly. All pages and cover are intact (including the dust cover, if applicable). Spine may show signs of wear. Pages may include limited notes and highlighting.
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Taj Mahal: Passion and Genius at the Heart of the Moghul Empire Hardcover – March 20, 2007

4.5 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From 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 © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Like The Complete Taj Mahal, by Ebba Koch, 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. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Walker Books; First Edition edition (March 20, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802715117
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802715111
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,087,955 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Although the Prestons' book is well written, only a portion of it delivers what its title and cover seem to promise. This, of course, you will quickly discover if you have a copy to preview. If you don't, you should know that much of the book focuses on the struggles to gain/keep territory and the throne over the course of almost two centuries and six shahs. There is also much information about various shahs' idiosyncrasies and addictions, their strengths and weaknesses as leaders, and the customs of their courts and harems. What 3/4ths of the Prestons' book is really about, in fact, was equally well covered in the aptly titled A Brief History of the Great Moghuls, reprinted in 2002.

It is difficult to rate the approximately 60 pages of text in the Prestons' book that do focus on the Taj complex, including its antecedents, the people directly involved in its construction, its ornamentation, the toll time has taken on it, and a chapter on the theory that Shah Jahan had planned a different mausoleum for himself. Those who are reading about the complex in depth for the first time will likely find the material interesting; those who have read other books on the subject are unlikely to find much that is new.

Unfortunately, it is not at all difficult to rate the 23 snapshots of the Taj complex and related funerary architecture in this book. First, most are small, grainy black and grays that reveal little more than general outlines. Second, even the seven in color (four of them small ones of interior details) are taken from too great a distance to reveal technical brilliance or artistry.
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Format: Hardcover
For those that want to see complete visuals and illustrations of the Taj Mahal, then this book is not for you. It contained many photos but most were taken at a distance and others were a bit blurry. Even my heavily scratched reading glasses did not assist in delivering me an adequate detailed photo. I visited the Taj, in 2002, and have more interesting photos than what was portrayed in the book. I also visited the Red Fort in 2006, which was also described in the book.
The only other 'pessimistic item' that I would write about was that, at times, it was difficult to follow the authors when they would describe informative detail on the building and how it was constructed. Since there were no photos about these fine details to observe, this information proved difficult to follow. It could be just me. I am a very visual person and that describing things in detail usually averts my attention. I need visuals!
Now, for the good side. I thought the book was very informative on the Moghul empire. It discusses all the friction between the families on the strive to gain power and gives you a pretty good account of the history of India(Moghul empire, mainly) during that time frame. It also makes you understand why imperialistic empires just don't survive and how the desire for power destroyed this infamous empire. I am no avid historian and have read only a few books containing any history of India. Even though I lack the historical background of India, I found the book easy to read and follow. Basically I read it in 2 days and found the information that the authors presented to be fascinating. I felt as if I was standing there watching the whole thing unfold in front of my eyes. In addition, I was able to perceive the physical sensation of the characters written within the pages.
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Format: Hardcover
initially I was interested in this book because a decade ago, I'd written about Mumtaz Mahal, the woman for whom the Taj was built. I was amazed at the book's insights. One in particular moved me--it showed how Shah Jahan publicly revealed his deep grief over his wife's death. By going public, he broke the rules of Indian society by showing his feelings in such a manner--considered signs of weakness in a man, especially a ruler. But this book took on even more meaning after taking a recent 3-week trip to India. In the Preston book, I'd read how uncounted thousands of laborers, men and women, had built the foundations of the Taj with little besides their hands. That seemed hard to believe. But in Agra and other places, I was astonished to see women and men doing repair work on grand monuments like the Taj, moving stones in baskets, carrying loads of excavated earth upon their heads--exactly as described in the Preston book. Since I collect books, I like those that cover a topic well and give me unusual facts, too. From this one, I found out something I'd always wanted to know: that the backwards swastika seen everywhere in India represents the way the cosmos spreads outward in four directions. Cool. Being a nonfiction writer myself, I know what a challenge it is to tackle a popular topic that, one would think, has been "done to death." The Prestons have risen to the challenge and succeeded brilliantly.
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Format: Paperback
This book is the story of the family behind the Taj Mahal. If you are interested in the actual monument, its design and construction, you will have to do with about 50 pages. I got this book at the public library, so I was able to browse it, and the history was I was looking for. Otherwise, I would have been disappointed.

The Prestons give not only an understandable, but also a readable account of this brutal family history. The sketch of the love story is well known, but not how Shah Jahan lost favor of his father, in some part due to his father's love and dependence on one of this late in life wives. Most, probably, do not know the fate of the children of these famous lovers, nor that Shah Jahan died imprisoned by one of them within view of this monument.

One can only marvel on how Mumtaz Mahal traveled with her husband in war, and exile, constantly pregnant and bearing 14 children. Perhaps, as their family history suggests, she was the only one with whom he could confide and trust. They had a lasting sexual attraction despite his easy access to others and her continual pregnancies. They had shared extreme ups and downs. She may have been the only constant (later fulfilled by their eldest daughter) in his brutal and unstable world.

The Prestons note the other mausoleums built for and by these Moghul rulers, none of which approach this in style and size. As I write this, the Food Channel has a competition of chocolate sculptors making a model of this incredible structure.
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