Book: Khmer: Lost Empire of Cambodia by Thierry Zéphir
I have to admit that I accidentally left out this book when I wrote earlier about Cambodia.
I hope that I can remedy the oversight, and people planning a trip to Cambodia, or people who just want to learn more about Cambodia, will be able to find this wonderful little history. From the full-page black and white photos of carving details in the front of the book to the tipped-in full-page color pictures in the center, Khmer: Lost Empire of Cambodia is a visual delight.
But just as appealing, it tells you things that ordinary guidebooks gloss over or ignore entirely. I learned, here, for example, of the importance of water use in the ancient kingdoms, and how dereliction in tending the canals ultimately led to the downfall of the Khmer. The book helped me sort out the many periods of battle with the Thais, the relationship with the land that is now Vietnam, and dozens of other little facts that enhanced my trip to Siem Riep. And for such a small book, it does an excellent job of covering the complexities of the Hindu and Buddhist religions and the back and forth of their influences in the Khmer kingdom.
The 127-page book not only shows page after page of illustrations of the art work in the temples, but aerial shots and maps to help you sort out what was where. A good index and plenty of footnotes and suggested reading makes it almost a scholarly work, but never dry and boring. The author, after all, studied and teaches at the Ecole du Louvre. No doubt all the archaeology that continues in Cambodia has drawn some new conclusions in the ten years since this book was published, but when you are dealing with a civilization a thousand years old, nothing essential changes in ten years.
Finally, without this book, I might not have known about the beautiful, delicate Banteay Srei, which has only recently become available to tourists when I visited Cambodia. I wonder what one fact that you discover might be the most important in your own exploration of the ancient kingdom?