Q. What is the premise of the book, “Lost Treasures”?
The destruction of the common heritage of mankind seen since 2001 with the Taliban destroying the Buddhas of Bamiyan is not, contrary to public perception, a recent phenomenon.
Furthermore, not only intentional destruction has been going on for millennia, but its causes, scale and consequences are generally not understood by the general public, so this book aims to make this important issue accessible to many.
Q. What is the ultimate goal of this book?
To make art history accessible, enjoyable as much to a reader who knows little about civilisations as to a well read person. The academic feel that might scare off readers is avoided; and each story is straightforward, with chapters from six to fifteen pages each.
And to raise awareness of the need to protect the common heritage of mankind.
Q. What is meant by 'optimistic read'?
Reading about the loss of knowledge and monuments might appear to be dispiriting, but the acts described happened and cannot be undone. All we can do is learn from them.
But two positive things can result from learning about this loss. First, a new found sense of admiration for the achievements of past civilisations.
Second, find relief in realising the futility of trying to change others into thinking, believing or looking like ourselves; since we live in a world with billions of human beings and a dazzling variety of cultures and languages.
Unburdened by fear, we stop being bewildered by humanity's complexity, and end up being fascinated by it. Enlightened, we can all marvel at the common heritage of mankind.
Q. How can today's society respond to these historical catastrophes?
With education and tolerance. The words of Malala Yousfazai, the young girl shot in the head by a Taliban for her role defending girl's right to education, perfectly described the solution: “I want education for the sons and daughters of the Taliban and all the terrorists and extremists. The extremists were, and they are, afraid of books and pens. They are afraid of women. Let us pick up our books and pens, they are our most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one pen and one book can change the world. Education is the only solution. Education first”.
Educated, a community would understand that an ancient site is worth more to them intact than destroyed. An archeological site, an ancient temple or an active place of worship brings outside visitors, therefore long term income to the community. One just needs contemplate the value of archeological sites for the economy of Egypt.
Educated, each of us would realise that if we want quality medicine to allow us to live longer, technology to transport us on earth and in the sky, to easily communicate and trade with people on the other side of the world, we need knowledge.
Understanding that diminishing the common heritage of mankind personally deprives us of chances of a better life, we would insist that our political and religious leaders work hard to prevent further destruction.
Being tolerant brings us two benefits. The first one, the opportunity to put to better use the energy and time we wasted trying to turn others into our own image.
Second, we become free. By letting others live, think and believe as they please we gain the liberty to do the very same thing.
Q. How does this book meet the challenge of being accessible to the general public and as the same time be of scholarly quality?
By avoiding the academic tone that might put off some readers. And since a tale is more powerful for being entirely based on facts, it still is of scholarly quality. The text directly quotes, whenever possible, the witnesses of the story. So it can be read for sheer enjoyment, as a condensed read of history, civilisation, and art.
As the first book documenting the intentional destruction of heritage over millennia, it can also serve as reference book for scholars and those who want to go deeper into the story, thanks to its reference notes.
Scholars, historians and art historians are often aware, in their particular field, of the amount and causes of the intentional destruction that occurred in the past. But that information is scattered over hundreds of books and papers.
So Lost Treasures condenses all this knowledge into one book, trying to go to the essence of things, by laying out facts.
That way, the reader learns about ancient civilisations, how and why their achievements were destroyed, using quotes and facts in the hope that the information is given for the reader to make up his or her own mind.
Each chapter summarises a book worth of information, and most chapters are between 6 and 15 pages. The writing and the chapters are accessible, and if the reader wishes to know more, as hoped, the sources used are given in notes at the end of the book.
Q. When would the book be available?
After years of research and work, the book is finished. Once a publisher takes it on, it would be available in book form and would be ideal for a documentary series.