Preston, Michael 1948–
Preston, Michael 1948–
Born November 9, 1948; married; wife's name Diana. Education: Attended Oxford University.
Historian and writer.
(With Diana Preston) Taj Mahal: Passion and Genius at the Heart of the Moghul Empire, Walker (New York, NY), 2007, published as A Teardrop on the Cheek of Time: The Story of the Taj Mahal, Doubleday (London, England), 2007.
Michael Preston is a historian who has also collaborated with his wife, Diana Preston, on books about a little known adventurer-scientist and the worldwide famous Taj Mahal. The Prestons' first book together, A Pirate of Exquisite Mind: Explorer, Naturalist, and Buccaneer: The Life of William Dampier, was called ‘a superbly rendered popular history in a superpopular genre’ by Booklist contributor Gilbert Taylor. In their book the authors recount the life of the naturalist, travel writer, and explorer, who began his career as a seventeenth-century privateer. Over two decades on the high seas, Dampier wrote constantly in his journal about the many cultures, plants, and animals that he encountered on his journeys. Furthermore, his seafaring adventures made him a close observer of the close interconnection among the wind, the seas, and the weather. ‘Steamy jungles and mangrove swamps, sources of misery to his shipmates, to him were wonderlands of exotic plants and animals,’ noted Laurence A. Marshall in Natural History magazine. ‘While ashore, he savored unusual foods with the locals and carefully described their methods of building, hunting, and dress. While at sea, he sketched the coastlines, reckoned distances between landmarks, and carefully observed the winds and the tides."
The Prestons detail the life and many adventures of Dempier, as well as his contributions to natural history. In a review on the Maine Harbors Web site, Carol Standish wrote: ‘They did a lively and thorough job of researching and resurrecting this giant achiever. Their research is meticulous (even their sources section is fascinating).’ Similarly, Sara Wheeler, writing in the New York Times, noted that the authors ‘have made good use of the Dampier archive: they follow his thought processes by teasing out changes between drafts and final versions.’ The Prestons detail many of Dempier's scientific accomplishments, including his groundbreaking theories concerning the importance of winds and currents on the weather and the sea. His insights are recorded in his book A Discourse of Trade-Winds, Breezes, Storms, Seasons of the Year, Tides and Currents, a classic scientific treatise highly admired and used by both meteorologists and hydrographers. In the process of telling Dempier's stories, the authors also explore why he has remained a largely obscure figure in the history of science, noting that his reputation in his own day was hindered by his lack of higher education, his Scottish heritage, and his limited connections in high places. Wheeler wrote in the New York Times: ‘Written throughout in clear if workmanlike prose, the book takes as its major theme Dampier's influence on the scientific and cultural zeitgeist, and on that of subsequent generations.’ A contributor to Library Bookwatch called A Pirate of Exquisite Mind ‘a fascinating biography."
In Taj Mahal: Passion and Genius at the Heart of the Moghul Empire, published in England as A Teardrop on the Cheek of Time: The Story of the Taj Mahal, the Prestons provide not only an in-depth look at the history and magnificence of India's Taj Mahal but also at the Moghul Empire, an imperial power that dominated the South Asian subcontinent and parts of Afghanistan. In a review in the London Daily Mail, Ned Denny noted that the authors reveal many insights about the spectacular building, which was built by the Moghul ruler Shah Jahan as a tribute to his dead wife. Denny added: ‘I also thought I knew all about the Moghuls, and was slightly loath to read yet another account of their opium-eating,… centuries-long sway over the Indian subcontinent. Again, how wrong I was.’ Denny remarked that even though the authors' ‘book is centered on the Taj, it is largely taken up with an enthralling history of these extraordinary kings and their peerlessly cultured and opulent lives."
The Prestons draw from many ancient Moghul and Indian sources, as well as numerous travelers' accounts, to tell their story about one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Uma Doraiswamy, writing in the Library Journal, called the results a ‘reliable source for readers wanting to understand the splendor of the Taj Mahal in historical context.’ In addition to writing about the Taj Mahal's construction and architecture, the authors delve into the military campaigns and court life of the Moghuls, or Moguls. Much of the book also focuses on Shah Jahan, his many travels, and his devotion to his wife, who died while bearing his fourteenth child. Married for nineteen years, the Shah vowed to never marry again and thereafter sought companionship only through his concubines. The Prestons' book includes a map of India at the time, a Moghul genealogy, and numerous pictures of their accomplishments in creating memorable architecture and gardens. A Publishers Weekly contributor noted that ‘this small history breaks through the legendary facade to reveal a powerful backstory.’ ‘The Prestons carry off this view of the Taj Mahal's inspiration with judicious erudition and limpid clarity,’ asserted Gilbert Taylor in Booklist.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, March 1, 2004, Gilbert Taylor, review of A Pirate of Exquisite Mind: Explorer, Naturalist, and Buccaneer: The Life of William Dampier, p. 1122; March 15, 2007, Gilbert Taylor, review of Taj Mahal: Passion and Genius at the Heart of the Moghul Empire, p. 22.
Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, April, 2005, C.G. Wood, review of A Pirate of Exquisite Mind, p. 1421.
Entertainment Weekly, April 9, 2004, Rebecca Ascher-Walsh, review of A Pirate of Exquisite Mind, p. 90.
Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 2004, review of A Pirate of Exquisite Mind, p. 121.
Library Bookwatch, April 2005, review of A Pirate of Exquisite Mind.
Library Journal, February 15, 2007, Uma Doraiswamy, review of Taj Mahal, p. 133.
Natural History, June, 2004, Laurence A. Marshall, review of A Pirate of Exquisite Mind, p. 58.
New York Times, April 18, 2004, Sara Wheeler ‘The Highbrow Hijacker,’ review of A Pirate of Exquisite Mind.
Publishers Weekly, March 1, 2004, review of A Pirate of Exquisite Mind, p. 60; January 1, 2007, review of Taj Mahal, p. 38.
Science News, August 28, 2004, review of A Pirate of Exquisite Mind, p. 143.
Times Literary Supplement, June 22, 2007, G.H.R. Tillotson, review of A Teardrop on the Cheek of Time: The Story of the Taj Mahal, p. 29.
Ink Well Management Web site,http://inkwellmanagement.com/ (November 4, 2007), brief profile of Michael Preston.
London Daily Mail Online,http://www.dailymail.co.uk/ (April 2, 2007), Ned Denny, review of A Teardrop on the Cheek of the Time.
Maine Harbors,http://www.maineharbors.com/ (November 4, 2007), Carol Standish, review of A Pirate of Exquisite Mind.
Rambles,http://www.rambles.net/ (July 9, 2005), John R. Lindermuth, review of A Pirate of Exquisite Mind.