December 2009: Book Reviews

CHINA

Song China Through 21st Century Eyes: Yaozhou and Qingbai Ceramics by Rose Kerr

ISBN 978 90 7990 01 3, Meijering Art Books, Euro 325, order from www.meijeringartbooks.com/song.

This book looks at two very distinct ceramic types, that were greatly admired in China at the time of their manufacture. It acts as an introduction to two important Chinese kilns and their products, but goes on to place the ceramics in their historical, geographical, economic and social contexts, using the latest research from both China and the West. How were ceramics used, where were they employed and who owned them?  How were they made, and where were they sold?  Why are Yaozhou and Qingbai ceramics treasured by connoisseurs?  All these questions and more are addressed in the text.  Illustrated with pictures, details and marks of pieces in the collection, the text is amplified with pictures from historical sources, and by new photographs of contemporary China. The books’ innovative design and abundant use of colour marks a new departure for books on Chinese ceramics and is published in a limited edition of 1000 copies. The text is bi-lingual in English and Chinese.

 

 

China at the Court of the Emperors: Unknown Masterpieces from Han Tradition to Tang Elegance (25-907): Unknown Masterpieces from the Han Tradition to Tang Elegance (25-907) by Sabina Rastelli

ISBN 978-8861306813, Skira Editore, £40

200 artistic masterpieces of China’s golden age, many are published for the first time. The book presents almost 200 masterpieces coming from 32 museums and institutes in Shaanxi, Henan, Gansu, and Jiangsu provinces, many of them never seen in the West before, and examines the vast period from the Eastern Han dynasty (25-220) through the Tang (618-907), during which Chinese civilisation underwent radical transformation. The interval of time between the fall of the Eastern Han and Chinas reunification under the Sui dynasty (581-618) is traditionally considered as a dark period of unrest in which the country was politically and culturally divided between north and south, east and west. Nevertheless, recent archaeological excavations and new studies are demonstrating that in reality this period of Chinese history was far from being a cultural desert and rather represented a moment of regeneration and flowering of the arts, culminating in the Tang civilisation, traditionally defined as China’s ‘Golden Age’.

 

Decoded Messages: The Symbolic Language of Chinese Animal Painting by Hou-Mei Sung

ISBN-13: 978-0300141528, Yale University Press, £40

During the Ming Dynasty numerous new animal themes were created to convey political and ethical messages current at court. As the result a sophisticated language of Chinese animal painting was developed, employing both the animals’ symbolic associations and homonymic puns. Hou-mei Sung’s exciting rediscovery of some of these lost meanings has led to a full-scale investigation of the evolving history of Chinese animal painting. Distinct symbolic meanings were associated with individual motifs, but all animals were assigned a place in the universe according to the Chinese concept of nature. From the very early yin/yang cosmology to later developments of Daoist and Confucian philosophies and ethics, Chinese animals gained new meanings related to their historical contexts. This book explores these new findings, using the colourful animal images and their rich and evolving symbolic meanings to gain insight into unique aspects of Chinese art, as well as Chinese culture and history.

 

Luo Ping: Eccentric Visions by Kim Karlsson

ISBN-13: 978-3907077412, Paul Holberton Publishing, £41.70

Known today as the youngest of the remarkable ‘Eight Eccentrics of Yangzhou’, Luo Ping was one of the most versatile, original, and celebrated artists in 18th-century China. While Luo’s early works reflect the thriving and innovative artistic climate of his hometown Yangzhou, his late oeuvre  produced in Beijing provides evidence for the art-historical and antiquarian interests that he shared with his friends and patrons, many of whom were among the most prominent representatives of the intellectual and political life of the day. This accompanies an exhibition of works drawn primarily from leading museums in China, and includes rarely seen masterpieces as well as overlooked or unpublished works to provide a broad spectrum of Luo’s multiple talents and extraordinary pictorial prowess, including compelling portraits, colourful landscapes, Buddhist images, and witty depictions of animals and plants. Also featured and comprehensively documented in the catalogue is the pictorial monument that cemented his lasting fame: the Ghost Amusement scroll from around 1766, Luo s most celebrated depiction of supernatural beings.

 

Chinese Ceramics by Stacey Pierson

ISBN 978-185177576 , V&A Publishing, £30

The publication of this book coincides with the opening of the V&A’s new Ceramics Galleries last September. Chinese ceramics are amongst the most widely admired and collected in the world. From elegant Song celadons to decorative Ming vases and colourful Qing famille rose, ceramics produced in China have influenced taste and daily life globally. This new design history draws on the V&A’s comprehensive collection,which dates back to 1854, to look at the production, consumption, aesthetics and transfer of Chinese ceramics globally in this richly illustrated volume. Over 200 pieces are illustrated in the book, including previously unpublished objects. The book contains the first survey of new ceramics made in the 20th and 21st centuries, from Republican period porcelain to propaganda ware and studio pottery are included marking this the most important book on Chinese ceramics to date.

 

When China Rules the World: The Rise of the Middle Kingdom and the End of the Western World by Martin Jacques

ISBN-13: 978-0713992540, Allen Lane, £30

For well over 200 years we have lived in a Western-made world, one where the very notion of being modern is inextricably bound up with being ‘Western’. The 21st century will be different. The rise of China, India and the Asian tigers means that, for the first time, modernity will no longer be exclusively Western. The West will be confronted with the fact that its systems, institutions and values are no longer the only ones on offer. The key idea of Martin Jacques’s new book is that we are moving into an era of contested modernity. The central player in this new world will be China. Continental in size and mentality, China is a ‘civilisation-state’ whose characteristics, attitudes and values long predate its existence as a nation-state. Although clearly influenced by the west, its extraordinary size and history mean that it will remain highly distinct, and as it exercises its rapidly growing power it will change much more than the world’s geo-politics. The nation-state as we understand it will no longer be globally dominant, and the Westphalian state-system will be transformed; ideas of race will be redrawn. This profound and far-sighted book explains for the first time the deeper meaning of the rise of China.

 

The Penguin History of Modern China: The Fall and Rise of a Great Power, 1850-2009 by Johnathan Fenby

ISBN-13: 978-0141020099, Penguin, £12.99

In 1850, China was the ‘sick man of Asia’. Now it is set to become the most powerful nation on earth. The Penguin History of Modern China shows how turbulent that journey has been. For 150 years China has endured as victim to brutality on an unmatched scale, to oppression, to war and to famine. This makes its current position as the newest and, arguably, most important global superpower all the more extraordinary. Jonathan Fenby’s clear and comprehensive account of China’s recent past is the definitive guide to this remarkable transformation.

 

For All the Tea in China: Espionage, Empire and the Secret Formula of the World’s Favourite Drink by Sarah Rose

ISBN 978-0091797065, Hutchinson, £18.99

Robert Fortune was a Scottish gardener, botanist, plant hunter – and industrial spy. In 1848, the East India Company  engaged him to make a clandestine trip into the interior of China (territory forbidden to foreigners) to steal the closely guarded secrets of tea. For centuries, China had been the world’s sole tea manufacturer. Britain purchased this fuel for its Empire by trading opium to the Chinese – a poisonous relationship Britain fought two destructive wars to sustain. The East India Company had profited lavishly as the middleman, but it was now sinking, having lost its monopoly to trade tea. Its salvation, it thought, was to establish its own plantations in the Himalayas of British India. There were just two problems: India had no tea plants worth growing, and the company wouldn’t have known what to do with them if it had. Hence Robert Fortune’s daring trip. The Chinese interior was off-limits and virtually unknown to the West, but that’s where the finest tea was grown – the richest oolongs, soochongs and pekoes. And the Emperor aimed to keep it that way. Robert Fortune ventured deep inside the country, risking his life for science, adventure, and a place among the great plant explorers. From Kew Gardens to Old Shanghai, and on to the remote Wu Yi Shan hills, Sarah Rose tells a true tale of pirates, rebels, subterfuge, espionage, and how one man triumphed over an exotic and often corrupt Empire.

 

Treasures from Shanghai: Ancient Chinese Bronzes and Jades by Jessica Rawson

ISBN-13: 978-0714124575, British Museum Press, £16.99

In contrast to the West, where diamonds, gold and silver have usually been highly valued, in China bronzes and jades were chosen early on for the society’s most valued artefacts, and retained this very high status over millennia. Bronze and jades were used in China for ritual and burial, and were thus associated with the sacred worlds of the ancestors and spirits. In later China, these precious relics of the past were collected by rulers and scholars as routes to understanding a distant golden age. These ancient objects, some dating from the neolithic period, set the artistic standard for all time; this is where Chinese art begins. Chinese bronzes, in particular, are one of the world’s major art forms. Few if any other ancient cultures achieved the artistic excellence and technical virtuosity in bronze attained in China. Using a unique casting method involving multiple ceramic section moulds, the Chinese cast vessels, weapons and ornaments of great beauty and elegance. The jades featured in this catalogue, carved by some of the groups of ancient inhabitants in the Shanghai area. They decorated ritual jades, cong, bi discs, weapons and ornaments. This catalogue not only celebrates an important collection, but highlights the extraordinary skills of the craftsmen of very early cultures, placing the objects in their historical and archaeological context.

