The best books on the Taj Mahal

Giles Tillotson Author Of Taj Mahal
By Giles Tillotson

Who am I?

I am an art historian and have been engaged with India for over 40 years. Among other topics, I write about the Rajput courts in Rajasthan – especially Jaipur and Jodhpur – and about the Mughal cities of Delhi and Agra. I taught courses on these subjects at the University of London (at SOAS) in the 1990s. Since 2004 I have been living in India, where I work with museum trusts and with travel companies. Before the pandemic, I lectured regularly to tour groups visiting sites like the Taj Mahal, my aim being to bring the insights provided by expert research to a wider audience. 

I wrote...

Taj Mahal

By Giles Tillotson,

Book cover of Taj Mahal

What is my book about?

The Taj Mahal is the queen of architecture. Other buildings may be as famous but no other has been so consistently admired for a beauty that is seen as both feminine and regal. Imperial tomb, symbol of India, symbol of love, or brand of tea – the Taj can be what you want it to be. Drawing on a huge range of sources from Mughal court histories to travellers’ accounts and Bollywood movies, this superb book gives its history and charts its multiple and changing meanings through time. 

The books I picked & why

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The Complete Taj Mahal

By Ebba Koch,

Book cover of The Complete Taj Mahal

Why this book?

It really is ‘complete’ as it claims: this is the most thorough and authoritative account of the design and construction of India’s most famous building. Underpinned by robust scholarship, the story is engagingly told and wonderfully illustrated with many photographs and diagrams. The author visually reconstructs the larger (now lost) series of riverside gardens in Agra, and explains how the Taj Mahal fitted into this unique built environment. 

Romance of the Taj Mahal

By Pratapaditya Pal, Janice Leoshko, Joseph M. Dye III, Stephen Markel

Book cover of Romance of the Taj Mahal

Why this book?

Published to coincide with an exhibition held at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art back in 1989, this book still offers one of the best introductions to the cultural world of the Taj Mahal. Written by the curators at LACMA, the various chapters place the design of the tomb in the wider context of the decorative arts of Mughal India and show how it has also inspired later artists around the world. 

Taj Mahal: The Illumined Tomb- An Anthology of Seventeenth-Century Mughal and European Documentary Sources

By W.E. Begley (editor), Z.A. Desai (translator),

Book cover of Taj Mahal: The Illumined Tomb- An Anthology of Seventeenth-Century Mughal and European Documentary Sources

Why this book?

This is an anthology of all of the written sources on the Taj Mahal from the period of its construction in the 17th century. It brings together translations of every description or mention of the building in Mughal court histories, or accounts by foreign travellers, and explains all of the historical and religious inscriptions that are written on the building itself. The book is meant for the serious student and lacks narrative flow; but the focus exclusively on written sources dating from the same time as the Taj really helps you understand it in its own time. 

The Moonlight Garden: New Discoveries at the Taj Mahal

By Elizabeth B. Moynihan,

Book cover of The Moonlight Garden: New Discoveries at the Taj Mahal

Why this book?

This slim but well illustrated book gives an account of archaeological excavations that the author and others carried out in the mid-1990s. They unearthed the large but previously lost garden called the Mehtab Bagh on the far bank of the River Yamuna, facing the Taj Mahal. In so doing they debunked the long-standing myth about Shah Jahan’s plans to build a black replica Taj on that spot and showed instead what the real original garden scheme was like. Fascinatingly told, the story fully lives up to the claim to reveal ‘new discoveries’. 

Architecture of Mughal India

By Catherine B. Asher,

Book cover of Architecture of Mughal India

Why this book?

This is a survey of all Mughal architecture, in which only a few pages are devoted to the Taj Mahal directly, but for anyone who wants to understand the Taj not as something unique and inexplicable, but as a logical part of a longer tradition of design, this book is essential reading. While there are other surveys of Mughal architecture on offer, a major strength of this one is the author’s inclusion of many minor and provincial buildings that provide a wider context for the famous stand-out masterpieces like the Taj. 

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Taj Mahal, India, and the Mughal Empire?

5,215 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Taj Mahal, India, and the Mughal Empire.

Taj Mahal Explore 5 books about Taj Mahal
India Explore 239 books about India
The Mughal Empire Explore 5 books about the Mughal Empire

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The Last Mughal: The Fall of a Dynasty: Delhi, 1857, Future Shock, and Cessions of Land by Indian Tribes to the United States if you like this list.