The Astonishing Reign of Nur Jahan

In 1611, thirty-four-year-old Nur Jahan, daughter of a Persian noble and widow of a subversive official, became the twentieth and favorite wife of the Emperor Jahangir, who ruled the vast Mughal Empire. An astute politician as well as a devoted partner, she issued imperial orders; coins of the realm bore her name. When Jahangir was imprisoned by a rebellious nobleman, the Empress led troops into battle and ultimately rescued him.

The only woman to acquire the stature of empress in her male-dominated world, Nur was also a talented dress designer and innovative architect whose work inspired her stepson’s Taj Mahal. Nur’s confident assertion of talent and power is revelatory; it far exceeded the authority of her female contemporaries in Renais­sance Europe, including Elizabeth I. Here, she finally receives her due in a deeply researched and evocative biography that awakens us to a fascinating history.

Available July 3, 2018

Empress: The Astonishing Reign of Nur Jahan
$27.95 hardcover (Canada $36.95)
ISBN 978-0-393-23934-8
320 pages
More information at W.W. Norton & Company
Read about Empress at Penguin India
Four centuries ago, a Muslim woman ruled an empire.
Her legend still lives, but her story was lost — until now.

Praise for Empress

‘Lal has done a service to readers interested in the Mughal period and the many forgotten or poorly remembered women of Indian history. She has helped shine a light on an enigmatic character many think they know but few actually understand’— Vikas Bajaj, New York Times Book Review

‘An absorbing portrait of a remarkable woman, but also offers a stylish reconstruction of a fascinating slice of Mughal life’—Sameer Rahim, The Telegraph (UK)

‘Lal has not only written a revisionist feminist biography; she has also provided a vivid picture of the Mughal court, with its luxuries, beauties, intrigues and horrors. Moreover, at a time when India’s Hindu-nationalist government chooses to emphasize one strain in the country’s history, she offers a reminder of the diversity of Indian tradition’—The Economist

‘Ruby Lal has, in a masterly and enviable manner, crafted a riveting narrative where history and biography come together. Empress is an outstanding work because of its masterly craft, its sensitive and penetrating reading of sources, its imaginative recreation of the colour and the grandeur of the Mughal court and its matchless unravelling of the interplay of human agency and the forces of history. This is the work of a first-rate historian writing at her best’—Rudrangshu Mukherjee, Business Standard

‘What an extraordinary and detailed account of a remarkable woman—amazing! A very impressive, thorough, poetic, humane work’—Deepa Mehta, Filmmaker and Screenwriter

‘In this scintillating, feminist, and exhaustively researched work of narrative history, Ruby Lal brings the legendary empress Nur Jahan to life in all of her glamor and power’—Molly Crabapple, author of Drawing Blood and Brothers of the Gun

‘Lal’s book [is] replete with research but also narrated with a sense of drama befitting a novel’—Somak Ghoshal, Live Mint

‘Lal strives to undo the ways in which [Nur’s] personality is diminished to being an object of love’—Soni Wadhwa, Asian Review of Books

‘Although no later Mughal woman attained Nur’s standing, Lal shows that her reign had a lasting effect on female empowerment’—The New Yorker

‘Lal’s mission here—to illuminate and serve Nur Jahan’s life, to place her in the light . . . In other words, Lal releases Nur from the condescending ways in which previous commentators have trivialized, belittled, and diminished her accomplishments’—Gary Singh, Los Angeles Review of Books

‘Lal’s intriguing biography, with its chronology of [Nur Jahan’s] relatively swift rise to power and even swifter descent, restores [her] to her full splendour’—Jane Ciabattari, BBC

‘In chronicling her life, Lal has shown both academic maturity that testifies to the thoroughness of her research, and a certain muted admiration that keeps you turning the pages. A tale as awe-inspiring as Nur Jahan’s could not have had a better storyteller’—Aekta Kapoor, eShe Magazine