 

Outside in: Chinese x American x Contemporary x Art

ISBN-13: 978-0300122084, Princeton University Art Museum Series, £35

The art world is currently still enthralled with contemporary Chinese art. This thoughtful book argues, however, that American audiences have been exposed only to a narrow range of what is available – with the majority of exposure having been given to avant-garde, experimental, or politically charged art. Outside In discusses contemporary Chinese art in a far wider range of styles and subject matter and substantially expands on our understanding of this work. The book features six artists – Arnold Chang, Michael Cherney, Zhi Lin, Liu Dan, Vanessa Tran, and Zhang Hongtu – all of whom are American citizens yet are widely diverse in age and experience as well as geographical and ethnic origins. In addition to extensive personal interviews and artists’ statements, there are essays that challenge the categorisation of art into such focused genres as ‘Chinese’, ‘contemporary’, and ‘American’, and re-examine the factors that shape the development of Chinese art in America.

 

Urban China: Work in Progress by Brendan McGetrick

ISBN 978-9881803399, Time Zone 8, US$40

This is a publication that brings together many of China’s most influential contemporary writers, photographers, and critics. Drawn from the pages of Urban China, a monthly magazine that combines politics, sociology, mass media, architecture, art, and literature, the book provides an intimate view to a century of radical modernisation in China. Organised around three basic themes – society, family, and education – the book fans out to cover an expansive range of topics, offering personal perspectives on a culture that is influential, often discussed, but little understood. Presented here for the first time in English, the essays, photos, maps, diagrams, and illustrations that comprise Work In Progress establish a new paradigm for the study of Chinese cultural construction.

 

Noble Tombs at Mawangdui: Art and Life of the Changsha Kingdom

ISBN 978 7 80665 269 5, Hunan Provinical Museum, Yuelu Publishing House, Yuan 295

The discoveries made at Mawangdui between 1972-74 yielded thousand of well-preserved funerary objects from the Han dynasty.  The finds reveal the extravagant lifestyle of noble families in the Western Han dynasty (206 BC-25 AD) and reflect the advance level of agricultyure, handicrafts, science and technology.. This catalogue accompanies the exhibition touring the US.

 

JAPAN AND KOREA

 

Serizawa: Master of Japanese Textile Design by Joe Earle

ISBN-13: 978-0300150476Japan Society/Yale University Press, £25

Designated a Living National Treasure in 1956, Serizawa Keisuke (1895-1984) was one of the greatest artists of 20th-century Japan. This is the first book in English to trace Serizawa’s artistic biography in detail using the finest examples of his work from leading Japanese collections. A major exponent of the mingei (people’s crafts) movement, Serizawa achieved fame as a textile designer, using traditional stencil-dyeing techniques and often working in large-scale formats such as folding screens or kimonos. The works in this catalogue are important not only for the originality of their conception, but also for the variety of their materials: cotton, silk, hemp and a range of other fibres, and paper decorated with the brilliant yet warm hues of vegetable dyes. Dramatic in design, Serizawa’s textiles have an expressive power that far transcends expectations of a ‘craft’ medium.

 

Art of the Korean Renaissance 1400-1600 by Soyoung Lee, JaHyun Haboush, Sunpyo Hong, and Chin-Sung Chang

ISBN-13: 978-0300148916, Metropolitan Museum of Art, £30

This notable catalogue – the first English-language publication on the subject – highlights the art of the early period (1392-1592) of Korea’s revolutionary Joseon dynasty. The Joseon rulers replaced the Buddhist establishment and recreated a Korean society informed on every level by Neo-Confucian ideals. They supported the production of innovative secular art inspired by past traditions, both native and from the broader Confucian world. Yet despite official policies, court-sponsored Buddhist art endured, contributing to the rich complexity of the early Joseon culture. The paintings, porcelain and other ceramics, metalware, and lacquerware featured in the book are drawn from the holdings of major Korean and Japanese museums, the collection of the Metropolitan Museum and other US collections and private collections. Many of the works have never been seen in the United States.

 

Tea Culture of Japan 

ISBN-13: 978-0300146929, Yale University Press, £12.99

Imported to Japan from China during the 9th century, the custom of serving tea did not become widespread until the 13th century. By the late 15th and 16th centuries, tea was ceremonially prepared by a skilled tea master and served to guests in a tranquil setting. This way of preparing tea became known as chanoyu, literally ‘hot water for tea’. This elegant book explores the aesthetics and history of the traditional Japanese tea ceremony, examining the nature of tea collections and the links between connoisseurship, politics and international relations. It also surveys current practices and settings in light of the ongoing transformation of the tradition in contemporary tea houses.

 

Showa Japan: The Post-war Golden Age and Its Troubled Legacy by Hans Brinckmann

ISBN 978-4805310021, Random House,  £27

Japan’s Showa era began in 1926 when Emperor Hirohito took the throne and ended on his death in 1989. It was undoubtedly the most momentous, calamitous, successful and glamorous period in Japan’s recent history. The post-war part of Showa is now a beacon of nostalgia for its social cohesion and great economic achievements. But the Showa era ended in a bubble – a time of wild spending and excesses in every field. With the collapse of the boom in the early 1990s, the people came face to face with new economic and social realities they were not prepared for. Hans Brinckmann examines the impact of the Showa era and its aftermath on every aspect of Japanese society. Instead of idealizing the past and yielding to intermittent reactionary efforts to restore pre-war values, he argues that the country needs to stimulate independent thinking in education, encourage active citizenship, facilitate immigration and repair relations with its Asian neighbours by squarely facing up to history.

 

The Power of Dogu: Ceramic figures from ancient Japan by Simon Kaner and Douglass Bailey

ISBN-13: 978-0714124643, British Museum Press, £19.99

Born from the earliest dated tradition of pottery manufacture in the world, dogū abstract clay figurines with recognisably human features are a link back to the lost worlds of the remarkable Jomon period. They have been excavated in large quantities from sites throughout the country. Many were deliberately broken before burial which has raised intriguing questions about their possible uses. This catalogue illustrates 70 dogū, the most important of which have been designated as either National Treasures or Important Cultural Properties. In addition to the descriptions of the pieces themselves, the book has chapters written by experts in the field exploring the wider East Asian setting and the significance of this context in understanding Japanese prehistory. The exhibition and catalogue bring together a huge number of loans from institutions all over Japan, including Tokyo National Museum, where the show will be seen next year.

 

Project Japan: Architecture and Art Media – Edo to Now by Graham Cooper

ISBN-13: 978-1864703092, Images Publishing, £35

Project Japan is the product of a long journey by author Graham Cooper. A sustained rolling programme relating to contemporary art and architecture in Japan, this project involved over a decade of commitment, more than a dozen research and documentation visits to Japan and the help of an influential network of participants. An introduction to art in the context of architecture; the book includes buildings by such renowned contemporary architects as Toyo Ito, Shigeru Ban, Kazuyo Sejima and Yoshio Taniguchi as well as schemes by other leading or emerging architects and artists. It also shows that traditional buildings, classical gardens and the historic town scape are keys to understanding the current scene.

 

Lords of the Samurai: The Legacy of a Daimyo Family by Yoko Woodson

ISBN-13: 978-0939117468, Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, $45

Samurai means ‘one who serves’, and these fierce warriors acted in the service of powerful feudal lords known as daimyo. Among the most important daimyo families were members of the Hosokawa clan, whose lineage dates back more than 600 years. Lords of the Samurai illuminates the private and public lives of the daimyo by focusing on approximately 160 works from the Hosokawa family collection housed in the Eisei-Bunko Museum in Tokyo, the Kumamoto Castle and the Kumamoto Municipal Museum in Kyushu. Objects discussed include suits of armour, armaments (including swords and guns), formal attire, calligraphy, paintings, tea ware, lacquer ware, masks and musical instruments.

 

Art of the Samurai: Selections from the Tokyo National Museum edited by Kazutoshi Harada

ISBN-13: 978-1607435792, Bowers Museum, £27.95

Art of the Samurai: Selections from the Tokyo National Museum accompanied the exhibition of the same title exhibited at the Bowers Museum from 19 April to 14 June this year. The publication includes essays by Kazutoshi Harada and Nobuyuki Matsumoto, Tokyo National Museum along with a list of object labels and a historical chronology.

 

Art of the Samurai: Japanese Arms And Armor 1156–1868 edited by Morihiro Ogawa

ISBN-13: 978-0300142051, Yale University Press, £45

Samurai arms and equipment are widely recognized as masterpieces in steel, silk, and lacquer. This catalogue includes the finest examples of swords, sword mountings and fittings, armour and helmets, saddles, banners, and paintings from Japanese collections. Dating from the 5th to the 19th century, these majestic objects offer a complete picture of samurai culture and its unique blend of the martial and the refined. It accompanies the current exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

 

SOUTH ASIA

 

Hanging Fire: Contemporary Art from Pakistan by Salima Hashmi

ISBN 0300154186, Asia Society/Yale University Press, $49.95

Accompanying the first U.S. museum survey exhibition devoted to contemporary art from Pakistan, this dynamic catalogue provides a groundbreaking look at recent and current trends in Pakistani art. Hanging Fire covers a range of subjects and media, from installation and video art to sculpture, drawing, and paintings in the ‘contemporary miniature’ tradition. Essays by distinguished contributors from a variety of fields, including Salima Hashmi, Pakistani American sociologist and historian Ayesha Jalal, and the celebrated novelist Mohsin Hamid, place contemporary Pakistani art in a cultural, historical, and artistic perspective. The book’s title, Hanging Fire, alludes to the contemporary economic, political, and social tensions – both local and global – from which these artists find their creative inspiration. It may also suggest to the viewer to delay judgment, particularly based on assumptions or preconceived notions about contemporary society and artistic expression in Pakistan today.

