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Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life Paperback – December 27, 2011

4.5 out of 5 stars 195 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The prolific, well-informed, and passionate Armstrong (The Case for God) writes a somewhat different book this time out, stemming from her winning a ,000 prize in 2007 to promote an idea worth spreading. She always has a thesis in her books as she sweeps over the historical development of world religions, but this is a book with an agenda: you ought to be more compassionate, and here™s how. So instead of being her usual somewhat academic teacher of religious history, she is more of a personal spiritual teacher, in the vein of the Dalai Lama. That task, and corresponding tone (œBe patient with yourself during this meditation), is not her long suit. Still, this slightly self-help-y book is deeply grounded in what Armstrong knows, and presents, well: the core teachings of all religions that can make us better, more compassionate humans. The former nun pulls ideas and references from religions Eastern and Western with aplomb and respect for all sources. This counter to the religion-is-homicidal-and-superstitious school of invective passing for thought is well-informed, welcome, and practical. (Jan.)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* It takes courage for a religious historian and writer of Armstrong’s stature to step out from behind the scrim of scholarship and analysis to offer guidelines for a spiritual practice designed to make humanity a kinder and saner species. With the boon of the prestigious TED Prize, Armstrong (The Case for God, 2009) worked with “leading thinkers from a variety of major faiths” to compose a Charter for Compassion, which calls for the restoration of “compassion to the heart of religious and moral life” in a “dangerously polarized” world. Not content with merely stating lofty goals, however, Armstrong, a revered genius of elucidation and synthesis, now tells the full and profound story of altruism throughout human history. She turns to neuroscience and tracks the evolution of our brains and our natural capacity for empathy, and performs her signature mode of beautifully clarifying interpretation in a mind-expanding discussion of the history of the Golden Rule (“Always treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself”), the essence of compassion and the kernel of every religious tradition. Exquisite and affecting explications of Buddhist, Confucian, Judaic, Christian, and Islamic commentary prepare the ground for meditation exercises meant to engender “open-mindedness” and the cultivation of compassion, making for the most sagacious and far-reaching 12-step program ever. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: A hefty print run is planned for renowned religious thinker Armstrong’s bold approach to teaching the compassionate ethos. --Donna Seaman --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; Reprint edition (December 27, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307742881
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307742889
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (195 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #13,679 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
It is somewhat ironic that an appeal for universal altruism must be packaged as a self-help program to attract an audience these days, but such is the state of our world. In this her latest work, renowned author Karen Armstrong offers little that is new - attend any Unitarian Universalist service for proof - but that in no way diminishes her message: "it has become imperative to apply the Golden Rule globally".

To her credit, the author does not use this book to debate dogmas or make theological truth claims (see her Case for God for that), nor does she deny scientific facts or try to justify atrocities committed in the name of God. The only premise she requires the reader to accept is that religion at its best can inspire people to goodness and to greatness. To that end, she prescribes a two-step process disguised as a dozen: first, learn the Golden Rule; second, live it, "a struggle that will last until our dying day."

Fundamentalists of all faiths will reject this book, offended that it paints their absolute truths as merely useful myths. The anti-religious are also certain to attack it for elevating pleasant falsehoods above that which can be proven scientifically. To everyone living their lives between these two extremes I am happy to recommend this book.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Karen Armstrong is a former Catholic nun who has written widely on religious issues. In 2007, Armstrong was awarded a substantial cash prize from a nonprofit organization known as TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) to promote ideas that could "make a difference" in people's lives. Armstrong opted to use the award to promote the development of compassion. She worked with religious leaders from a variety of traditions to formulate and develop a "Charter for Compassion" that would "restore compassion to the heart of religious and moral life." The Charter was unveiled in Washington, D.C. in December, 2009. It is also available on the web together with an invitation to readers to sign on to and try to realize its principles.

As part of her project, Armstrong also wrote this book "Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life" in which she explains the nature and importance of compassion and offers a 12-step plan for increasing the degree of compassion one achieves in one's own life. Armstrong begins with the Golden Rule in both its negative formulation: "Do not treat others as you would not like them to treat you"; and in its positive formulation: "Always treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself." As did the Jewish sage Hillel in a story Armstrong quotes when asked to explain succinctly the teachings of the Bible, Armstrong believes that "the rest is commentary" to be studied learned, and practiced.

Armstrong's short book shows a great deal of erudition as well as wisdom. She has studied and learned a great deal from many religious traditions, including Confucianism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. She presents complex material in an effective manner. But the scope of the learning in this book is much broader.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Karen Armstrong's latest work, "Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life," is a fascinating look at concepts of compassion across all of the world's major faiths -- and includes the concept that one need not be religious in order to have a compassionate viewpoint (something that many religious writers nowadays seem to ignore).

Armstrong starts with an overview of compassion as discussed in various religious writings from around the world and then shows twelve ways to incorporate the practice of compassion into life. She likens her book to the twelve steps of recovery, in that one should be familiar with all of the steps and then go back to step one as a starting place. Each step builds on the one previously as Armstrong demonstrates that even thinking differently about those we love is a beginning. She builds through thinking, speaking and acting differently toward those to whom we feel indifference or even active dislike.

At no point does Armstrong equate compassion to pity, because the two are not the same. Instead, she shows how compassion can be considered as simple kindness in thought, word and act. Nor does Armstrong suggest that this will automatically make you like someone whose actions disgust or disturb you, but instead she points out that it is possible to see where your "enemy" (for lack of a better term) has come from to reach the point where they are.

I enjoyed the book and have found myself re-examining some of my own viewpoints as a result of the reading. Highly recommended for those with a somewhat philosophical bent.

(Review based on uncorrected advance proof.)
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I was very hesitant to read this book because I was afraid it would be filled with religious dogma. Specifically, Christian religious dogma since I knew Karen Armstrong was previously a nun. Being a Buddhist, I tend to eschew books that proselytize. But I read more about Karen and decided to take the plunge. How refreshing her book turned out to be!

Let me say first off that I treasure books and try to keep them in pristine condition, barely opening the covers so I don't break the spine or hold it in any way that taxes the binding. I always clean my hands before touching a book. But while reading Armstrong's words, I found so many sentences profound, thoughts that shimmered with clarity that I found myself doing the unthinkable - taking a highlighter and highlighting noteworthy passages! Worse yet, I uncapped a pen and scribbled notes within the margins, thoughts that I want to remember for the next reading of the book for surely I will read this book many times over again.

Armstrong points out that in today's world, peace is paramount. Never has our ability to wreck destruction upon each other been greater and yet religion, the thing that should compel us towards peace is actually a separating agent. Hostilities arise in the name of religion. Take a look at the present conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. History is blood-speckled with crusades and the like but Armstrong argues they really aren't about religion. The people in power merely invoke religion as the palatable face of the war, but the real reason is always something secular such as economics, border disputes or control of resources.

Armstrong asserts that if you are truly a student of religion, you see that while they differ in many ways they have a core that is universal.
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