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The Spiral Staircase Audio, Cassette – Abridged, Audiobook


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Product Details

  • Audio Cassette
  • Publisher: HarperAudio; Abridged edition (March 2, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060587040
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060587048
  • Product Dimensions: 7.1 x 4.4 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.9 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (192 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #6,190,446 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Karen Armstrong speaks to the troubling years following her decision to leave the life of a Roman Catholic nun and join the secular world in 1969. What makes this memoir especially fascinating is that Armstrong already wrote about this era once---only it was a disastrous book. It was too soon for her to understand how these dark, struggling years influenced her spiritual development, and she was too immature to protect herself from being be bullied by the publishing world. As a result, she agreed to portray herself only in as "positive and lively a light as possible"---a mandate that gave her permission to deny the truth of her pain and falsify her inner experience. The inspiration for this new approach comes from T. S. Eliot's Ash Wednesday, a series of six poems that speak to the process of spiritual recovery. Eliot metaphorically climbs a spiral staircase in these poems---turning again and again to what he does not want to see as he slowly makes progress toward the light. In revisiting her spiral climb out of her dark night of the soul, Armstrong gives readers a stunningly poignant account about the nature of spiritual growth. Upon leaving the convent, Armstrong grapples with the grief of her abandoned path and the uncertainty of her place in the world. On top of this angst, Armstrong spent years suffering from undiagnosed temporal lobe epilepsy, causing her to have frequent blackout lapses in memory and disturbing hallucinations---crippling symptoms that her psychiatrist adamantly attributed to Armstrong's denial of her femininity and sexuality. The details of this narrative may be specific to Armstrong's life, but the meanin! g she makes of her spiral ascent makes this a universally relevant story. All readers can glean inspiration from her insights into the nature of surrender and the possibilities of finding solace in the absence of hope. Armstrong shows us why spiritual wisdom is often a seasoned gift---no matter how much we strive for understanding, we can't force profound insights to occur simply because our publisher is waiting for them. With her elegant, humble and brave voice, she inspires readers to willingly turn our attention toward our false identities and vigilantly defended beliefs in order to better see the truth and vulnerability of our existence. Herein lies the staircase we can climb to enlightenment. --Gail Hudson --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

In 1962, British writer Armstrong (The Battle for God, etc.) entered a Roman Catholic convent, smitten by the desire to "find God." She was 17 years old at the time—too young, she recognizes now, to have made such a momentous decision. Armstrong’s 1981 memoir Through the Narrow Gate described her frustrating, lonely experience of cloistered life and her decision, at 24, to renounce her vows. In its sequel, Beginning the World (1983), she tried to explain her readjustment to the secular world—and failed. "It is the worst book I have ever written," she declares in the preface to this new volume: "it was far too soon to write about those years"; "it was not a truthful account"; "I was told to present myself in as positive and lively a light as possible." The true story, which she relates in this second sequel, was far more conflicted and intellectually vibrant. Her departure from the convent, she writes, actually made her quite sad; she was "constantly wracked by a very great regret" and suffering on top of it with the symptoms of undiagnosed temporal lobe epilepsy. How she emerged from such darkness to make a career as a writer whose books honor spiritual concerns while maintaining intellectual freedom and rigor—this is Armstrong’s real concern, and the one that will be of most interest to the fans of her many acclaimed works.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

Very interesting book.
Charlotte M.
Unlike many books about faith, religion, and spirituality, this book gave me new, transformative insights that are helping me to live a more meaningful, caring life.
Joan C. Frank
Karen Armstrong is one of the most respected writers on religion today.
abt1950