 

Indian Textiles in the East by John Guy

ISBN 13 978-0500288290, Thames & Hudson, £19.95

The varied cloths presented in this book are the visual record of one of the great stories of Asian design history: the trade in Indian textiles to Southeast and East Asia. John Guy examines the history of the cloth-for-spices trade, focusing on the 17th and 18th centuries when the thousand-year-old trade was at is peak. With photographs of the vibrantly coloured and patterned textiles themselves, vivid first-hand descriptions by travellers and merchants, historic images of people and places, related arts and ethnographic studies, this book is both a good resource and a visual feast for all students and lovers of textiles.

 

Tipu’s Tigers by Susan Stronge

ISBN-13: 978-1851775750, V & A Publishing, £9.95

Tipu’s Tiger is one of the V&A’s most enduringly famous and fascinating objects. Commissioned in the 1790s by Tipu Sultan of Mysore, who kept the spectacular wooden semi-automaton in the music room of his palace, the tiger was shipped to London after Tipu was killed in 1799. This accessible book explores the continuing appeal – and influence – of Tipu Sultan’s tiger, which has inspired artists and writers, frightened children, and entertained the public since its first arrival in England. It also illustrates and discusses some of the most splendid of his other treasures – his throne, textiles and spectacular weapons, all decorated with the ruler’s iconic tiger forms and patterns – which were seized by the British and dispersed.

 

Heaven on Earth: The Universe of Kerala’s Guruvayur Temple by Pepita Seth

ISBN 978-8189738365, Niyogi Books, £75

For over 1,000 years the hereditary priests of Kerala’s Guruvayur Temple have honoured Lord Krishna with an unceasing cycle of rituals. The temple, whose origins lie in an ancient myth is one of India’s most important and richest temples, attracting vast numbers of pilgrims. To preserve its sanctity the temple authorities ban outsiders from its sacred precincts and forbid photography. Pepita Seth was not only given unrestricted access but also permission to photograph the world behind the temple’s walls. Her book, the outcome of six years concentrated work, takes the reader into a remarkable world of ancient rituals, devotion and splendour.

 

The Glory of the Sultans: Islamic Architecture in India by Yves Porter

ISBN  978-2080301109, Flammarion, £50

India’s architecture is presented in all its diversity through specially commissioned photography and a scholarly text that places each monument within its historical, cultural, and technical context. Between the 12tth and the mid-19th centuries, most of the Indian subcontinent was under Muslim rule, giving rise to a unique architectural blend of Islamic, Turkish, and Persian influences. Yves Porter provides the full panorama of this style, explaining in depth the key monuments of each period and region, which are accompanied by Gerard Degeorges photographs of the monuments and architectural details. During the long reign of the Mughal Dynasty (15261857), the architecture of the subcontinent passed through some especially brilliant phases. Humayuns tomb at Delhi (1565); Fatehpur Sikri (briefly the capital of Akbar); the Shalimar gardens in Lahore, Pakistan; or the unforgettable Taj Mahal at Agra (1632) are just a few examples. In this book, Yves Porter provides a comprehensive history of Muslim architecture on the Indian subcontinent, redressing an important lack of coverage on the subject.

 

Maharaja: The Splendour of India’s Royal Courts by Anna Jackson and Amin Jaffer

ISBN-13: 978-1851775736, V & A Publishing, £35

The word maharaja – literally ‘great king’ – conjures up a vision of splendour and magnificence. This book, which accompanies the exhibition of the same name, examines the luxurious worlds of India’s maharaja from the early 18th century to 1947, when the Indian Princes ceded their territories into the modern states of India and Pakistan. This beautifully illustrated catalogue allows the reader to imagine the lavish lifestyles of India’s aristocracy through a visual exploration of the material culture of both their public and pricate lives. Indian and Western works including paintings, photographs, textiles and dress, jewellery, jewelled objects, metalwork and furniture are considered within a broader historical context giving readers an understanding of royal status and identity, court culture and patronage. The book is divided into chapters that explores this life: Kingship in India, The Power of Public Splendour, Palace Life, Patronage at Court, Palaces and the Politics and style and Indian Princes and the West.  A comprehensive bibliography is also published for further reference. A must for anyone interested in the decorative arts of India and the patronage and lives of the ruling classes.

 

Maharaja: The Spectacular Heritage of Princely India by Andrew Robinson, photographs by Sumio Uchiyama

ISBN-13: 978-0500288221, Thames & Hudson, £14.95

In the annals of world history there are few more striking tales than those of Princely India. The Maharajas became bywords for excess, for lifetimes spent in extravagant expenditure and splendour on an almost unparalleled scale. The Princes, their palaces and feudal loyalties live on, and the full gorgeous spectacle of their lifestyle is captured in the pages of this book. This is very much a visual story: throne rooms with gilded and painted ceilings, crystal fountains and peacocks in terraced gardens, gold and silver treasures, of weddings, celebrations and festivals, and of the Maharajas themselves and their families, in public and in private.

 

Art For A Modern India, 1947-1980, edited by Nicholas Thomas

ISBN-13: 978-0822343752, Duke University Press, £13.99

In the process of creating modern art following India’s independence in 1947, Indian artists faced a paradox as they sought to maintain a local idiom, an ‘Indianness’ representative of their newly independent nation, while connecting to modernism, an aesthetic then understood as universal and Western. They depicted India’s pre-colonial past while embracing aspects of modernism’s rejection of the past in pursuit of the new, and they challenged the West’s dismissal of non-Western places and cultures as ‘not modern’, as sources of primitivist imagery but not of modernist artworks. Highlighting these paradoxes, Rebecca M. Brown explores the emergence of a self-conscious Indian modernism – in painting, drawing, sculpture, architecture, film, and photography – in the years between independence and 1980, by which time the Indian art scene had changed significantly and postcolonial discourse had begun to complicate mid-century ideas of nationalism.

 

Delhi: Adventures in a Megacity by Sam Miller

ISBN-13: 978-0224086103, Jonathan Cape, £14.99

This book aims to portray one of the world’s largest cities. Sam Miller sets out to discover the real Delhi, a city he describes as being ‘India’s dreamtown – and its purgatory’. He treads the city streets, making his way through Delhi and its suburbs, visiting its less celebrated destinations. Miller’s quest is the here and now, the unexpected, the ignored and the eccentric. All the obvious ports of call – the ancient monuments, the imperial buildings and the celebrities of modern Delhi – make only passing appearances. Through his encounters with Delhi’s people – from a professor of astrophysics to a crematorium attendant, from ragpickers to members of the Police Brass Band – Miller creates a richly entertaining portrait of what Delhi means to its residents, and of what kind of city it is becoming.

 

Imagining India: Ideas for the New Century by Nandan Nilekani

ISBN-13: 978-1846141225, Allen Lane, £25

Indian software entrepreneur Nandan Nilekani has written the definitive book about modern India. Nilekani gives us a fascinating new perspective for the  21st century, defying received and imported wisdom, and showing us what is really at stake in the world’s largest democracy. He reveals why India’s huge population has now become her greatest strength; how information technology is bringing the benefits of globalization; why rapid urbanization is transforming social and political life; and how we can learn from India’s difficult journey towards a single internal market. He also gets to the heart of debates about labour reform, the social security system, higher education and the role of the state. And he asks the key questions of the future: how will India as a global power avoid the mistakes of earlier development models? Will further access to the open market continue to stimulate such extraordinary growth? And how will all this affect – and be shaped by – her young people.

 

Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India by William Dalrymple

ISBN 978-1408800614, Bloomsbury, £20

In this title, a Buddhist monk takes up arms to resist the Chinese invasion of Tibet – then spends the rest of his life trying to atone for the violence by hand printing the best prayer flags in India. A Jain nun tests her powers of detachment as she watches her best friend ritually starve to death. A woman leaves her middleclass family in Calcutta, and her job in a jute factory, only to find unexpected love and fulfilment living as a Tantric skull feeder in a remote cremation ground. A prison warden from Kerala becomes, for two months of the year, a temple dancer and is worshipped as a deity; then, at the end of February each year, he returns to prison. An illiterate goat herder from Rajasthan keeps alive an ancient 4,000-line sacred epic that he, virtually alone, still knows by heart. A devadasi – or temple prostitute – initially resists her own initiation into sex work, yet pushes both her daughters into a trade she now regards as a sacred calling. Nine people, nine lives. Each one taking a different religious path, each one an unforgettable story. William Dalrymple’s first travel book in over a decade explores how traditional forms of religious life in South Asia have been transformed in the region’s rapid change. A distillation of 25   years of exploring India and writing about its religious traditions, Nine Lives is like a modern Indian Canterbury Tales.

 

A History of Bangladesh by Willem van Schendel

ISBN-13: 978-0521679749, Cambridge University Press, £15.99

Bangladesh is a new name for an old land whose history is little known to the wider world. A country chiefly famous in the West for media images of poverty, underdevelopment, and natural disasters, Bangladesh did not exist as an independent state until 1971. Willem van Schendel’s history reveals the country’s vibrant, colourful past and its diverse culture as it navigates the extraordinary twists and turns that have created modern Bangladesh. The story begins with the early geological history of the delta which has decisively shaped Bangladesh society. The narrative then moves chronologically through the era of colonial rule, the partition of Bengal, the war with Pakistan and the birth of Bangladesh as an independent state. In so doing, it reveals the forces that have made Bangladesh what it is today. This is an eloquent introduction to a country and its resilient and inventive people.

