I picked up this short book because of my liking for the author’s novels. My interest in the topic had no urgency whatsoever, and now I know far more than I’ll ever need to about the best-preserved of medieval Muslim palaces. Although packaged as a something like a travel guide, Irwin’s history of the Alhambra and its cultural reception has advice for the visitor confined to a three-page appendix. The bulk of the book is both conversational and erudite, treating the dubiety of received interpretations of the Alhambra, an assortment of informed speculations on the original designs and uses of the buildings, and tracings of the cultural effects of the Andalusian palace in Western literature and art.
Despite the extensive scholarship underlying Irwin’s volume, it has neither footnotes nor endnotes. He does provide a very detailed bibliographic essay, complete with such blunt remarks as: “Chateaubriand’s Les Aventures du dernier Abencerage was translated into English in the nineteenth century, though frankly it is not worth reading in any language.” The twenty-five full-page black-and-white illustrations are a valuable complement to the text. [via]