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Tales of Wonder: Adventures Chasing the Divine, an Autobiography Hardcover – May 12, 2009

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Tales of Wonder: Adventures Chasing the Divine, an Autobiography + And Live Rejoicing: Chapters from a Charmed Life — Personal Encounters with Spiritual Mavericks, Remarkable Seekers, and the World's Great Religious Leaders + The World's Religions (Plus)
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Editorial Reviews


Poignant and readable, Smith recounts professional adventures—meeting Martin Luther King Jr.,befriending Aldous Huxley and the Dalai Lama, dropping acid with Timothy Leary . . . this is what it feels like to have lived a long and interesting life. (Newsweek)

In his lush new memoir, the religious scholar Smith dances among the whirling dervishes in Iran, camps with the Aborigines in Australia, shares a chuckle with a gaggle of Masai warriors on the darkening Serengeti plains. Each anecdote reveals Smith’s sense of marvel at the strange bounty of the world (Washington Post Book World)

In this delightful autobiography, Smith tells us how he became the dean of world religions. Intellectual playfulness is definitely the spirit with which this book was written. Right to his final act, Smith is proving to be the consummate professor, giving us a valuable master class on faith and life. (San Francisco Chronicle Book Review)

Smith has long been our clearest and most radiant explorer of all the world’s great religions. Thank heavens for such wisdom, delivered with light and fire! (—Pico Iyer)

One of our foremost scholars and interpreters of the world’s religions . . . What he has learned, he has applied to life. (—Bill Moyers)

My admiration for Huston Smith’s work is boundless. With each new book I have been astonished, edified, and greatly heartened by his brilliant mind and heart. He is the wisest, sanest religious scholar of them all, and so wonderfully readable. (—Anne Lamott)

Smith is America’s best-loved religion tutor. (—Jack Miles)

Huston Smith is the world’s ambassador to religions everywhere. (—Thomas Moore)

“Smith parts the curtain on his past and says, “Look!” with the enthusiasm of a child--something he has not yet lost at age 90. The result is a joyous romp with a favorite uncle among holy places and mystics--the most interesting of them the author of the book.” (Publishers Weekly)

“Remarkably brief and humbly written for a man of Smith’s fame and accomplishment, Tales deals simply with his life and his encounters with the great and the good (Eleanor Roosevelt, D.T. Suzuki, and Frithjof Schuon, to name a few). Highly recommended.” (Library Journal)

Smith . . . [has a gaze that] bespeaks mischief, curiosity, bluntness and wonder . . . In an age of generalized fear and “just say no,” Smith, who taught for years at Berkeley, a venerated figure there, has said “yes” to life’s possibilities. (San Jose Mercury News)

“Tales of Wonder brims with fascinating insights and tidbits.” (Boston Globe)

“It is the pulse of Smith’s humanity that breathes life into Tales of Wonder.” (CNN.com)

From the Back Cover

Huston Smith, the man who brought the world's religions to the West, was born almost a century ago to missionary parents in China during the perilous rise of the Communist Party. Smith's lifelong spiritual journey brought him face-to-face with many of the people who shaped the twentieth century. His extraordinary travels around the globe have taken him to the world's holiest places, where he has practiced religion with many of the great spiritual leaders of our time.

Smith's life is a story of uncanny synchronicity. He was there for pivotal moments in human history such as the founding of the United Nations and the student uprising at Tiananmen Square. As he traveled the world he encountered thinkers who shaped the twentieth century. He interviewed Eleanor Roosevelt on the radio; invited Martin Luther King Jr. to speak at an all-white university before the March on Washington; shared ideas with Thomas Merton on his last plane ride before Merton's death in Bangkok; and was rescued while lost in the Serengeti by Masai warriors who took him to the compound of world-renowned anthropologists Louis and Mary Leaky.

In search of intellectual and spiritual treasures, Smith traveled to India to meet with Mother Teresa and befriended the Dalai Lama; he studied Zen at the most challenging monastery in Japan; and he hitchhiked through the desert to meet Aldous Huxley, dropped acid with Timothy Leary, and took peyote with a Native American shaman. He climbed Mount Athos, traipsed through the Holy Land, and was the first to study multiphonic chanting by monks in Tibet, which he recorded with Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead. Most important, he shared the world's religions with the West—writing two bestselling books and serving as the focus of a five-part PBS television series by Bill Moyers.