 

HIMALAYAS

 

Wood Sculpture in Nepal: Jokers and Talismans by Bertrand Goy and Max Itzikovitz

ISBN 13 978-8874395095, Five Continents, £40

An overview of the relatively unknown art of Nepal.In the 1980s, enigmatic wood masks, similar to those worn by Siberian and Eskimo shamans, began to appear in Parisian galleries that specialized in exotic art. Only the customary red wax affixed to the objects indicated that their origin was in fact Nepal. Art lovers – fascinated by the masks’ expressions and the thickness of patina – enthusiastically began to collect them, though they were still shrouded in mystery. In this well-illustrated book, Bertrand Goy and Max Itzikovitz uncover the history of the masks and determine their place in Nepalese culture. The authors also investigate western Nepal’s unsophisticated, anthropomorphic wood sculptures, which can be seen today in temples, on bridges, and on the outskirts of villages. No one knows if these are protective effigies or tribute to divinities from an antiquated religion. This book attempts to pull back the veil on one of the world’s most cryptic art forms.

 

108 Buddhist Statues in Tibet: Evolution of Tibetan Sculptures  by Ulrich von Schroeder

ISBN 13 978-1932476385, Serindia Publications, £40

This is a condensed version of Buddhist Sculptures in Tibet, published in 2001, which comprises a catalogue of the sculptural treasures that are stored in Tibet’s monasteries. Mostly unknown to the outside world, the temples and storerooms of Tibet’s monasteries shelter a great number of ancient Buddhist objects. Not only Tibetan works, but sculptures and paintings produced by artists in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Burma and China. This edition selects the 108 finest examples from the larger work and is also accompanied by a very useful DVD of these images and many others not illustrated in the book (over 500 in total).

 

Masks of the Himalayas by Dominic Blanc, Arnaud d’Hauterives, Berenice Geoffroy-Schneiter, Francois Pannier

ISBN-13: 978-8874395194, Five Continents Editions, Italy; Bilingual edition (2 Sep 2009), £30

This is the first book dedicated exclusively to the subject of the Himalayan mask. Mysterious, sacred, and unusual, the masks of the Himalayas only became accessible to collectors following the opening up of Nepal in the 1960s. Spanning all religious influences in the Himalayan region – Hindu and Buddhist, animist and shamanic – and covering the entire area from Ladakh to Indian Kashmir, Nepal, Bhutan, Arunachal Pradesh, and Tibet, this is the first book dedicated exclusively to this subject. Published in conjunction with a major exhibition at the Fondation Bernard et Caroline de Watteville in Martigny, Switzerland, Masks of the Himalayas highlights pieces of rare quality and sheds new light on this enchanting art through 120 pieces from large private collections and institutions, such as the Musee Barbier-Mueller of Geneva and the Musee du Quai Branly of Paris.

 

Mandala: Sacred Circle in Tibetan Buddhism by Martin Brauen

ISBN 978-3-89790-305-0, Arnoldsche, £35

This book is published to accompany the exhibition The Mandala: The Perfect Circle at the Rubin Museum in New York. Tantric Buddhism views the mandala as an allegory and symbol of man’s relationship with the cosmos and uses it in meditation that is to lead to enlightenment. Numerous digital models of the mandala describe it structurally and elucidate this complex form of Tantric practice in understandable terms. This book by Martin Brauen is the updated new edition of the 1992 publication, which has long been out of print but is regarded as one of the most comprehensive works on the mandala. The present publication contains texts, illustrations and tables that provide manifold approaches to and interpretations of this sacred symbol.

 

The Secret Lives of the Dalai Lama by Alexander Norman

ISBN-13: 978-0349115047, Abacus, £10.99

His Holiness the Dalai Lama is renowned the world over for his unswerving dedication to non-violence in his efforts to achieve justice for Tibet, yet the Chinese call him ‘a wolf in monk’s robes’. He is fourteenth in a lineage whose history is every bit as bloody and intrigue-laden as that of the Papacy. The sixth Dalai Lama was a notorious womaniser, four successive ones were almost certainly murdered and the present Dalai Lama has himself been the target of attacks that resulted in the brutal murder of a close colleague. This book  gives a fast-paced and absorbing insight into the real story of Tibetan culture, politics and spirituality, and shows the Dalai Lama as a man of courage, compassion and honesty.

 

On Juniper Mountain: A Journey in the Himalayas by Angela Locke

ISBN-13: 978-1846943010, O Books,  £11.99

Angela Locke travelled to Nepal in the early 1990s to research a new book, and found herself on a journey of discovery which would change her life. Meeting a Tibetan monk in the supermarket before she left, he told her that ‘the book is not important, but the journey is’. She would find herself returning to Nepal, becoming immersed in the life of the country, and experiencing a deep spiritual awakening. Her experiences would lead to the founding of the charity Juniper Trust, which now works in education and health with the poorest communities all over the world.

 

CENTRAL ASIA

 

Tajikistan and the High Pamirs by Dr Robert Middleton and Huw Thomas

 

ISBN 978-9622177734, Odyssey Books, £18.95

By the two great rivers of Central Asia, the Oxus and the Jaxartes, Tajikistan can boast not only of breathtaking mountain scenery, but also of 3,000 years of history. The land where Alexander the Great fought desperately against the Scythian nomads, his most formidable adversaries, Tajikistan is an ancient cradle of Persian culture. Originally, it was the home of the Sogdians, the famous trading peoples of the Silk Road; eventually this country was at the heart of the 19th-century ‘Great Game’, a place of contention for the adventurers and spies of Britain and Imperial Russia. Now recovering from the misfortunes of the 20th century – the travails of Soviet rule and several years of civil war – it is able to offer visitors not only its legacies of cultural and ethnic diversity, but also unparalleled opportunities for adventure.This book provides vital insight into a crucially positioned nation. It range is wide: from Dushanbe, the capital city to mountaineering and trekking on the roof of the world. It is the first dedicated guide to Tajikistan and is a fascinating and imformative read. It covers the history of the Silk Road – the explorers and travellers, as well as the culture, music and ethnic traditions. It also includes essays on wildlife, botany, geology and archaeology, including a contribution by Dr George Schaller. It is published to appeal to the armchair traveller as well as the intrepid visitor.

 

Out of Steppe by Daniel Metcalfe

ISBN978-0091925529, Hutchinson, £18.99
This is the kind of literature of place you might believe had disappeared long ago. Out of Steppe relates a fscinating journey from Tehran to the Highlands of the Pakistani Frontier, by way of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Afghanistan.Central Asia is the general name for the landmass between Iran, China, Siberia and Afghanistan. An area of enormous diversity both geographically and ethnically, it has been shaped by trade and commerce (the Silk Road) and by many invaders, including Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan and Stalin. Today the area is divided into five ‘stans’: Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The ethnic make-up of these countries is bewildering: Turkish, Chinese, Iranian and Slav to name a very few. There are in fact over a hundred ethnic groups, but tragically many of these peoples are disappearing. They are emigrating, dying or blending into their surroundings, succumbing to the uniformity favored by an increasingly globalised world. Metcalfe journeys through the five stans, as well as Pakistan and Afghanistan, and brings to life the brilliant human tapestry they comprise – uniquely shaped by the immigrants, deportees and conquerors that have settled there. He seeks out six of the least known peoples, traveling from the Aral Sea in western Uzbekistan, where the Karakalpaks are still paying the price for the USSR’s ‘cotton cold war’, to Bukhara where he disguises himself, harking back to the adventures of Great Game explorers of the mid-19th century, to find the last surviving Central Asian Jews; and then to the green steppe lands of northern Kazakhstan in search of the last German descendants of those who settled Ukraine in 1763 at the invitation of Catherine the Great. He then turns to the mountain passes of western Tajikistan and the Silk Road, to the descendants of the fire-worshiping Soghdians. Trying to conceal his English roots once again, Metcalfe travels through Afghanistan as a Muslim, sporting a beard and a shalwar kameez, to locate the Hazaras, who have had to fight for their existence in this Sunni-dominated country. His final trip is from Kabul through the Khyber Pass to Peshawar and then on to Chitral in northern Pakistan, to visit the Kalasha people. These are a tiny group practising their own shamanic religion in three valleys in the Hindu Kush. They are the last non-Muslim people in the region and are threatened daily by their Muslim neighbors. Revealing a Central Asia that is far removed from the home of Borat or the land of international terrorism, Metcalfe unlocks the secrets of this troubled region, glorying in its diversity and also lamenting the economic and cultural changes that threaten to eradicate some of its peoples.

 

Inside Central Asia: A Political and Cultural History of Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkey, and Iran by Dilip Hiro

ISBN-13: 978-0715638774, Gerald Duckworth & Co Ltd, £25

The former Soviet republics of Central Asia comprise a sprawling, politically pivotal, densely populated, and richly cultured area of the world. Yet they remain poorly represented in libraries and mainstream media. Since their political inception during the rule of Joseph Stalin, they have experienced tremendous socio-political change. But despite this, the growth of oil wealth, the arrival of Western tourists and businessmen, and the competition for influence by the US, China and Russia, the spirit of Central Asia has remained untouched at its core. In this comprehensive up-to-date survey, renowned political writer and historian Dilip Hiro offers a lucid analytical narrative that places the present-day politics, economics and peoples of Central Asia and neighbouring Turkey and Iran into an international context. Given the strategic location of this region, its predominantly Muslim population, and its hydrocarbon and other valuable resources, it is not surprising that this vast expanse of Eurasia is emerging as one of the most potentially influential – and coveted – areas of the globe.

