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Empress: The Astonishing Reign of Nur Jahan

3.79  ·  Rating details ·  305 ratings  ·  65 reviews
Four centuries ago, a Muslim woman ruled an empire.

When it came to hunting, she was a master shot. As a dress designer, few could compare. An ingenious architect, she innovated the use of marble in her parents’ mausoleum on the banks of the Yamuna River that inspired her stepson’s Taj Mahal. And she was both celebrated and reviled for her political acumen and diplomatic sk
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published July 3rd 2018 by W. W. Norton Company
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3.79  · 
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 ·  305 ratings  ·  65 reviews

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Jayasree B
Sep 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: my-library
Empress by Ruby Lal is a wonderfully researched and well-written book on Nur Jahan. It is perhaps not for all to read. There are those biographies that are more empathetic, but not Empress. Lal has managed to give us a clean and clear picture of the times Nur Jahan lived. Nur's life and her impact on those who came after her time are documented with aplomb. Painting a picture as close to reality as could be is a daunting task. Ruby Lal has done her best and has also included some notes for the r ...more
Becca Younk
Mar 25, 2019 rated it did not like it
The only biographies I read are ones about women in history, the more ancient the better. I was so prepped to like this one, as I know virtually nothing about the Mughal Empire, and had never even heard of Nur Jahan. She sounds great! She become Jahangir's favorite wife despite never bearing him any children, which is usually pretty important for rulers. Unfortunately, this reads more like a quick overview of Mughal rule for a certain time period than a biography of Nur Jahan. I know more about ...more
ARC review.

Dr. Lal's biography of Nur Jahan could be to an artist or writer what Ron Chernow's biography of Alexander Hamilton was to Lin-Manuel Miranda. Too many historians have diminished the accomplishments of truly extraordinary women and I'm so glad to live in a time where new lenses are re-examining historical figures that have been undersung or diminished by biased narratives. Many hear of Nur Jahan as the woman who stole an Emperor's heart, but she was a phenomenally educated, ambitious
Jul 10, 2018 rated it did not like it
I read a lot of biographies about powerful women, so as soon as I saw it, I was excited.

But sadly, it’s just...soulless. There are massive chapters about what the men thought of her, or what her family is doing, or alliances being forged. But she makes very few choices of her own. She makes two interesting decisions, once at the start and once at the end. But the whole book is hyper focused on how the men reacted to her, ironically stripping her of her power once again. Seeing as it’s her own b
Agnivo Niyogi
Sep 15, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Full Review: https://antorjatikbangali.wordpress.c...

What makes Ruby Lal’s account of Nur Jahan stand out is the personal touch she has added to this retelling of history. Her admiration for the Mughal queen, and how the interest was kindled at an early age, is a fascinating read. Having read only accounts of male Mughal rulers in our textbooks, this remarkable narrative of India’s female ruler four centuries ago is commendable indeed.

Lal’s book is not just a biography of Nur Jahan, but also a c
Amy Sturgis
Jun 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is a fascinating account of a woman whose story deserves to be far better known, especially in the West.
Jul 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The Light of the World has returned. Nur Jahan Begum is the history of India. She was a Shia married to a Sunni Muslim who was also half Hindu Rajput. Further, Nur Jahan is the only woman ruler among the great Mughals of India. Nur’s life history shows her dynamism and boldness. However, there is a very long history of the erasure of Nur Jahan’s power that Lal has brilliantly restored.

When it came to hunting, Nur Jahan was a great tiger huntress with a master shot as depicted in a classic portra
Shashank Pandey
Aug 04, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is a historical account cum biography of the great and only Empress of Mughal empire who got the prestigious position of a co-sovereign in the Mughal empire, Nur Jahan (Light of the world).

This book contains the story of Nur Jahan from her Birth to Death and even before and after it. It is a collection of various incidents and achievements in the life of Nur Jahan. From her birth on a road beside Kandahar to her becoming the co-sovereign of the Mughal empire beside Jahangir and to her
Ahmad Wali  Ahmad Yar
Aug 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
I bought this book merely because of the nice cover photo. Surprisingly, the book was much better than what I expected. It’s well-written, well-researched and contains no exaggerations. As for the events on which she has doubt or couldn't find significant evidence, she has let it for the readers to judge. However, there are some issues that I thought are worth mentioning. In the first chapter, the author is desperately trying to put as much information as possible to make sure the reader finds i ...more
Roxanne Russell
Sep 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: humanities

I’ll be thinking of Nur Jahan for a very long time. How could the twentieth wife of a Mughal Emperor rise to such power? Even this book does not explain it. It mostly sets about to prove it- the most pressing task of a feminist historian claiming a woman held ultimate power in an Islamic regime. Lal meticulously makes the case that Nur Jahan held true sovereign power.

