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Tao Te Ching (Signet Classics) Mass Market Paperback – January 2, 2007

4.3 out of 5 stars 506 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Jonathan Star's "Tao Te Ching achieves the essential: It clarifies the meaning of the text without in the slightest reducing its mystery. This superb work enables readers to search for their own understanding of the "Tao Te Ching, under the guiding hand of Star's admirable scholarship."

"It would be hard to find a fresh approach to a text that ranks only behind the Bible as the most widely translated book in the world, but Star achieves that goal. As fascinating to the casual scholar as it is for the serious student."

From the Inside Flap

The TAO-TE-CHING, the ancient Taoist text written by philospher Lao-Tzu in the sixth century B.C., has inspired millions of people from all different backgrounds. This beautiful edition contains Chinese characters alongside the English text and is illustrated with black and white drawings. Commentary from the translators helps to illuminate the ideas discussed in the text so that modern-day readers can fully appreciate the meaning.
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Product Details

  • Series: Signet Classics
  • Mass Market Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Signet; 1st. edition (January 2, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0451530403
  • ISBN-13: 978-0451530400
  • Product Dimensions: 4.2 x 0.5 x 6.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.9 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (506 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,071,339 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Tao Te Ching is ancient, now a couple of millenia in print. Stephen Mitchell has not translated this classic, but rather has paraphrased it -- as he admits in the Foreward. But he is a Zen student of a couple of decades and has good insight into the Zen of the Tao (Zen Buddhism is Buddhism heavily dosed with Taoism).

Mitchell's version of the Tao Te Ching is very, even extremely, modern. Perhaps to the point of being "politically correct." However, he does have a way with words and this is a very readable version of the Tao. To show how modern it is, let's take an example and compare his version of the beginning of chapter 46 with two other versions:

- Mitchell
"When a country is in harmony with the Tao,
the factories make trucks and tractors.
When a country goes counter to the Tao,
warheads are stockpiled outside the cities."

- Victor Mair
"When the Way prevails under heaven,
swift horses are relegated to fertilizing fields.
When the Way does not prevail under heaven,
war-horses breed in the suburbs."

- Addiss & Lombardo
"With TAO under heaven
Stray horses fertilze the fields.
Without TAO under heaven,
Warhorses are bred at the frontier."

Obviously, there were no factories, trucks, tractors, or warheads in ancient China. So, Mitchell is providing a modern interpretation of the Tao Te Ching, while Mair as well as Addiss & Lombardo are closer to a literal translation (which is not possible however, because the Chinese language and the English language are so completely different from one another.)

None of this is to find fault with Stephen Mitchell. This is just to say that his book cannot be definitive, because it is less literal and not really a translation.
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Format: Paperback
When my wife Sandy was diagnosed with terminal cancer, this is the ONE book she kept nearby at home and in the hospital. She found great comfort in it words and wisdom.
When she died I picked it up and began to read. Several passages fell right open (8 & 16). These were the passages that she must have been reading the most. So I read those passages at her funeral. I'm still reading this book and finding something new with each reading. Even if a passage may not make sense on the first or second reading, it may become clear by the fifth or sixth. Or maybe it will take years.
Sandy was a poet and teacher who studied many translations of the Tao, but this was her favorite. It may not be the most literal translation, but it surely is the most poetic. If this translation was good enough for her, then it's good enough for me.
In fact, this book is so good, I've given away at least 8 copies in the two months since her death. This book has helped me deal with and survive the most difficult time in my life. I'm much wiser and more open having read this book. My friends to whom I've given copies agree and are sharing it with their friends.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I'm amazed at the storm that Mitchell's version of the Tao Te Ching has churned up. Reading previous reviews, there seem to be two factions: those who find Mitchell's version thought-provoking and soul-stirring, and those who focus on what they see as its poetical liberties with the original. The first group is primarily interested in using the text as a catalyst for reflective insight into the nature of reality. The second group is primarily interested in the text as an historical document. The first group seeks transformation. The second group seeks scholarship.

I don't know that there's any intrinsic dissonance between the methods of scholarship and the goal of transformation, but I do know this: as a professor of philosophy who wants his students to read texts as tools for discovery rather than as sacred cows to be worshipped, I'll take Mitchell's version over more "scholarly" translations any day. For the nonspecialist who's not interested in parsing Chinese, which is really more important: entering into the spirit of the Tao Te Ching so that the reading of it becomes a lived, integrated experience, or memorizing a lot of scholarly footnotes? Mitchell's version breathes new life into a 2500-year-old text that most people today would find too arcane if they read a more literal translation. What a pity to begrudge contemporary readers an opportunity to discover the Tao simply because we don't think that the vehicle made available to them is "scholarly" enough!
13 Comments 464 of 505 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have read a few different versions of translation of Tao Te Ching including translations by some Chinese and Korean scholars. Evem I am not a Chinese scholar, I studied and used Chinese characters over twenty years in Korea like most Korean students. I agree that Stephen Mitchell's book is not the best if you are looking for literal translation of the original ancient Chinese Toa Te Ching. But the literal translation often does not make sence to me and to the most readers in English speaking countries. Even among Chinese scholars there are many different opinions about the true meaning or interpretations of the original Tao Te Ching because it was written more than a thousand years ago in ancient Chinese.

Tao Te Ching is written by "Noza". In Chinese character "Noza" means an old man. "Old men" in oriental countries are very respectable. But in America "Old men" is not as respectable as in China. So how could you interepret "Noza" in English? Tao Te Ching is written by an old man literally. But better translation could be: "Toa Te Ching" is written by an "Old Wise Man", "Sage", or "Master" instead of (senile) old man.

If you, as a serious student, are looking for the literal translation of the original Tao Te Ching, you'd better read a few different translations by Chinese scholars. But if you are looking for a book to learn Tao Te Ching's intent and spirit, I have not found any other English translation smoother than Mitchell's.
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