Huston Smith is a national treasure. His life is an extraordinary adventure, and in his amazing Tales of Wonder, he invites you to come along to explore your own vistas of heart, mind, and soul.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: HarperOne; 1st Printing edition (May 12, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061154261
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061154263
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #544,252 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Huston Cummings Smith (born May 31, 1919) is among the preeminent religious studies scholars in the United States. His work, The Religions of Man (later revised and retitled The World's Religions), is a classic in the field, with over two million copies sold, and it remains a common introduction to comparative religion.

Smith was born in Soochow, China, to Methodist missionaries and spent his first 17 years there. He taught at the Universities of Colorado and Denver from 1944 to 1947, moved to Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, for the next 10 years, and then served as professor of Philosophy at MIT from 1958 to 1973. While at MIT, he participated in some of the experiments with entheogens that professor Timothy Leary conducted at Harvard University. Smith then moved to Syracuse University, where he was Thomas J. Watson Professor of Religion and Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Philosophy until his retirement in 1983 and current emeritus status. He now lives in the Berkeley, California, area where he is Visiting Professor of Religious Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.

During his career, Smith not only studied but also practiced Vedanta Hinduism, Zen Buddhism (under Goto Zuigan), and Sufism for over 10 years each. He is a notable autodidact.

As a young man, of his own volition after suddenly turning to mysticism, Smith set out to meet with then-famous author Gerald Heard. Heard responded to Smith's letter, invited him to Trabuco College (later donated as the Ramakrishna Monastery) in Southern California, and then sent him off to meet the legendary Aldous Huxley. So began Smith's experimentation with meditation and his association with the Vedanta Society in Saint Louis under the auspices of Swami Satprakashananda of the Ramakrishna order.

Via the connection with Heard and Huxley, Smith eventually experimented with Timothy Leary and others at the Center for Personality Research, of which Leary was research professor. The experience and history of that era are captured somewhat in Smith's book Cleansing the Doors of Perception. In this period, Smith joined in on the Harvard Project as well, in an attempt to raise spiritual awareness through entheogenic plants.

He has been a friend of the XIVth Dalai Lama for more than 40 years, and has met and talked to some of the great figures of the century, from Eleanor Roosevelt to Thomas Merton.

Smith developed an interest in the Traditionalist School formulated by Rene Guenon and Ananda Coomaraswamy. This interest has become a continuing thread in all his writings.

In 1996 Bill Moyers devoted a five-part PBS special to Smith's life and work: The Wisdom of Faith with Huston Smith. Smith has also produced three series for public television: The Religions of Man, The Search for America, and (with Arthur Compton) Science and Human Responsibility.

His films on Hinduism, Tibetan Buddhism, and Sufism have all won awards at international film festivals. His latest DVD release is The Roots of Fundamentalism--A Conversation with Huston Smith and Phil Cousineau.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

44 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Charles T. T a r t on August 1, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Thursday afternoon I received Huston Smith's just-published autobiography, Tales of Wonder: Adventures Chasing the Divine, in the mail. Friday morning I'd finished reading it, and would have done so Thursday night were it not for the ordinary life necessities of sleep, a committee meeting and a dental appointment to go to first thing in the morning. I can't remember the last time I was so fascinated by a book that I read it at a single sitting: this is good!

Huston Smith has just turned 90, and has long been my model for what I'd like to be like when I grow up. He is a gentlemen, a scholar, and one of, if not the, world's greatest authorities on the religions of the world. His classic book The World's Religions has introduced millions of readers to what's good in the religions of the world. While he has the accuracy and objectivity we expect from a professor, though, he doesn't have the dryness or too common air of intellectual superiority, because he actually spent years practicing each of the religions he writes about, to gain direct experiential knowledge of what's good in them.

