Among the educated of the half of the planet that lives in China and India, the name of Xuan-Zang is very well known. The records of his journey from China through India and back provide a great deal of insight into the culture along his route at the time, as well as the state of Buddhism. The texts he brought back had a strong influence on the development of Buddhism in China. This is an excellent book. I visited many of the Buddhist sites in India and found Xuan-Zang's descriptions to still be of use to the pilgrim today. If you're interested in the history of the silk road and central asia, this book will be of use to you also.
Since the destruction of the famous Buddhas at Bamiyan, Afghanistan in March 2001, the importance of this book has rocketted from its original publication.
Xuanzang wrote some eyewitness accounts of these gigantic statues around 630AD, and this book is an important starting point to finding out more about these monuments and what they originally looked like.
This is not an academic book but more a detailed compilation of events connected with a personage with whom the author has obviously felt a close connection. The text is well sectioned with good maps and useful information, notes and an extensive bibliography that makes the work substantive (e.g., it highlights the wider territory of ostriches in the past). Xuanzang becomes a portal through which we view the art and history of a predominantly Buddhist India before she entered a chaotic phase to re-emerge as a Mughal and Hindu civilisation later.
There is staggering insight into the mentality of the Chinese and Kings at the time and the art they bestowed on the world. The importance of the Chinese civilisation is highlighted at a time when Europe was in the grip of the dark ages.
The book contains minor errors, could have been more critical and Xuanzang's feet on the cover need alteration. Leaving this aside, there is a stunning picture from Bamiyan and we can see what was lost as well as related paintings and statues which are quite exquisite (at least one of them lost from the Kabul museum since the destructive episode recently).
A book worth treasuring as written by a professional, well travelled and strong minded author (and she found the time).