Her story and her times read like A Game of Thrones. No dragons or white walkers, but plenty of family treachery, political maneu
Neeta Sirvi
Apr 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
Empress by Ruby Lal is a wonderful researched and well written book on Nur Jahan.This book is a wonderful look at the verifiable facts of Nur Jahan's life and helps clarify contemporary and post-humous embellishments (perspectives local and abroad) from what we actually know happened from reliable sources. Recommended ! Would make a great read for Women's History Month.
Debjit Sengupta
Feb 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
I was wondering why Mughal history is yet to become stale despite absorbed multiple times by readers across different generation and geography. Just try recalling an empire which has had occupied the same volume of printed space as that of Mughal empire. The answer is none. The chronicles recorded by historian during that era definitely makes it rich. The empire is about, not only war, emperors, success and monuments symbolizing love but also it is about hatred, jealousy, fratricide and defeat. ...more
Katie Brookins
Sep 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: audiobooks, 2018
I had heard of Jahanara, but if her father's stepmother Nur Jahan was included in the Royal Diaries series book based on the young Indian princess (and I now suppose she must have been), her role was not significant enough to have imprinted her name on my brain. I'm all the more pleased to have discovered this excellent, well-researched biography of Empress Nur Jahan, born while her parents were traveling as political refugees from Persia to India. Although remembered for her love story with Emp ...more
Tariq Mahmood
Oct 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: moghul
I bought the book to give me an insight into Nur Jehan the most powerful woman in the history of India, the empress of the day but was instead treated to a detailed narration of the feud between Jahangir and his rebellious elder son Shah Jehan. What is interesting was that Moghul kings actually encouraged their sons to not only fight each other but to also fight their father the reigning king, because they wanted the ableist to rule upon their demise. Fascinating to read how Jahangir willingly p ...more
Bharat D Apte
Jul 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Ruby Lal has written a brilliant and compelling biography of Nur Jahan, that is thought provoking and hard to put down. There are several versions of the story of Nur and Jahangir’s first meeting, and her meteoric rise to power as co-sovereign of the Mughal Empire. However, the best part of this detailed, well researched book is that it helps see Nur Jahan and the Mughal Empire in context. What role did Nur’s upbringing play in helping her gain power within the Mughal court? What did it mean for ...more
Umar Riaz
Feb 17, 2019 rated it really liked it

Who should we consider the greatest female ruler of South Asia? Women of power have been rare in this patriarchal land, from Razia Sultan and Chand Bibi to Rani Durgavati and the Rani of Jhansi, and in modern times from Indira Gandhi to Benazir Bhutto. The debate gets muddled with Queen Victoria, who was Empress of India without ever stepping on the subcontinent's soil.

The historian Ruby Lal in her new book “Empress; The Astonishing Reign of Nur Jahan” shows us unexpected perspective about Nur J
Melisende d'Outremer
There was still so much I wanted to learn about Nur Jahan that wasn't really covered here as the information was just not there. What Lal's book does do is gives us a fairly decent introduction into this woman.

Full review here @ Melisende's Library
Colleen Courtney
I first encountered Nur Jahan years ago in the Royal Diaries book about her grand niece Jahanara, where Nur is an irredeemable villain. While I remember that book as one of my favorite in the series, this biography is undoubtedly a more accurate portrayal of an interesting woman. Lal places Nur in the context of her time and culture, showing the depth hidden by popular caricature.
Sep 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
At a time the whole world is talking incessantly about inclusion and diversity that includes equal employment for women, equal pay for women, Ruby Lal has come up with this great biography of Mihr-un-Nisa. Ah, my fault! We won't recognize her unless I use the name 'Nur Jahan' here. Never would most of us have thought that it requires a whole book to describe "The Astonishing Reign of Nur Jahan". Yes, I am using the same phrase that Ruby has used, because that is the most apt term and I or most o ...more
The great Mughal rulers dominate most lessons regarding the Indian subcontinent. Babur; Akbar the Great, Jahan. heir conquests, the uprising, interactions with the Dutch and British, their views on religion, art and architecture. But what is rarely taught is about their wives, their mothers, their daughters beyond the story of Shah Jahan and his great love that resulted in the building of the Taj Mahal.

First of all, Lal needed to counter the historic precedence of male dominated history and thei
Huma Sheikh
Feb 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The Astonishing Reign of Nur Jahan
By Ruby Lal

A marvellous biography on the enigmatic life of India's first female leader whose power and political acumen rivaled those of her female counterparts in Europe and beyond.

