The Great Wall, China
Construction of some segments of this approximately 4,500-mile-long wall began as early as the fifth century B.C. John Man traveled the entire length, navigating history, myth and legend to write “The Great Wall: The Extraordinary Story of China’s Wonder of the World,” uncovering little-known facts about how this behemoth structure came together.
Machu Picchu, Peru
American explorer Hiram Bingham was actually looking for a different “lost city of the Incas” when he stumbled across Machu Picchu in 1911. The city had been obscured by overgrown foliage, and had possibly been so since the Spanish conquest of the region in the 1500s. John Hemming’s“Conquest of the Incas” is a Christopher Award-winning book delving into one of the world’s most fascinating civilizations and the truth behind its defeat.
The Roman Colosseum, Italy
Some might argue that history has known no greater empire than the Roman, and that the Colosseum is its architectural pièce de résistance. Remarkably, it’s still in use, albeit in a state of disrepair, its fortitude evidence of the craftsmanship fueling its construction. The original building’s 50,000 seat capacity was used to stage fight-to-the-death gladiatorial battles–ancient history professor and author Fik Meijer pieces together true stories describing the lives of the macho warriors in “The Gladiators: History’s Most Deadly Sport.”
4. Taj Mahal
The Taj Mahal, India
The Taj Mahal, also known as “The Most Beautiful Tomb Ever,” was Emperor Shah Jahan’s tribute to his late third wife who died after giving birth to their fourteenth child. As Diana and Michael Preston convey in “Taj Mahal: Passion and Genius at the Heart of the Moghul Empire,” the edifice is as much an embodiment of ostentation as it is an ode to tragic love.
Christ the Redeemer, Brazil
Perched atop Rio de Janeiro’s Corcovado Mountain, the 130-foot soapstone and concrete monument is considered the largest Art Deco statue in the world, and has become an iconic part of Brazil’s landscape. The ideal way to get to know the structure is by visiting. “Lonely Planet Rio de Janeiro” should help with those plans.
Chichén Itzá, Mexico
This year might be the best time–or last chance–to visit Chichén Itzá; according to interpretations of the Mayan Long Count calendar, the end of the world is set for December 21, 2012. The architects of the temple complex were astronomers and sky-watchers, and the place is purportedly full of mystical energies during equinoxes and solstices. “A Forest of Kings,” by Linda Schele and David Freidel, offers a unique window into the history of the New World, courtesy of a major effort to decode Maya hieroglyphs, which tell the story of triumphant kings and other leaders of pre-Columbian civilization
Despite its popularization as the site where Indiana Jones finds the Holy Grail in his “Last Crusade,” Petra was shrouded in obscurity (earning it an official title as a “lost” city) until its 1812 discovery. “Petra and the Lost Kingdom of the Nabateans,” packed with illustrations, offers a window into all the architectural and other riches the lost civilization contributed from the mountain-hewn city.
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