The best Mughal Empire books

2 authors have picked their favorite books about the Mughal Empire and why they recommend each book.

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The Last Mughal

By William Dalrymple,

Book cover of The Last Mughal: The Fall of a Dynasty: Delhi, 1857

Mixing deep archival scholarship with brilliant storytelling, Dalrymple transports the reader into the final days of the Mughal Empire and its last emperor. The story centers on Delhi during the mutiny against British rule in 1857, the last great attempt by the Indians to throw off their European overlords until Gandhi. What begins with hope ultimately ends in tragedy, for the Mughal poet-ruler who fails to grasp his chance to change history, and the brilliant civilization his empire had fostered.


Who am I?

Michael Schuman is the author of three history books on Asia, most recently Superpower Interrupted: The Chinese History of the World, released in 2020. He has spent the past quarter-century as a journalist in the region. Formerly a correspondent for The Wall Street Journal and Time magazine, he is currently a contributor to The Atlantic and a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion.


I wrote...

Superpower Interrupted: The Chinese History of the World

By Michael Schuman,

Book cover of Superpower Interrupted: The Chinese History of the World

What is my book about?

We in the West routinely ask: "What does China want?" The answer is quite simple: the superpower status it always had but briefly lost. In this colorful, informative story filled with fascinating characters, epic battles, influential thinkers, and decisive moments, we come to understand how the Chinese view their own history and how its narrative is distinctly different from that of Western civilization. More importantly, we come to see how this unique Chinese history of the world shapes China's economic policy, attitude toward the United States and the rest of the world, relations with its neighbors, positions on democracy and human rights, and notions of good government.

Architecture of Mughal India

By Catherine B. Asher,

Book cover of Architecture of Mughal India

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. 


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. 

Taj Mahal

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

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. 


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. 

Faint Promise of Rain

By Anjali Mitter Duva,

Book cover of Faint Promise of Rain

If Eastern and Central Europe are often ignored in historical fiction in the sixteenth century, that’s even more true of lands east of the Ural Mountains. This gorgeous study of Mughal India in the reigns of Emperor Humayun and his son Akbar charts the story of Adhira, a temple dancer in Rajasthan. Born during one of her homeland’s rare rainstorms, Adhira bears the weight of her father’s expectation that she will carry on the kathak tradition to which he has devoted his life. Through the story of Adhira and her brother Mahendra, Duva—herself a practitioner of kathak—plunges us into the highs and lows of temple life and reveals a deep understanding of the religious dance she portrays.


Who am I?

I fell in love with Russian history as a college sophomore, when I realized the place was like a movie series, all drama and extremes. I completed a doctorate at Stanford in early modern Russia and later published The Domostroi: Rules for Russian Households in the Time of Ivan the Terrible. Because so few people in the West know about the contemporaries of the Tudors and Borgias, I set out to write a set of novels, published under a pseudonym, aimed at a general audience, and set in sixteenth-century Russia. I interview authors for the New Books Network, where I favor well-written books set in unfamiliar times and places.


I wrote...

The Golden Lynx

By C.P. Lesley,

Book cover of The Golden Lynx

What is my book about?

Russia, 1534. Elite clans battle for control of the toddler who will become their first tsar, Ivan the Terrible. Amid the chaos and upheaval, a masked man mysteriously appears night after night to aid the desperate people. Or is he a man? 

Sixteen-year-old Nasan Kolychev is trapped in a loveless marriage. To escape her misery, she dons boys’ clothes and slips away under cover of night to help those in need. Before long, she finds herself caught up in events that will decide the future of Russia. And so, a girl who has become the greatest hero of her time must decide whether to save a baby destined to become the greatest villain of his.

Romance of the Taj Mahal

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

Book cover of Romance of the Taj Mahal

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. 


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 Moonlight Garden

By Elizabeth B. Moynihan,

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

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’. 


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. 

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