You say your idea of monarchial opulence starts with Versailles, the palace of the French kings? Forget that Western bauble and journey in this book to the splendors of the Forbidden City, the vast walled enclosure of pavilions and pleasure domes in the center of Peking that was the home of China's emperors for 500 years. Not to beat about the bush, this book is gorgeous beyond description. You don't have to be an Old China Hand or recent tourist to drool over its 600 illustrations of the Forbidden City's treasures -- bronzes, ceramics, painting, calligraphy, jade, lacquer, cloisonn,e, embroidery, jewels, clocks, textiles and furniture -- which provide a stunning record of Chinese civilization that no Westerner could possibly absorb in one visit. The architectural photographs of the 70 gold-roofed palaces and their throne rooms and private apartments are similarly dazzling: the Dowager Empress' bedroom is not to be missed. The People's Republic is evidently well-aware of the need to preserve and restore the Forbidden City; not clear from the text, however, is how these treasures survived insurrection, revolution, war, civil war, and Red Guards, and what art works were shipped by the Nationalists to Taiwan when they fled the mainland.