‘Ruby Lal’s marvellous account of Empress Nur Jahan’s life is as intriguing, inspiring, and relevant to us today in twenty-first-century America, as it was to her times in seventeenth-century India’—Azar Nafisi, author of Reading Lolita in Tehran

‘This is an outstanding book, not only incredibly important but also a fabulous piece of writing.  Here, India’s greatest Empress is reborn in all her fascinating glory in a luminescent account of her life and times. Ruby Lal has written a classic—one of the best biographies to come out this year and certainly the best ever of Nur Jahan’—Amanda Foreman, author of The World Made by Women

‘With stern adoration and a steady hand, Ruby Lal has boldly recut the crown jewel that was Nur Jahan’—Allan Sealy, Writer

‘The panoramic sweep of this extraordinary feminist history is matched by the exquisite storytelling’—Namita Gokhale, Writer, Co-Founder Jaipur Literary Festival

‘Nur Jahan emerges from this biography as a spirited, brilliant and gifted leader. Nur’s story weaves into Lal’s gorgeous, nuanced portrait of the glittering splendour of the Mughal Empire and how its political, military and cultural destinies were shaped by this remarkable refugee-turned-empress’—Gareth Russell, author of Young and Damned and Fair

‘An enchanting evocation of the brilliant Mughal empire with a tender tribute to India’s first female leader: lush and sensuous, a jewel box of a book’—Rosalind Miles, author of The Women’s History of the World

‘Lal [challenges] the well-worn fictions of Nur Jahan’s life and legacy . . . A cross between Princess Diana, Mother Teresa, and Annie Oakley, her Empress is scarcely human’—Maxwell Carter, Wall Street Journal

‘Lal’s book captures that brief, incredible moment in history when the widowed daughter of a Persian noble boldly redefined the role of the royal wife’—Quartz India

Empress is an absorbing, rich, and evocative account of India’s first woman ruler. Lal shows that Nur Jahan’s story is much more complicated—and remarkable—than ever before known . . . Beautifully written and deeply researched, Empress brings Nur Jahan’s biography to light and awakens us to an important chapter in the Mughal Empire’s fascinating history’—India New England News

‘[Ruby Lal] has done a tremendous job salvaging Nur Janan’s history and establishing that she became a woman of immense prestige by virtue of her thought, of her passion, and of her character. Whether you are a student of history or literature, this book is a page-turner unlike any other in the field’—Ayesha Rafiq, Daily Times (Pakistan)

‘Lal brings to life South Asia at a time when Muslims, Hindus and multiple ethnicities coexisted culturally under Mughal rule’—David Luhrssen, Shepherd

Empress is bursting with life and mystery, it’s satisfying and beguiling at once. Lal paints a portrait of a woman from the peripheral glances of written history. She does what any accomplished and well-trained pursuer of the humanities does—fascinating analysis to draw conclusions that have evidently been collecting dust on the shelf for too long’—Marvellist

‘Readers who are interested in the Mughal Empire or powerful women in history won’t be able to put this down’—Bookish.com

‘Lal’s biography is the first-ever to focus on the political rise and reign of Nur, one of the most powerful women in world history’—April Hunt, Emory News Center

‘A poignant reminder to women that the struggle for an equal voice has been real for millennia and that even if women’s leadership is condemned, inspiration can found in the unlikeliest sources’—Girija Sankar, Khabar

‘Lal rescues Nur Jahan from the backwaters of history, introducing her to a new generation of strong, independent women’—Beth Fish, Beth Fish Reads

‘A vivid look at her subject and where [Nur Jahan] lived. An excellent choice for popular history readers interested in women rulers’—Library Journal

‘An engrossing tale of female power’—Shelf Awareness

“An enchanting evocation of the brilliant Mughal empire with a tender tribute to India’s first female leader: lush and sensuous, a jewel box of a book.”Rosalind Miles
author of The Women’s History of the World

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