 

In the Bloody Footsteps of Ghengis Khan: An Epic Journey Across the Steppes, Mountains and Deserts from Red Square to Tiananmen Square by Jeffrey Taylor

ISBN 978-1906779009, JR Books, £17.99

A breathtaking first person account of an intrepid journey across the largest landmass on earth from Moscow to Beijing. In lands once conquered by Genghis Khan and exploited by ruthless Communist regimes, autocratic and dictatorial states are again arising, growing wealthy on petrodollars and low-cost manufacturing. More and more, they are challenging the West. Media reports focus on developments in the two capitals, but the masses of people inhabiting the vast expanses inbetween remain mostly unseen and unheard, their daily lives and aspirations scarcely better known to us now than they were in the Cold War days. In his dramatic account, award winning travel writer Jeffrey Tayler finds, among many others, a dissident Cossack advocating mass beheadings, a Muslim in Kashgar calling on the United States to bomb Beijing, and Chinese youths in Urumqi desiring nothing more than sex, booze and rock ‘n’ roll – all while confronting over and over again the contradiction of people who value liberty and the free market but idealise tyrants who are opposed to both. From the steppes of southern Russia to the conflict-ridden Caucasus Mountains, to the deserts of central Asia and northern China, Tayler shows that our maps have gone blank at the worst possible time.

 

Xanadu by John Man

ISBN978-0593061763, Bantam Press, £20

Marco Polo’s journey from Venice, through Europe and most of Asia, to the court of Kublai Khan in China is one of the most audacious in history. His account of his experiences, known simply as The Travels, uncovered an entirely new world of emperors and concubines, great buildings – ‘stately pleasure domes’ in Coleridge’s dreaming –  huge armies and imperial riches. His book shaped the West’s understanding of China for hundreds of years. John Man travelled in Marco’s footsteps to Xanadu, in search of the truth behind Marco’s stories; to separate legend from fact. Drawing on his own journey, archeology and archival study, John Man paints a vivid picture of the man behind the myth and the true story of the great court of Kublai Khan.

 

Empires of the Silk Road

ISBN-13: 978-0691135892, Princeton University Press, £24.95
A History of Central Eurasia from the Bronze Age to the Present by Christopher I Beckwith

The first complete history of Central Eurasia from ancient times to the present day, Empires of the Silk Road represents a fundamental rethinking of the origins, history, and significance of this major world region. Christopher Beckwith describes the rise and fall of the great Central Eurasian empires, including those of the Scythians, Attila the Hun, the Turks and Tibetans, and Genghis Khan and the Mongols. In addition, he explains why the heartland of Central Eurasia led the world economically, scientifically, and artistically for many centuries despite invasions by Persians, Greeks, Arabs, Chinese, and others. In retelling the story of the Old World from the perspective of Central Eurasia, Beckwith provides a new understanding of the internal and external dynamics of the Central Eurasian states and shows how their people repeatedly revolutionized Eurasian civilisation.

Beckwith recounts the Indo-Europeans’ migration out of Central Eurasia, their mixture with local peoples, and the resulting development of the Graeco-Roman, Persian, Indian, and Chinese civilisations; he details the basis for the thriving economy of premodern Central Eurasia, the economy’s disintegration following the region’s partition by the Chinese and Russians in the 18th and 19th centuries, and the damaging of Central Eurasian culture by Modernism; and he discusses the significance for world history of the partial reemergence of Central Eurasian nations after the collapse of the Soviet Union.Empires of the Silk Road places Central Eurasia within a world historical framework and demonstrates why the region is central to understanding the history of civilisation.

 

SOUTHEAST ASIA

 

Wearing Wealth and Styling Identity: Tapis from Lampung, South Sumatra, Indonesia    

ISBN-13: 978-0944722374, College US, £32.50

Discover the cultural iconography of these extraordinary textiles and how tapis garments exemplify the social station and clan identity of the women of South Sumatra. Located between the two maritime routes connecting East and West Asia, Sumatra, the fabled ‘Isle of Gold’, was for centuries the source for much of the world’s pepper. In the southern tip of Sumatra, the people of Lampung, or ‘Pepperland’, poured the profits of their trade into ceremonial materials and adornments. The ornate tubular sarongs known as tapis were hand-woven from cotton and silk threads, colored with ancestral dye recipes, embellished with gold- and silver-wrapped threads, embroidered with silk or pineapple-fiber threads, and appliqued with mirrors and mica. These sumptuous garments communicated a family’s global contacts, social station, and clan identity. Mary-Louise Totton writes about the history, materials and techniques, content and imagery, and present-day contexts of these extraordinary textiles.

 

Southeast Asian Ceramics: New Light on Old Pottery

ISBN 978-981-4260-13-8, Southeast Asian Ceramic Society, S$75

This book accompanies the exhibition of the same name held at the national University of Singapore Museum (14 Nov-25 July 2010). In this volume archaeologist and scholar John N Miksic reconstructs a vivid image of the development of Southeast Asia’s ceramic technology. Along with three contributing authors, Miksic summaries the fruits of the research of the last 40 years, beginning with the founding of the Southeast Asian Ceramic society in Singapore in 1969. The result is a comprehensive and insightful overview of the technology, aesthetics and organisation, both economic and political, of seemingly diverse territories in pre-colonial South East Asia.

 

Arts of Ancient Vietnam: From River Plain to Open Sea by Nancy Tingley

ISBN-13: 978-5873175345, Yale University Press, £35

Once a strategic trading post that channelled the flow of riches and ideas among countries situated along the South China Sea and places as far away as India and Rome, Vietnam has a fascinating history and an artistic heritage to match it. This catalogue will help introduce English-speaking audiences to Vietnam’s amazing body of artwork, ranging from the first millennium B.C. to the 18th century. The authors begin by discussing, for example, the elegant burial jars, iron axes, bronze artefacts, and jewellery of the early Sa Huynh culture; the bronze ritual drums of the Dong Son; and, the jewelled gold pieces, excavated from the walled center of Oc Eo in the kingdom of Fu Nan. New scholarship investigates the trade in gold and Chinese ceramics between Cham and the Philippine kingdom of Butuan. The final section is devoted to art from Hoi An, once a major international port. Of note are the ceramic wares produced in northern and central Vietnam from the 16th to 18th centuries.

 

 

Emerald Cities Arts of Siam and Burma, 1775–1950 by Forrest McGill and M.L. Pattaratorn Chirapravati

ISBN-13: 978-0939117505, Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, $35

This idsllustrated catalogue of artworks from Thailand and Burma provides an introduction to one of Asia’s richest and least known artistic traditions. Focusing primarily on decorative and religious objects from the 19th century (along with some earlier and later works), the book brings to light the lively, yet often strained, interchange between the regions of central and northern Thailand (Siam) and Burma. The book explores some of the elements that have both drawn the countries together and driven them apart. It contains incisive essays by leading scholars as well as detailed entries relating to nearly 150 spectacular works of art. While representing the latest art historical scholarship, the book is intended for the general public. It will be of interest to anyone intrigued by such lavish and spectacular artworks as gilded and mirrored ritual vessels, black lacquer and mother-of-pearl inlaid furniture, and vibrant, colorful paintings. To many, these objects will convey something of the exotic and exuberant ambience captured in romantic travel books and films. To browse these pages is to be transported, by artworks that are by turns opulent, reverent, and whimsical, to a lost time and place, one unlike any other.

 

Little Daughter: A Memoir of Survival in Burma and the West

ISBN-13: 978-1847374202, Simon & Schuster, £15.99

Zoya Phan was born in the remote jungles of Burma, to the Karen ethnic group. For decades the Karen have been under attack from Burma’s military junta; Zoya’s mother was a guerrilla soldier, her father a freedom activist. She lived in a bamboo hut on stilts by the Moei River; she hunted for edible fungi with her much-loved adopted brother, Say Say. Many Karen are Christian or Buddhist, but Zoya’s parents were animist, venerating the spirits of forest, river and moon. Her early years were blissfully removed from the war. At the age of fourteen, however, Zoya’s childhood was shattered as the Burmese army attacked. With their house in flames, Zoya and her family fled. So began two terrible years of running from guns, as Zoya joined thousands of refugees hiding in the jungle. Her family scattered, Zoya sought sanctuary across the border in a Thai refugee camp. Conditions in the camp were difficult, and Zoya now had to care for her ailing mother. Zoya, a gifted pupil, was eventually able to escape, first to Bangkok and then, with her enemies still pursuing her, in 2004 she fled to the UK and claimed asylum. The following year, at a ‘free Burma’ march, she was plucked from the crowd to appear on the BBC, the first of countless interviews with the world’s media. She became the face of a nation enslaved, rubbing shoulders with presidents and film stars. By turns uplifting, tragic and entirely gripping, this is the extraordinary true story of the girl from the jungle who became an icon of a suffering land.

 

A Short History of SouthEast Asia

ISBN-13: 978-0470824818, John Wiley & Sons; 5th Edition, £13.99

The success of the first four editions shows that this book fills a vacuum for readers who wish to learn about the countries of Southeast Asia. Recent years have seen a number of important developments all of which are covered here. With the global climate becoming more uncertain and the threat of terrorism spilling over, this book will aid readers’ knowledge of this region by addressing its historical past and political future.