Mihr un-Nissa, 'Sun of Women' born in 1557 to Persian nobles, rose to power and fame in 1611 at the age of 34 at the Mughal court and throughout India when she became the twentieth and the most cherished wife of the Mughal Emperor Jahangir.

Named Nur Jahan,' the light of the wo
Jan 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is great at contextualizing. There's a wealth of information about Nur Jahan. There's also a wealth of information about the many women in her orbit. Nur Jahan is an especially impressive part of a legacy of accomplished Mughal women; from Gulbadan Begum traveling to mecca and writing a memoir (which I read a few years ago) all the way to Jahanara (with her sufism, knowledge of the Quran, charity, and patronage of architecture.)

I liked that the author noted that Nur Jahan had a meteor
Jul 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
While recounted in a tone that is somewhat dry, Lal really makes an attempt to bring to life the legacy of Nur Jahan, a figure of whom most modern English-speaking-or-reading readers won't know much, if anything at all. Lal's research is exceptional; we're simply at a disadvantage because history is not kind to documentation, particularly unbiased documentation about female authority figures as written by the (mostly male) historians with the most to lose in upholding the validity of those non-s ...more
Aug 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A fully descriptive account of Indian Empress Nur Jahan of Persian origins, the beloved wife of Emperor Jahangir and step mother of the Shah Jahan. She was a force to reckon in her own might as arguably one of the most powerful forces in Mughal history. Lal points out how her accomplishments have intentionally been left out of Mughal history, probably by men and even within her own family. These historians either with purpose left her out of history to ignore her contributions or couldn’t unders ...more
Jan 28, 2019 rated it liked it
I love Indian history and often read books based around that genre. Nur Jahan was a figure I was always fascinated with and therefore, I was searching for a book that would let me get to know her character better (beyond Google and history textbooks of course).

One thing to keep in mind while reading books based upon historical figures is to remember that it is an account of their life and not a fiction novel full of thrills. Their life might be as boring as it gets and so that's something the re
Jul 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
"Europeans like Roe and Mundy seemed especially bewildered by the phenomenon of Nur Jahan. She hadn't inherited an empire, as had Queen Elizabeth I of England, crowned twenty years before Nur's birth, nor was she exactly a favorite, the familiar adviser-minister figure they knew, a staple of European courts but always a male. They couldn't wrap their minds around a woman's coming to power because of her own talents, but they could understand a wily consort winning the indulgence of a love-blind ...more
Oct 27, 2018 rated it liked it
Can't say it was a riveting read, but I can say I learned a LOT about not just about Empress Nur Jahan, but also the diversity and complexity of the Mughal empires and the first 1600 years of Muslim history in Asia. Also more generally about the huge gaps in so-called world history I was taught, its deeply patriarchal and European bias, the way women have been systematically erased from and/or diminished in the historical record by unscrupulous politicians and their unwitting historian dupes and ...more
Mary Odem
Aug 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Wonderful biography! Lal vividly recounts the life and world of Nur Jahan, India’s first female ruler. She charts Nur’s rise—from her birth to parents fleeing persecution in Persia to her ascent to the throne as co-sovereign of the vast Mughal Empire. Lal reveals how Nur’s keen intellect, political acumen and extraordinary talents as poet, expert hunter and architect made her an effective and wise ruler. What gives the book real power is the author’s deep knowledge and evocative portrayal of the ...more
Apr 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
I appreciate the author going into such detail about what life might have been like in Mughal India, but it did make it a bit intense to read. I found myself nodding off at elaborate descriptions of harems, and caravans, and Mughal government. However, I recommend this book because of the chapters towards the end, especially the chapters titled "Fitna" and "The Rescue". These were amazingly written moments of history in which a strong, smart woman led a battle, and pretended to succumb to her en ...more
Ashima Jain
Oct 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: first-reads
With Empress, Lal lays out a chronologically detailed account consolidated from various time periods and sources to demystify this woman who has remained an enigma. Nur's story is not hers alone. It is a part of a large empire and the events before and after her life play a key role in shaping her story.

Naturally then, the narrative is exhaustive in the Mughal history it encapsulates. I have never felt a kinship with History as a subject, nonetheless, I was surprised to note that I found the boo
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Ruby Lal is professor of South Asian history at Emory University. She is the author of Empress: The Astonishing Reign of Nur Jahan, Domesticity and Power in the Early Mughal World, and Coming of Age in Nineteenth Century India: The Girl-Child and the Art of Playfulness.
“To these men, the boundary between the human and divine was porous; longing across differences was the great unifier. Poetry and mysticism shared this desire to dissolve dualisms.” 1 likes
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