I really enjoyed Dan Cruickshank's TV series earlier this year, which meant that I wondered whether the book would live up to expectations. On the one hand, it could be a coffee-table book: nice to look at but hardly worth the read; on the other, it could be dry and over-scholarly. In the end, it fits rather nicely in-between. It is a coffee-table book to some extent, but a good read too.
There's not much added or taken away from the TV series, though. Taking the form of a diary, it does largely retrace the journey taken in the TV programmes with Cruickshank's unbounded enthusiasm. In the early stages he describes some of the team's unhappiness at the filming schedule, but this seems to take a back seat after a couple of weeks. Interestingly, there is no significant mention of problems with the authorities in Uzbekistan or Iran, but clearly there were bureaucratic problems around the filming arrangements in China, and a degree of chaos in his essentially fruitless and naïve search for the Ark of the Covenant in Ethiopia. Many of his treasures are architectural; others (such as the Samurai sword) are archetypes, rather than specific objects; a few (such as the Festival of Durga in Calcutta) are ephemeral. Cruickshank mentions that he wanted to go to Afghanistan and Iraq, but was unable to, because of security considerations. The map in the book shows that there are certain geographical concentrations of his selections, and whilst certain areas of omission, such as Siberia, are understandable, I think it's regrettable that there is nothing from southern Africa. I suppose Great Zimbabwe would have been inaccessible to the BBC; but perhaps something from Kenya or Chad representing the dawn of humanity could have been included. Generally the photos are good and representative, but I do feel that the Moscow Metro isn't done justice by the pictures in the book.
With a book like this, there's an inevitable temptation to pick out personal favourites, so here are mine: Machu Picchu (Peru); Moai (Easter Island); The Great Wall of China; the Mosques and Madrasas of Samarkand (Uzbekistan); The Rock Churches of Lalibela (Ethiopia); Leptis Magna (Libya); The Moscow Metro; and The Pantheon (Rome).