What emperors they were: Babur who defeated more than a 100,000 with barely 8,000, but with a self-belief and leadership rarely seen; a soldier and yet a lover of nature, a poet and a thoughtful diarist, a man worth going miles to meet. Humayun, who won and lost kingdoms, accused of being "in the harem, and the opium-eaters’ paradise, when he should have been in the saddle", but who never lost his interest in spiritual matters, astronomy, astrology, and mathematics. He left a manual of his writings containing prayers, astronomical observations and similar texts. Only he in the world’s history of kings died stumbling down his library steps, rushing to evening prayers. Then Akbar, the unlettered but most learned philosopher-king of India, a soldier and yet a Sufi, and a lover of the arts. Jehangir, Shahjahan, the great builder, and of course Alamgir, each more fascinating than the other.
Annemarie Schimmel has been in the recent past the greatest Islamic scholar anywhere, producing a volume of remarkable work in her long life. This book on the Mughals, her last, is difficult to put down. She has covered everything from palace life, the role of royal women in governance, the relations with all other great religions of India, the contribution to textiles, food, scents, jewellery, and every conceivable aspect of life by these great rulers of India.