In 1631, the heartbroken Moghul Emperor, Shah Jahan, ordered the construction of a monument of unsurpassed splendour and majesty in memory of his beloved wife. Theirs was an extraordinary story of passionate love: although almost constantly pregnant - she bore him fourteen children - Mumtaz Mahal followed her husband on every military campaign, in order that they might never be apart. But then Mumtaz died in childbirth. Blinded by grief, Shah Jahan created an exquisite and extravagant memorial for her on the banks of the river Jumna. A gleaming mausoleum of flawless symmetry, the Taj Mahal was built from milk-white marble and rose sandstone, and studded with a fortune in precious jewels. It took twenty years to complete and involved over 20,000 labourers, depleting the Moghul treasuries. But Shah Jahan was to pay a greater price for his obsession. He ended his days imprisoned by his own son in Agra Fort, gazing across the river at the monument to his love. The building of the Taj Mahal had set brother against brother and son against father in a savage conflict that pushed the seventeenth century's most powerful empire into irreversible decline.
The story behind the Taj Mahal has the cadences of Greek tragedy, the carnage of a Jacobean revenge play and the ripe emotion of grand opera. With the storytelling skills that characterize their previous books, in this compelling narrative history Diana and Michael Preston succeed in putting a revealing human face on the famous marble masterpiece.
Diana Preston's most recent books are Wilful Murder: The Sinking of the Lusitania (now also being made into a major BBC1 documentary), A Pirate of Exquisite Mind and Before the Fall-Out (chosen for the Samuel Johnson Prize longlist). Her co-author is her husband Michael Preston, an historian and traveller.