Tales of Wonder: Adventures Chasing the Divine is a series of intimate and inspiring glimpses of a wonderful man - and his wife Kendra, who is very much a part of the story, keeping him grounded in reality - as he pursues meaning and the good life in modern times. Raised by missionary parents in China, he feels he is basically a Christian, as well as a member of the world's other major religions. When you get to the bottom line, though, his religion, like that of his friend His Holiness the Dalai Lama, is kindness....I can't praise him or his book highly enough...
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32 of 34 people found the following review helpful By William J. Parkhurst on May 14, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Dr. Huston Smith is a world treasure who rightly deserves high praise as one of the world's foremost religious scholars, teachers and adepts. This autobiographic, life-to-date, story reflects a passion for his calling which is inspiring, wistful and laced with religious and personal epiphanies and profundities.

A self-professed Methodist missionary family "favorite," the description of his early life in Dzang Zok, China, and his early academic life as a high-achiever at Central Methodist College in Missouri are particularly enjoyable. This story provides readers a compelling glimpse of the whole person (and family) and provides readers with insight as to why he does what he does. Dr. Smith reflects upon his own life story with the same enthusiasm, openness and critical thinking that pervade his academic endeavors.

Dr. Smith is quick to give credit where credit is due. Not only to his teachers - who comprise a veritable "who's who" of 20th century religious, social and philosophic leaders - but also to his wife and best friend Kendra and their three daughters who allowed him to follow his enthusiasms while keeping the home fires burning. Dr. Smith acknowledges the trade-offs between his personal and professional life and yet, with wisdom and reflection, lets us know that as he approaches his 90th birthday that he would probably do it all over again. As his own borrowed final words echo "Thanks for everything! Praise for it all!"
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Van Isle Rev on June 29, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This is a delightful book, although one that is most likely to please those already familiar with Huston Smith. Smith divides this memoir into two sections. In the first section (dealing with the "horizontal" dimension of his life), Smith provides a broadly sketched outline of his eventful life, including chapters dealing with his childhood in China, his education in America, his life as an academic and his life as a husband and father. In the second section (dealing with life's "vertical" dimension) Smith seeks to illuminate the numerous influences that have shaped his characteristic take on life's spiritual and religious realities. Especially moving is the book's brief epilogue in which Smith reflects upon his "state of being" at the approach of his 90th birthday; many of the books outstanding insights (and most poignant passages) are packed into these final dozen or so pages. Be clear that Tales of Wonder is not at the level of, say, Augustine's Confessions; readers looking for that sort of autobiography are advised to look elsewhere. Nor are readers familiar with Smith's philosophy likely to find startlingly new insights in these pages. But for those who would like to catch a thoughtful /gently reflective "behind the scenes" glimpse of "the spiritual explorer who brought the world's religions to the west", Tales of Wonder comes highly recommended.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By William Dahl VINE VOICE on September 27, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This is an autobiography of Huston Smith. Smith has written 14 books, most notably, The World's Religions. During his career, he taught at Washington University, Syracuse, MIT and U.C. Berkeley.

This is an extraordinarily well written book. Jeffrey Paine of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (formerly a judge on the Pulitzer Prize committee) writes this amazing story of Smith's life.

A fascinating read. Huston claims the soul of Christianity as his faith and became a practicing Muslim, Hindi and Buddhist during his lifetime. The metaphor Smith uses to provide a framework for understanding human existence is the cross:

"Our life in historical or chronological time, measuring and minding, cautious and comparing, forms the horizontal arm of the cross. Our experience of the unqualified, of inner, immeasurable time (or timelessnesss) is the cross's vertical pole. We live in two kinds of time or perspective simultaneously. The horizontal and the vertical are at once quite distinct and entirely overlapping, and to experience their incongruity and confluence is what it means to be human." (p.41).

Huston's life can be characterized by the following phrase:

"to think of how to think the way I do not think," (p.130)

His life explored the dilemma whereby "Once different religions knew about each other only enough to kill or convert one another." (p.51). Smith's life exemplified that the exploration of a varierty of faith persuasions allowed him to tap dimensions of the human experience that he was unaware of. His life illustrated the observation that, "The great changes in history occur, I believe, not through argument but through seeing things differently." (p.106).

This autobiography of Huston Smith provides tangible evidence that great changes in human beings occur, not through argument, but through seeing things differently.

This is truly a divine adventure. I recommend it.
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