Buddhist Stupas in Asia: The Shape of Perfection by Bill Wassman (Photographer), et al, offers a sweeping and broad overview of the epitome of Asian Buddhist architecture. The photographs are good and the succinct commentary is informative enough. This is not a book for hardcore history buffs though, as the very short accompanying analysis would not suffice; nevertheless, in most cases the photographs more than compensate by offering quality glimpses of a divine form of architecture. One drawback: some of the photographs are too small for the subject to be really appreciated (some are as small as approx. 3cm x 3cm!). All in all: an enjoyable mind-trip through the very essence of Buddhist architecture.
This book covers Buddhist architecture across its known history, from its origins in Northern India through Southeast Asia to Indonesia, to Nepal and Tibet, into China, Korea, Japan and Vietnam. The emphasis is clearly on architecture, but it covers the relevant backgrounds in Buddhist art and philosophy as well. If you want a book about Buddhist cultures or thought, this is not it. But if you want a book about Buddhist architecture, this is a great beginning. It is well-written, well-designed, and the photography is excellent. I wish it were much longer and went into much greater depth... but then it would be much more expensive!
I received this book as a surprise gift, and I think it makes a great gift: it's the kind of thing someone would want and enjoy, but would not buy for themselves.
The author, Joe Cummings, also writes the Lonely Planet guidebooks for Laos, Thailand and Myanmar (Burma), and they are excellent. I've been to all three places, and so I've seen many of the stupas covered in this book, and his guides have helped me more than most do.