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

176 of 183 people found the following review helpful By Maureen on April 17, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Karen Armstrong is -- here's the word again -- an amazing woman. Having read all of her other books with the exception of her autobiographies, I envisioned a solid academic, with cadres of graduate students pulling together masses of data for her review. No -- Armstrong is a theological autodidact! Her personal religious and spiritual journey has, to paraphrase one of her favorites, T. S. Eliot, said, led her to where she started only to know it for the first time. The God she ran from as a young adult has come to greet her in a very different form -- but I'll leave the specifics of this reverse quest for you to discover for yourself.
Where her earlier work was clever and provocative, Armstrong has matured into one of the most thoughtful liberal religious writers of our day. She recognizes that the world cannot be healed without dialogue, and that you cannot have dialogue without running the risk that YOU may be changed. "It is not enough to understand other people's beliefs, rituals, and ethical practices intellectually," Armstrong says. "You have to feel them too and make an imaginative, though disciplined, identification." (p. 290.
As one might expect from the breadth of her writings, Armstrong draws from the wells of myriad religious traditions, identifying what this reviewer believes to be the enduring truth, the thread that unities all genuine religious searching. She learns from her own varied experiences, grows from adversity (e.g. a failed PhD thesis; years of undiagnosed epilepsy; and, of course, her much-noted years as a Catholic religious) and confronts both herself and her culture with unfailing honesty.
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341 of 367 people found the following review helpful By Gary Johnson on April 3, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I recently read Karen Armstrong's "Jerusalem" and had a strong urge to learn more about her, which itself was an unusual reaction for me on finishing a work of general non-fiction. I therefore was thrilled to find that she had already written an autobiography, "Through the Narrow Gate," which ends with her decision to leave the convent. When I finished "Through the Narrow Gate," I wanted to know more. So I was beyond thrilled when I went online the day I finished that book and discovered that "The Sprial Staircase" was scheduled for release in another two weeks or so. I am not a dispassionate reviewer of this book; I felt as if she had written this book just for me. Something in my life has been leading me to Karen Armstrong's life and work, and the more I research the more it seems that I am not alone.
This book is easily the most important religious autobiography I know of since Thomas Merton's "Seven Storey Mountain," and I suspect that the analogy between the titles is deliberate. I think Armstrong knows now that her life story and work are taking on some just-dawning importance in the story of the "modern" world, East and West. It would not surprise me if this book ultimately takes a place alongside Augustine's "Confessions."
Many readers will find that "The Spiral Staircase" helps set them free -- free to find their own path, free to practice a religious tradition, free to be self-emptying and compassonate -- and not to be enslaved by ideas, beliefs, or certainty. Armstrong's story is a guide to living our humanity, which is all we can aspire to anyhow, by embracing our own suffering and the suffering and humanity of all people.
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258 of 280 people found the following review helpful By Peggy Vincent on March 15, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Karen Armstrong's first memoir, Through the Narrow Gate, ended not long after she acted upon her decision to leave the convent where, after seven years, she had become a skeptical nun. The Spiral Staircase pick up her intellectual and religious questing and brings her devoted readers up to date on the result of her explorations into the nature of God and his/her/? place in our world and lives.
Armstrong garnered many degrees and awards as she pursued a solitary, scholarly life. While she still harbors bitter feelings about how she was treated (and NOT treated, for her epilepsy) within the convent, her life since she left the cloister has been devoted to a style of intellectual live that bears some deep similarity to the routines followed in religious orders - and the irony of this similarity does not escape her. On her lifelong quest, she found herself straying far from orthodox Christianity, delving into the teachings of both Buddhism and Islam - and she has written books on both subjects.
Here's the interesting thing: Lots of modern authors who write memoirs focus with near obsession on their illnesses, disabilities, eating disorders, depression, etc. Armstrong discusses all these issues, too, but while other memorists build them up, Armstrong seems to want to minimize them. What interests her are things she is capable of, not those she is incapable of, and her book's impact is all the richer for her minimalist approach.
This intensely personal book is also an exceedingly solitary book. The only relationship that seems to matter for Karen Armstrong is her relationship with God, a being who, in her view, probably does not exist.
This doesn't stop her from ultimately deciding (with characteristic pragmatism and without retreating from her skepticism), that leading a religious life is worth it, because "Faith is not about belief but about practice...The laws of religion are true because they are life-enhancing."
That's good enough for me.
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More About the Author

Karen Armstrong is the author of numerous other books on religious affairs-including A History of God, The Battle for God, Holy War, Islam, Buddha, and The Great Transformation-and two memoirs, Through the Narrow Gate and The Spiral Staircase. Her work has been translated into forty-five languages. She has addressed members of the U.S. Congress on three occasions; lectured to policy makers at the U.S. State Department; participated in the World Economic Forum in New York, Jordan, and Davos; addressed the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington and New York; is increasingly invited to speak in Muslim countries; and is now an ambassador for the UN Alliance of Civilizations. In February 2008 she was awarded the TED Prize and is currently working with TED on a major international project to launch and propagate a Charter for Compassion, created online by the general public and crafted by leading thinkers in Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism, to be signed in the fall of 2009 by a thousand religious and secular leaders. She lives in London.

Amazon Author Rankbeta 

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#94 in Books > History
#94 in Books > History

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