As I near the end of the “unschooling” years and my two youngest children are a little too old to “be read to” at night (though maybe no one should ever be too old for this pleasure), I recently decided to wake them up in the morning by reading to them. I have been trying to “stay on topic” by selecting things from a huge rather dry Earth Science textbook, and then a biography of Thomas Paine. It so happened however, that as I perused the library shelves a week ago, I came across “Taj Mahal” by Elzabeth Mann. It is one of a series of Mann’s “Wonders of the World” books. The illustrations are in the style of Persian miniature painting and they are fantastic. The story starts with the well known story of the erection of the Taj Mahal by Shah Jahan in the 17th century upon the death of his most beloved Mumtaz Mahal. (She died giving birth to their 14th child, a fact that seems somewhat glossed over in my previous experiences of the tale.) That synopsis is followed by a detailed account of the history that led up to the erection of the monument. It is a story of the conquest of the Hindus by the Muslims, tyranny, murder, ruthless plotting for power, and amassing of wealth. It is also the story of the design of the monument, the engineering of the monument; including how the water got elevated up out of the river so as to be a source for the reflecting pool, how the walls and buildings were built, and how the entire complex was protected against flooding with an elaborate system of rubble filled wells.
This is the world history I would have liked to learn when I was young. I went to a “good” high school and took “World History” but it was so boring that I retained almost nothing. While our unschooling study of history is certainly spotty, a book like this is compelling and riveting . We poured over the floor plan in the middle of the book and discussed the adherence to the strict symmetry. When we were done, my daughter grabbed the book and proclaimed that we should read “The Empire State Building” next but my son saw “Roman Coliseum” so w e will have to draw straws. Meanwhile, as I vaguely recall that I wrote down on our “Individual Home Instruction Plan” that my daughter is studying “Geography” and my son “Social Studies”, I will extract appropriate descriptions of the book’s substance so as to meet expectations implied or suggested by these categories. Imagine being restricted by one’s “course of study” all year. That would be terrible.