 

ISLAMIC WORLD

 

Shah Abbas: The Remaking of Iran by Sheila R Canby

ISBN-13: 978-0714124520, British Museum Press, £25

Shah Abbas I was one of Irans most influential leaders. Combining his ruthless ambition with a desire for stability, he left a far-reaching mark on the society and artistic heritage of Iran, renovating the countrys spectacular shrines and transforming its trading relations with the rest of the world. This book brings together an amazing array of treasures that were given to Irans shrines during Shah Abbass’ reign. It traces the story of the Safavid dynasty (15011722), a period of dynamic religious and political development in Iran. Art and architecture flourished and achieved new heights of beauty and brilliance with the creation of the magnificent shrines at Ardabil, Mashhad and Qum. During this so-called Golden Age of Persian art, Shah Abbas renovated these shrines and donated to them priceless works of art including carpets, silks, porcelain and albums, many of which are illustrated He also created the new capital at Isfahan his crowning artistic achievement where he rebuilt his empire surrounded by an inner circle of great artists and thinkers. From here he encouraged foreigners to come to Iran and welcomed the opportunity to open up trading links with Europe. The book also looks in detail at this turning-point in Irans history. It investigates the context of Shah Abbass gifts and renovations; it also explores how these shrines functioned in the early seventeenth century and the ways in which practices and beliefs initiated under the Safavids are reflected in the world-famous shrines at Mashhad and Qum of today.

 

Shah Abbas: The Ruthless King Who Became an Iranian Legend: Emperor of Persia and Restorer of Iran by David Blow

ISBN-13: 978-1845119898, I B Taurus Co Ltd, £25

A ruthless autocrat who blinded and killed his own sons, but was revered as a hero by his own people. A brilliant warrior who restored his nation s pride and territorial integrity by waging war on the foreign occupying forces, but chose an English knight to be his ambassador in the West. An aesthete whose artistic patronage made his country a centre of art and culture, but whose religious devotion turned Shi-ism into a global phenomenon. Arguably Iran’s greatest ruler since the Arab invasion in the 7th century, Shah Abbas was an immensely complex and much misunderstood character who, despite often contradictory behaviour, changed the face of the Middle East forever. When Shah Abbas assumed power in 1587 at the age of seventeen Persia was on the verge of disintegration and foreign partition. By the time of his death in 1629 the country had been transformed into a thriving state ready to face the emerging modern world. In Shah Abbas, the first biography in English of the Persian king, David Blow explores this extraordinary transition and the remarkable man who made it happen. The author draws on a wide range of sources, including contemporary European accounts as well as the Persian chronicles, to present a colourful and compelling account of the life and times of one of history s most extraordinary rulers. His vivid portrait of this seminal figure in Iran s national narrative offers the definitive account of Shah Abbas s dramatic career as a statesman as well as an intimate view of the man behind the myth.
The Great Caliphs: The Golden Age of the ‘Abbasid Empire by Amira K Bennison

ISBN-13: 978-1845117375, I B Tauris & Co Ltd, £19.50

The flowering of the Abbasid caliphate between 750 and 1258 is often considered the classical age of Islamic civilisation. In the preceding 120 years, the Arabs had conquered much of the known world of antiquity and established a vast empire stretching from Spain to China. But was this empire really so very different, as has sometimes been claimed, from what it superseded? The Great Caliphs creatively explores the immense achievements of the Abbasid age through the lens of Mediterranean history. When the Umayyad caliphs were replaced by the Abbasids in 750, and the Arab capital moved to Baghdad, Iraq quickly became the centre not only of an imperium but also of a culture built on the foundations of the great civilizations of antiquity: Greece, Rome, Byzantium and Persia. Debunking popular misconceptions about the Arab conquests, Amira K. Bennison shows that, far from seeing themselves as purging the ‘occidental’ culture of the ancient world with a ‘pure’ and ‘oriental’ Islamic doctrine, the Abbasids perceived themselves to be as much within the tradition of Mediterranean and Near Eastern empire as any of their predecessors. Like other outsiders who inherited the Roman Empire, the Arabs had as much interest in preserving as in destroying, even while they were challenged by the paganism of the past. Indebted to that past while building creatively on its foundations, the Abbasids and their rulers inculcated and nurtured precisely the ‘civilised’ values which western civilisation so often claims to represent.

 

The Sword of Persia: Nader Shah, from Tribal Warrior to Conquering Tyrant

ISBN-13: 978-1845119829, I B Taurus Co Ltd, £14.99

Nader Shah, ruler of Persia from 1736 to 1747, embodied ruthless ambition, energy, military brilliance, cynicism and cruelty. His reign was filled with bloodshed, betrayal and horror. Yet Nader Shah is central to Iran’s early modern history. From a shepherd boy he rose to liberate his country from foreign occupation, and make himself Shah. He took 18th-century Iran from political collapse to become the dominant power in the region, recovering Herat and Kandahar, conquering Moghul Delhi, plundering the enormous treasures of India, repeatedly defeating Ottoman Turkey, and overrunning most of what is now Iraq.But suspicion and avarice led him to persecute the Persian people as savagely as any foreign conqueror had done. ‘The Sword of Persia’ recreates the story of a remarkable, ruthless man, capable of both charm and brutality, who became a monster of insane cruelty. It is a rich narrative, full of dramatic incident, including much new research into original Iranian and other material, which will prove indispensable to historians and students.

 

FALNAMA: The Book of Omens

ISBN-13: 978-0500515112, Thames & Hudson, £39.95

Whether by consulting the position of the planets, casting horoscopes or interpreting dreams, the art of divination was widely practised throughout the Islamic world. The most splendid tools ever devised to foretell the future were illustrated texts known as the Falnama (Book of Omens). Notable for their monumental size, brilliantly painted compositions and unusual subject matter, the manuscripts, created in Safavid Iran and Ottoman Turkey in the 16th and early 17th centuries, are the centre piece of Falnama. This is the first book devoted to these extraordinary manuscripts, which remain largely unpublished, and sheds new light on their artistic, cultural and religious significance. Accompanies the exhibition at the Sackler in Washington DC.

 

Masterpieces of Islamic Art: The Decorated Page from the 8th to the 17th Century by Oleg Grabar

ISBN-13: 978-3791343792, Prestel, £50

A renowned scholar of Islamic art, history and culture, Oleg Grabar introduces in this book a wide range of illuminated manuscript masterpieces from the 8th to the 17th century. The heroes of grand epics such as Alexander the Great are found side-by-side with mythical monarchs, sultans, and even monsters. Illuminated manuscripts of the Qur’an, epic poetry, and scientific works from the Egyptian, Syrian, Persian, Mughal and Ottoman empires await discovery. The book opens with an essay which contextualises the works-the originals of which reside in the Louvre, French National Library, National Library of Cairo, the British Library, Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Topkapi Museum, the Freer Gallery of Art and the collections of the Aga Khan and Khalili families. Following is a selection of two hundred full-colour illustrations accompanied by the author’s insightful commentary. Including examples of some of the world’s most beautiful artistic expressions, this collection of carefully chosen works not only illustrates an important period in art history but also serves as a monument to the achievements of Islamic culture.

 

The British Museum Pocket Timeline of Islamic Civilizations by Nicholas Badcott

ISBN-13: 978-0714131337, British Museum Press, £7.99

At the back of the book is a 12-page foldout timeline which can be detached and displayed on a wall or noticeboard, offering a quick visual reference to the key periods, events and developments of Islamic civilisations from approximately the 7th to the 19th centuries. The book offers introductions to each of the periods and dynasties, with short sections on particular themes and on the great achievements of Islamic art and culture over the centuries. Both book and timeline are richly illustrated throughout with colour photographs, including numerous objects from the British Museum’s collections.

 

The Conference of the Birds: A Study of Farid ud-Din Attar’s Poem Using Jali Diwani by Farah K Behbehani

ISBN-13: 978-0500514627, Thames & Hudson, £85

The Conference of the Birds, written in the 12th century by the Persian poet and mystic Farid ud-Din Attar, tells how the birds of the world gather in order to search for a mythological king, the Simorgh. Each of the birds represents a different human type a coward, a lover and much of the poem consists of tales told by their leader in answer to their objections to the journey or their questions about it. Farah K. Behbehani has selected stories from this great work of Persian literature (in English verse translation) about thirteen of the birds and their journey, illustrating the Arabic name of each bird in Jali Diwani calligraphy, an ornamental cursive script developed by the Ottomans which is characterised by its profuse embellishment.A line from the Arabic version of the poem that captures the essence of each birds story is also illustrated calligraphically and explained by a graphic system that enables the reader to understand the flow of the text in each composition.This exquisite and beautifully designed book concludes with a glossary of the Arabic alphabet in Jali Diwani script and interpretations of the letters according to Sufi mystical values.

 

Rivers of Paradise: Water in Islamic Art and Culture Edited by Sheila S Blair and Jonathan M Bloom

ISBN-13: 978-0300158991, Yale University Press, £45

For millennia the collection, distribution and symbolism of water have played pivotal roles in the lands where Islam has flourished. This book is the first to address this important subject. A diverse spectrum of scholars covers a wide range of topics: from the revelation of Islam in the seventh century to today’s conservation and development issues, from watering oases in the Moroccan desert to the flooded plains of Bengal. Illustrated with beautiful colour photographs and newly drawn plans and maps, this book will provoke readers to appreciate and acknowledge the essential, if often invisible and transitory, roles that water played in the arts of the Islamic lands and beyond.

 

Art and Satire in Iran by Ardehsir Mohasess

ISBN 978 1851 4956 41, Asia Society, US$35

This book brings together approximately 70 of Mohassess’s rarely-seen drawings, on loan from the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. and from several private collections in this country. Many of these have never been published in a book or catalogue, and several of the early works were censored in his native country. The book reveals this artist’s significant impact on both the international art scene and news media.The catalogue is organised in two sections: works created before the Iranian Revolution of 1979 and those created after the Revolution. Ardeshir Mohassess has been living in self-imposed exile since 1976. After enduring harassment from his native country’s national police, he immigrated to the US, where he has remained. Today, he is considered to be one of the most significant living Iranian artists.

