Interesting history of the Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan, tracing their story and people’s reaction to them from the Buddhist period, through the Islamic period, and into the 19th and 20th centuries, and even beyond their infamous destruction by the Taliban. It is well-researched and authoritative, with a good selection of illustrations and quotes from different encounters with the Buddhas. The early history particularly interested me, with some really interesting descriptions from the travelling Chinese monk Xuanzang in the 7th century. It was then interesting to read of the tolerance, and indeed a certain amount of appropriation of the Buddhas, in the early Islamic period.
He discusses the gradual transition from Buddhism to Islam in the area of Bamiyan, showing that it wasn’t a sudden conversion, and explaining that it was most likely due to commercial interests (which had been central to Buddhist Bamiyan too).
The next cultural encounter with the Buddhas at Bamiyan that Morgan goes into in depth is that of the British, and a series of British imperial adventurers in the 19th century left interesting accounts of Bamiyan, and they seemed very obsessed with identifying links to Alexander the Great and Greek civilization. The final chapter then covers more modern archaeological efforts (principally French and Japanese) to investigate the site at Bamiyan, before concluding on what the future of the (now destroyed) Buddhas of Bamiyan should be, including a discussion of the tensions between the Hazaras of Bamiyan and the Pashtuns dominant in the rest of Afghanistan. Whilst an interesting read, I felt the somewhat verbose style knocked a star off for me – I’m slightly turned off by paragraphs that run over several pages, for instance.