A small pocket book from art publishers Thames And Hudson provides a dazzling visual introduction to Angkor’s history that’s easy to understand and quick to read
I’m currently reading Bruno Dagens’ Angkor: Heart Of An Asian Empire, which is part of Thames and Hudson’s New Horizons series. They are small glossy paperbacks, packed with high quality photos and illustrations interleaved with an authorative, easy to read text. If this Angkor book is representative of the series (in which there are over 80 titles), I’m going to be reading a lot more. The temples of Angkor have had a magnetic attraction for me before I even visited them – and now I’ve seen them, I’ve been doing a lot of reading about them.
With ancient history, especially Asian ancient history, I find myself glazing over a lot of the time. Because so much of Khmer culture is originally derived from Indian culture, there is no end of unfamiliar names, places, people and concepts to get to grips with. I find I can read about this stuff over and over again without actually taking it in and comprehending it – whereas this little Angkor book provides a superb short, broad sketch of Angkor’s mysterious origins and centuries=later rediscovery by the French. It’s fascinating stuff, and the illustrations drawn by the first explorers to stumble over Angkor temples and the photos taken by the first photographers who got there are spectacular.
The visual elements of this book are not simply a pleasant addition to the text but a vital part of it – they help orientate the reader so much quicker in terms of the history than the words can do by themselves. The book overall is an invaluable synthesis and summary of previous accounts of Angkor, right up to the present day. I’d love to see the other ones in the series on Underwater Archaelogy and The Forbidden City.
In an interesting literary footnote, French novelist and the country’s first Minister of Culture Andre Malraux was arrested during his time in Cambodia as a young man for trying to smuggle a bas relief from Angkor’s Banteay Srei temple out of the country.