 

FICTION

 

The Immortals by Amit Chaudhuri

ISBN-13: 978-0330455800, Picador, £16.99

Shyamji has music in his blood, for his father was the acclaimed ‘heavenly singer’ and guru, Ram Lal. But Shyam Lal is not his father, and knows he never will be. Mallika Sengupta’s voice could have made her famous, but being the wife of a successful businessman is a full-time occupation in itself. Mallika’s son, Nirmalya, believes in suffering for his art, and for him, all compromise is failure: those with talent should be true to that talent. No matter what. Written in haunting, melodic prose, The Immortals tells the story – or stories – of Shyam, Mallika and Nirmalya: their relationships, their lives, their music. More than that, though, it is also the story of music itself, of music as art, and an exploration of its place in the modern world of money and commerce.

 

In Other Rooms, Other Wonders by Daniyal Mueenuddin

 

ISBN-13: 978-0747597131, Bloomsbury, £14.99

The linked stories in In Other Rooms, Other Wonders illuminate a place and a people as they describe the overlapping worlds of an extended Pakistani landowning family: the servants and dependents in Mr. K.K. Harouni’s overflowing Lahore household, the peasants on his estates who rely on his favor, and the parallel world of his industrialist brother, who has distanced himself from the feudal past. Inextricably bound to each other, the characters confront the advantages and constraints of station, the dissolution of old ways, and the shock of change. These richly textured stories reveal – at times humorously, at times tragically – the complexities of Pakistani class and culture, as they describe the loves, triumphs, misunderstandings and tragedies of this diverse group of characters.

 

The Case of the Missing Servant by Tarquin Hall

ISBN-13: 978-0091925635, Hutchinson, £12.99

Meet Vish Puri, India’s most private investigator. Portly, persistent and unmistakably Punjabi, he cuts a determined swathe through modern India’s swindlers, cheats and murderers. In hot and dusty Delhi, where call centers and malls are changing the ancient fabric of Indian life, Puri’s main work comes from screening prospective marriage partners, a job once the preserve of aunties and family priests. But when an honest public litigator is accused of murdering his maidservant, it takes all of Puri’s resources to investigate.How will he trace the fate of the girl, known only as Mary, in a population of more than one billion? Who is taking pot shots at him and his prize chilli plants? And why is his widowed ‘Mummy-ji’ attempting to play sleuth when everyone knows Mummies are not detectives? With his team of undercover operatives – Tubelight, Flush and Facecream – Puri ingeniously combines modern techniques with principles of detection established in India more than two thousand years ago – long before ‘that Johnny-come-lately’ Sherlock Holmes donned his deerstalker. The search for Mary takes him to the desert oasis of Jaipur and the remote mines of Jharkhand. From his well-heeled Gymkhana Club to the slums where the servant classes live, Puri’s adventures reveal modern India in all its seething complexity.

 

Another Gulmohar Tree by Aamer Hussein

ISBN-13: 978-1846590566, Telegram Books, £6.99

Usman is visiting post-war London from Pakistan when he meets a young aspiring artist called Lydia who has, like himself, come out of an unhappy marriage. Just as the lonely strangers’ friendship begins to blossom into something deeper Usman has to return to Karachi, leaving Lydia behind. Two years later, Lydia impulsively abandons her life in London and boards a ship to Karachi, where the two are married. But as the years flit by Usman feels distanced from his life and realises that he hasn’t noticed the buds of the gulmohar tree unfurl. A beautiful account of a marriage that is in turns wry and unashamedly romantic.

 

Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi by Geoff Dyer

ISBN 978-1847672704, Canongate Books, £12.99

Jeff Atman, a journalist, is in Venice to cover the opening of the Venice Art Biennale. He is expecting to see a load of art, go to a lot of parties and drink too many bellinis. He’s not expecting to meet the spellbinding Laura, who will completely transform his few days in the city. Another city, another assignment: this time on the banks of the Ganges in Varanasi. Amid the crowds, ghats and chaos of India’s holiest Hindu city a different kind of transformation lies in wait. A beautifully told story of erotic love and spiritual yearning, Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi is playful, stylish, sensual, comic, ingenious and utterly captivating. It confirms Geoff Dyer as one of Britain’s most exciting and original writers.

 

Black Orchids by Gillian Slovo

ISBN-13: 978-1844083138, Virago Press, £7.99

When the genteely impoverished and rebellious Evelyn marries the charming Emil, scion of a privileged Sinhalese family, she thinks that her dream of a life in England can now at last come true. So the family travel, with their young son Milton, from Ceylon to Tilbury Docks. But this is England in the 1950s and, no matter how hard Evelyn wishes that it would, England does not take kindly to strangers, especially families who are half black and half white. A profound and moving novel, this is the story about the search to feel at home in your own skin.

 

The Wasted Vigil by Nadeem Aslam

ISBN-13: 978-0571238804, Faber and Faber, £7.99

A Russian woman named Lara arrives in Afghanistan at the house of Marcus Caldwell, an Englishman and widower living in the shadow of the Tora Bora mountains. Marcus’ daughter, Zameen, may have known Lara’s brother, a Soviet soldier who disappeared in the area many years previously. But like Marcus’ wife, Zameen is dead; a victim of the age in which she was born. In the days that follow, further people arrive at the house: two Americans who have spent much of their adult lives in the area; a young Afghan teacher; and a radicalized young man intent on his own path. And Nadeem Aslam paints a moving, beautiful and powerful portrait of a land and a people torn apart through love and war.

 

The Vagrants by Yiyun Li

ISBN 978-0007196654, Fourth Estate, £7.99

The much-anticipated first novel from the Guardian First Book Award-winning Chinese writer. In the provincial town of Muddy Waters in China, a young woman named Gu Shan is sentenced to death for her loss of faith in Communism. She is twenty-eight years old and has already spent ten years in prison. The citizens stage a protest after her death and, over the following six weeks, the town goes through uncertainty, hope and fear until eventually the rebellion is brutally suppressed. They are all taken on a painful journey, from one young woman’s death to another. We follow the pain of Gu Shan’s parents, the hope and fear of the leaders of the protest and their families. Even those who seem unconnected to the tragedy — an eleven-year-old boy seeking fame and glory, a nineteen-year-old village idiot in love with a young and deformed girl, an old couple making a living by scavenging the town’s garbage cans — are caught up in a remorseless turn of events. Yiyun Li’s novel is based on the true story which took place in China in 1979.

 

The Mao Case by Qiu Xiaolong

ISBN-13: 978-0340978597, Sceptre, £7.99

Tucked away from the building sites of modern Shanghai are the beautiful mansions once owned by the smartest families in 1930s China. They have since been bought by rich businessmen and high-ranking members of the Communist Party. All except one.The owner is an old painter who holds a glittering party each night: swing jazz plays for his former neighbours, who dance, remember old times and forget for an evening the terrors that followed. But questions are being asked. How can he afford such a lifestyle? His paintings? Blackmail? A triad connection? Prostitution? Inspector Chen is asked to investigate discreetly what is going on behind the elegant façade. But, before he can get close to anyone, one of the girls is found murdered in the garden and another is terrified she will be next. Chen’s quest for answers will take Chen to a strange businessman, triads, Chairman Mao himself and a terrible secret the Party will go to any length to conceal.

 

The China Lover by Ian Burama

ISBN-13: 978-1843548027, Atlantic Books, £8.99

Ian Buruma’s epic novel is the richly imagined story of one woman’s struggle to survive in the face of war and occupation in the Far East during the Second World War. It should appeal to anyone who loved Memoirs of a Geisha. When Sidney Vanoven is sent to occupied Japan, in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, it is his dream posting. By day, he works in the censor’s office watching Japanese films; at night he immerses himself in the sensual pleasures of Tokyo. His job leads him into the circle of the beautiful film star Shirley Yamaguchi, a passionate and indomitable woman, whose wartime secrets hint at deception and betrayal. As he becomes increasingly aware of her story, it seems to point at the dark heart of Japan itself. In “The China Lover”, Ian Buruma has created a saga of modern Japan that is epic in scale, richly imagined and vividly populated. It is quite simply unforgettable.

 

Ghost Train to the Easter Star by Paul Theroux

ISBN-13: 978-0141015729, Penguin, £8.99

Thirty years ago Paul Theroux left London and travelled across Asia and back again by train. His account of the journey – The Great Railway Bazaar – was a landmark book and made his name as the foremost travel writer of his generation. Now Theroux makes the trip all over again. Through Eastern Europe, India and Asia to discover the changes that have swept the continents, and also to learn what an old man will make of a young man’s journey. Ghost Train to the Eastern Star is a brilliant chronicle of change and an exploration of how travel is ‘the saddest of pleasures’.

 

Occupied City (Tokyo Trilogy 2) by David Peace

ISBN 978-0571232024, Faber and Faber, £12.99

‘We all know what this could be: we know it could be dysentery, we know it could be typhoid. In the “Occupied City”, we all know what this could mean -’ Tokyo, January 26th, 1948. As the third year of the US Occupation of Japan begins, a man enters a downtown bank. He speaks of an outbreak of dysentery and says he is a doctor, sent by the Occupation authorities, to treat anyone who might have been exposed. Clear liquid is poured into sixteen teacups. Sixteen employees of the bank drink this liquid according to strict instructions. Within minutes twelve of them are dead, the other four unconscious. The man disappears along with some, but not all, of the bank’s money. And so begins the biggest manhunt in Japanese history. In “Occupied City”, David Peace dramatises and explores the rumours of complicity, conspiracy and cover-up that surround the chilling case of the Teikoku Bank Massacre: of the man who was convicted of the crime, of the legacy of biological warfare programmes, and of the victims and survivors themselves. The second part of his acclaimed “Tokyo Trilogy” – and an extraordinary picture of a city in mourning – “Occupied City” is further evidence of a singular and formidable novelist.

