In 2004, I published a biography of Babur titled The Garden of the Eight Paradises: Bâbur and the Culture of Empire in Central Asia, Afghanistan and India (1483–1530). The size of the book reflected years of research on the history and culture of Babur's homeland in the Ferghanah Valley of modern Uzbekistan, including Chaghatai Turkish language study and multiple trips to Central Asia. The result was a massive, complex, and for most readers, bewilderingly-detailed work that included elaborate meditations on autobiography, the multiple meanings of the word Turk, classical Persian and Turki verse and Greco-Islamic thought among other subjects. I realized soon after its publication that by pouring nearly everything I had learned about Babur, his culture and the bewilderingly chaotic politics of the time, I left most readers gasping for air. Perhaps, even more to the point of readership, the book of its size, with maps and coloured plates was far too expensive for most potential readers in South Asia – the natural audience for a study of the founder of the Mughal Empire, designated here as the Timurid-Mughal Empire.
It is not often one has a chance to correct a problem such as this, but many years after the biography's publication, I had conversations with my good friends and academic colleagues – Gyan Pandey and Ruby Lal – when I lamented the fact that most of the millions of literate South Asians had never read the book, which, for all its many faults, still addressed many important issues about Babur's personality and Central Asian culture that are little understood outside the offices of a few scholarly specialists in the region. Gyan Pandey suggested that I write another, shorter and more accessible biography, utilising the knowledge I had acquired while working on the original work, but framed in an entirely different way. He also helpfully put me in touch with the editors of Cambridge University Press in New Delhi, who agreed to consider the idea and eventually commissioned a new work. I was delighted to have the opportunity to publish a book with this eminent press in India, having previously worked with its Cambridge offices on other projects in the past and with its marvellous editor Marigold Acland.