Here at last is the first comprehensive guide to Angkor written in English.
The 233-page book, in paperback size, contains detailed maps, descriptions,
background, dates and illustrations to every temple in the Angkor
he author, Dawn Rooney, is an American art
historian, based in Bangkok. She first visited Angkor in 1969 and has been
enamored of it ever since. She became a specialist in southeast Asian art, and
did her PhD in 1983. Among her previous books she has written one on Khmer
The photographer, Michael Freeman, has already published two
outstanding books on the ancient site and another, Palaces of the Gods, on Khmer
sanctuaries in Thailand.
Rooney's guide also contains some of the old
19th-century photographs and engravings that made Angkor look even more
enigmatic and alluring, attracting a whole generation of travelers and
The book is designed to be in one's hand as one walks around the
temples. It starts with a well-researched introduction. Rooney's erudition and
scholarship illuminate every fact of the history, religion and geography of the
She sets the record straight about the "rediscovery" of Angkor. A
lone Frenchmen stumbling across hidden ruins in the jungle is part of the
romantic mythology which has taken hold of the place with the same tenacity as
the giant fig trees. But Henri Mouhot, traveling under the auspices of the Royal
Geographical Society in England, was just the most publicity conscious of a long
line of visitors who saw Angkor during the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. "Their
reports seem to have gone unnoticed by the West," writes Rooney.
guide systematically tours Angkor Wat and all the other temples in alphabetical
order. Thus, each has its own section with information such as location, date,
and art style stated clearly at the top.
Not since Maurice Glaize's
excellent guidebook, Les Monuments du Groupe d'Angkor, published in 1963, has
anyone else included such detailed plans together with drawings of the
Rooney acknowledges her debt to Glaize, who worked
with the Ecole Francaise d'Extreme Orient on the restoration of the monuments
from 1933 onwards. Some of his drawings were more detailed, showing the
evolution of the lintel over the centuries and the structure of the linga and
types of sanctuaries. Both books are especially beneficial in appreciating
elaborately-carved buildings such as Banteay Srei.
Each chapter contains
a helpful 'Tip'. For example, at the beautiful temple of Banteay Samre, which
was not safe to visit until recently, she advises enthusiasts to look out for
the decoration on the highest part of the Central Sanctuary, by going to the end
of the sandstone walkway and looking back.
The book also contains
extracts from elegant writers such as Pierre Loti, in 1902, and H. Churchill
Candee in 1925, enhancing the visitor's experience when first contemplating the
awesome ruins. An English writer, Geoffrey Gorer, visiting in 1936, made some
eccentric observations, not noted in this book, including a bold declaration
that there were only two truly great pieces of architecture in the world, Angkor
Wat and Greenwich hospital in England.
Also impressive are the
itineraries at the back of the book, together with a comparative chronology of
Khmer and other civilizations, a chronology of the monuments and Cambodia's
kings, and the main divinities in Khmer art.
She elucidates the manifold
myths and tales depicted around the temple's murals which are so confusing to
the untutored visitor.
Her chapter on the Bayon and its numerous
galleries in which the visitor can get lost are particularly good.
Bayon is my favourite temple," says Rooney.
A disappointment of the book
is that there are not more of Freeman's superb photographs, such as the
seductive apsaras featured in his book Angkor: The Hidden Glories.
contains some of the best photographs ever published of these
This is a scholarly book, designed for those who are profoundly
interested in the subject and who will visit the site many times.