 

Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie

ISBN-13: 978-1408800874, Bloomsbury, £7.99

In a prison cell in the US, a man stands trembling, naked, fearfully waiting to be shipped to Guantanamo Bay. How did it come to this? he wonders. August 9th, 1945, Nagasaki. Hiroko Tanaka steps out onto her veranda, taking in the view of the terraced slopes leading up to the sky. Wrapped in a kimono with three black cranes swooping across the back, she is twenty-one, in love with the man she is to marry, Konrad Weiss. In a split second, the world turns white. In the next, it explodes with the sound of fire and the horror of realisation. In the numbing aftermath of a bomb that obliterates everything she has known, all that remains are the bird-shaped burns on her back, an indelible reminder of the world she has lost. In search of new beginnings, she travels to Delhi two years later. There she walks into the lives of Konrad’s half-sister, Elizabeth, her husband James Burton, and their employee Sajjad Ashraf, from whom she starts to learn Urdu. As the years unravel, new homes replace those left behind and old wars are seamlessly usurped by new conflicts. But the shadows of history – personal, political – are cast over the entwined worlds of the Burtons, Ashrafs and the Tanakas as they are transported from Pakistan to New York, and in the novel’s astonishing climax, to Afghanistan in the immediate wake of 9/11. Sweeping in its scope and mesmerising in its evocation of time and place, “Burnt Shadows” is an epic narrative of disasters evaded and confronted, loyalties offered and repaid, and loves rewarded and betrayed.

 

Censoring An Iranian Love Story by Shahriar Mandanipour

ISBN-13: 978-1408701607, Little, Brown, translated by Sara Khalili, £14.99

Truly original, Censoring an Iranian Love Story is an incredibly imaginative yet always charming love story set in contemporary Iran that crackles with wit, verve and social comment: Sara falls in love with Dara through secret messages hidden in code in the pages of books that have been outlawed, but then something quite extraordinary and unexpected happens. Through adeptly handled asides to the reader, as well as anecdotes, codes and metaphors, and cheeky references to the wonderfully rich Iranian literary heritage, the novel builds to offer a revealing yet often playful and hopeful comment on the pressures of writing within the tightly prescribed Islamic regime, pressures that naturally are heightened where affairs of the heart are concerned.

 

Seven Days in the Art World by Sarah Thornton

ISBN-13: 978-1847080844, Granta, £8.99

From London to Beijing to New York, art sales are booming, and the art world receives the sort of breathless media attention once reserved for celebrities and royals. In “Seven Days in the Art World”, Sarah Thornton, a brilliant young sociologist, looks at all aspects of buying, selling, and creating serious art. Thornton has exceptional access, and brings a keen critical eye to her coverage of this glamorous milieu, offering the first authoritative account of what is now a multi-billion dollar global marketplace-cum-playground for an ever-expanding number of collectors, investors, and enthusiasts.

 

Sunset Oasis by Bahaa Taher

ISBN 978-0340924877, Sceptre, £18.99

When Mahmoud Abd El Zahir is sent to govern the remote Egyptian oasis of Siwa in the late 1890s, he knows the danger he faces: two of his predecessors were murdered. But having been accused of disloyalty to the current regime and its British overlords, he has little choice. Rather than stay behind in Cairo, his Irish wife Catherine insists on going too, hoping to reinvigorate their relationship.

Once at Siwa, Mahmoud finds himself not only fiercely resented but caught between two warring factions, while Catherine, with her Western ways and seemingly avaricious interest in the local archaeological sites, succeeds in alienating the entire community – all except for a beautiful young woman, herself an outcast, whose attempt at friendship spells disaster.

In this novel, Bahaa Taher weaves together several voices to capture a society at war with itself and a marriage in trouble. This is a striking, haunting work by one of the Arab world’s most celebrated writers.

 

Map of the Invisible World by Tash Aw

ISBN-13: 978-0007289882, Fourth Estate, £16.99

From the author of the internationally acclaimed, Costa Award-winning The Harmony Silk Factory comes an enthralling new novel that evokes an exotic yet turbulent and often frightening world. 16-year-old Adam is an orphan three times over. He and his older brother, Johan, were abandoned by their mother as children; he watched as Johan was adopted and taken away by a wealthy couple; and he had to hide when Karl, the Dutch man who raised him, was arrested by soldiers during Sukarno’s drive to purge 1960s Indonesia of its colonial past. Adam sets out on a quest to find Karl, but all he has to guide him are some old photos and letters, which send him to the colourful, dangerous capital, Jakarta. Johan, meanwhile, is living a seemingly carefree, privileged life in Malaysia, but is careening out of control, unable to forget the long-ago betrayal of his helpless, trusting brother.

 

MISCELLANEOUS

 

Vermeer’s Hat: The Seventeenth Century and the Dawn of the Global World by Timothy Brook

ISBN-13: 978-1846681202, Profile Books, £9.99

Through these intimate pictures, Timothy Brook shows the rapidly expanding world of the 17th century from the beaver-trappers of Canada and the silver mines of the Americas to Delft itself and the China seas. In one painting, a Dutch military officer leans toward a laughing girl. In another, a woman at a window weighs pieces of silver. In a third, fruit spills from a porcelain bowl onto a Turkish carpet. The officer’s dashing hat is made of beaver fur, which European explorers got from Native Americans in exchange for weapons. Beaver pelts, in turn, financed the voyages of sailors seeking new routes to China. There – with silver mined in Peru – Europeans would purchase, by the thousands, the porcelain so often shown in Dutch paintings of this time. Fascinating and informative.

 

Eat my Globe: One Man’s Search for the Best Food in the World by Simon Majumdar

ISBN 978-1848540170, John Murray, £12.99

Simon is obsessed with food. He is able to remember every meal he has ever eaten and comes from a family of food lovers whose relationships are all based around food. In the midst of a mid-life crisis, Simon Majumdar decided to pack in his 9 to 5 day job and embark on a trip of a lifetime: to go everywhere and eat everything. Part travelogue, part memoir the book is a culinary tour of the world that Simon has always dreamed of making. From Philly Cheese steak in the US to mouldy shark in Iceland, he crosses the globe in search of variety and the ultimate taste experience. He also meets a fascinating array of people, whose foodie passion impresses even Simon. Both witty and inspirational, this is an eye-opening look at the world through food.

 

The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power by Tariq Ali

ISBN 978-1847393746, Pocket Books, £8.99

Pakistan stands on the front line of the war against terror. Yet this long-time ally of the West, whose links with the US have caused enormous friction within the country, is in deepening crisis. As President Pervez Musharraf struggles to cling to power through states of emergency, press curbs and imprisonment of his opponents, a range of forces threaten to destroy him and tip the country into a full-blown civil war. Drawing on extensive first-hand research and personal knowledge, Tariq Ali investigates both the causes and the consequences of Pakistan’s rapid spiral into political chaos. Shedding new light on controversial questions (did the US greenlight the execution of President Zufikar Ali Bhutto in 1979? Is NATO negotiating to grant the Taliban a role in Afghanistan? Are those now jockeying for power any less corrupt than Musharraf’s current cronies?) he examines the various disparate elements and each of the key individuals whose conflicts are tearing Pakistan apart.

 

Raffles’ Ark Redrawn: Natural History Drawings from the Collection of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles by Henry J Noltie

ISBN-13: 978-0712350846, British Library Publishing Division, £20

An illustrated catalogue of the 123 colourful natural history drawings of the Raffles Family Collection, acquired by the British Library in 2007. In February 1824 Sir Stamford Raffles and his wife Sophia set sail for Britain on the Fame, with the collections made during his six years on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. These included two to three thousand drawings, priceless Malay manuscripts and living animals including a tiger specially tamed for the voyage – a ‘veritable Noah’s Ark.’ Tragically the ship caught fire with the loss of all the collections. During the ten weeks until the next boat sailed a Chinese and a French artist managed to replace about 80 of the drawings that, with earlier drawings, including some made on the Malaysian island of Penang for the East India Company surgeon William Hunter, form the core of the collection.

 

Buddhist Art: An Historical and Cultural Journey by Giles Béguin

ISBN 9789749863879, River Books, £45

Buddhism and its art is the one truly unifying factor of the entire Asian continent and has become a fundamental part of ourshared world heritage. To draw a unique portrait of this art in a single work is a formidable undertaking due to the great plurality of traditions spanning different countries and regions over various epochs. Furthermore, the variability in the state ofconservation of Buddhist monuments and their decorations provides additional challenges. A passionate scholar of Buddhist art, Giles Béguin has chosen to organise his work in the form of an historical atlas. Thus together with beautiful photography, plans and reconstructions of the monuments and their magnificent works of art, this book also contains previously unpublished cartography. The author takes the reader on an historical and cultural journey across the vast continent of Asia stretching from India, Sri Lanka and Gandhara to countries such as Thailand, Cambodia and Burma in Southeast Asia up to the Himalayan kingdoms of Nepal and Tibet before arriving at the far eastern civilisations of China, Korean and Japan.