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?
Prevent further destruction by helping raise the public's awareness of the reasons why cultural heritage is destroyed and its impact.
Q. What is meant by 'mankind's genius'?
Lost Treasures aims to be more than a list of lost sites and masterpieces belonging to the common heritage of mankind, a concept born after WW2, with the idea that “damage to cultural property belonging to any people whatsoever means damage to the cultural heritage of all mankind, since each people makes its contribution to the culture of the world”.
Using the term 'mankind's genius' means that destroying heritage is destroying knowledge. To be able to create monuments, statues and artworks, and to be able to vanquish disease, create means to live comfortable and productive lives, we need to preserve ideas, pass them on for others to learn from and improve.
Vaccination, antibiotics, plumbing and planes have only been discovered or invented thanks to the slow improvement of knowledge accumulated by previous generations. Neither Leonardo nor Michelangelo would have been able to produce masterpieces had they not learn from other artists. The genius of mankind only exists if preserved and passed on.
The genius of mankind is contained in books, artworks and monuments, so each time an extremist destroys our common heritage, he diminishes his own chances at surviving disease, of a better quality of life and chances for his children to survive disease.
But worse than harming himself and his children, all humanity suffers from the actions of extremists, as each time one destroys the memory of mankind, he hurts all humans living, as well as future generations.
The heritage of mankind is common to all cultures and people, as the genius behind the pyramids, the Parthenon or the Sistine Chapel is neither Egyptian, Greek or Italian, it is the expression of humanity as a whole.
Q. What are some of the historical examples of the destruction of heritage in the book?
Lost Treasures takes the reader onto a journey around the world, from ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia to the Russian Revolution, the Cultural Revolution in China till our time. Therefore examples of heritage destroyed would be:
- The destruction of statues with examples in , , , , and .
- How the city of Rome .
- The destruction of .
- The story of the quest for .
- Nazis .
- Trying to give an idea of .
- The first Emperor of China .
- The destruction of the .
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?
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. And as sometimes the writing is aimed at readers already specialised in the subject, it might put off some readers.
So Lost Treasures condenses all this knowledge into one book, trying to go to the essence of things, by laying out facts, quantifying them, and very often, directly using the words of the actors of the past.
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, for example ancient Egypt is condensed into 15 pages, 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?
The book is nearing completion and once a publisher takes it on, it would be available in book form and would later be adapted into a documentary series.