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75 of 75 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars In No Way Challenged by Roebuck's Newer Penguin Translation
After some Sanskrit studies years ago, I decided I'd like to read the principal Upanishads in an accurate (so not the laughably loose Mascaro version) but readable (so not the painfully literal and commentary-heavy tome of Radhakrishnan) English version. It soon became apparent that the choice was between Olivelle (the volume reviewed here) and Valerie Roebuck's Penguin...
Published on January 25, 2008 by T. W.

versus
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars good and bad: Useful for some but start elsewhere
First, I like to start with what I like about the book. The author did a good job of providing notes to help the reader understand the context of the Upanishads. The book is a useful addition to the library of people who want to study the topic seriously, but should not be used as the only translation.

Now for what I think undermines the quality of the book...
Published on February 19, 2009 by Christopher R. Travers


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75 of 75 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars In No Way Challenged by Roebuck's Newer Penguin Translation, January 25, 2008
By 
T. W. (Northeastern United States) - See all my reviews
After some Sanskrit studies years ago, I decided I'd like to read the principal Upanishads in an accurate (so not the laughably loose Mascaro version) but readable (so not the painfully literal and commentary-heavy tome of Radhakrishnan) English version. It soon became apparent that the choice was between Olivelle (the volume reviewed here) and Valerie Roebuck's Penguin Classics edition of 2000/2003. The academic book reviews were quite ambivalent, so I got the two rivals out from the library and made my own comparison.

I was surprised to find the Oxford superior in every way. Most importantly, Olivelle's translation (while plenty literal) is simply in much more natural English. Roebuck is fond of unnatural word order. Her version includes many footnotes on each page, without which her text would sometimes make no sense; Olivelle manages to translate just as literally, but so that you don't NEED to consult his equally voluminous notes in the back. Looking at the Sanskrit text in cases of notable differences, I found that I was almost always more satisfied with Olivelle's version as scrupulously & clearly reflecting the original, too. (In any case, there's no question that Olivelle is the more authoritative scholar; Roebuck needs to cite several of his books in her bibliography and apologize for the "temerity" of offering a new version, but there is no important scholarly work of Roebuck's that Olivelle can cite in his extensive bibliography.)

Publishing is a business. Roebuck freely admits that she relied heavily on Olivelle's version in making her own. The surprise is that she did not manage to stand on his shoulders and make something better in any way. (The reviews and marketing blurbs that suggest Roebuck's version has any more "devotional" value boils down to some pretty superficial and unimportant differences, like including the invocations before and after each upanishad--which are in no sense a part of the actual text or teaching.) In a sane world, there is no need for the Penguin. The chronology is clear: Penguin realized Mascaro was an embarrassment in need of replacement; they contracted Roebuck; while she was working Olivelle's version came out, making hers otiose. Penguin can't let its Mascaro version be totally eclipsed by Oxford, so we have this choice to confuse us. Don't be confused--get this Oxford edition.

Finally, the Oxford volume is much better-designed. The notes are clearly indexed by page numbers at the top; the upanishads themselves have much clearer running head-numbers; the upanishads are usefully prefaced by a short, clear outline; etc.
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38 of 42 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars helps make the Upanishads a little clearer, April 11, 2000
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Some caveats have to apply here. For one, the challenge of rating a book like this with stars is obvious; who am I to pass judgment on such ancient literature? Or the translation, since I don't read the original language? With that in mind, I confine my review to the style in which it is rendered for the novice.
The Upanishads are not an easy read, and I have seen them done in verse format and in paragraph format; the latter is used here. I find it more readable, but others prefer verse. Whether you will like this translation depends largely on your preference in this area.
It does have (parenthesizations) after many words showing the original word, which helps a lot when learning to define terms like 'prana' and 'upanishad'... e.g., "... show me the hidden teaching (<i>upanisad</i>)...". This not only helps the reader to learn the meanings of these difficult-to-render terms, but points up the challenges involved in translation.
I found the foreword helpful in setting up a historical and cultural backdrop for the Upanishads. A good half of the work is taken up by a single Upanishad (the Brhadarayanka), but that was probably inevitable.
What I would have liked to have seen was a little more interpretation. As a novice reader of the Upanishads, it was really a struggle to understand what they meant in context, and I never did make head or tail out of much of it. A section at the end of each chapter (or some well-placed footnotes) would have gone far to make the work accessible to those for whom the cultural reach was a bit lengthy.
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23 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great for first-timer, September 8, 2002
Patrick Olivelle's translation is an excellent insight into Upanisads for a first timer. He has designed this translation in a very easy to follow fashion keeping in mind that most of us are not learned pundits.
The clear introduction gives a comprehensive background of the Vedas. The history of Indian social structure when the Upanisads were written, their authorship, chronology, geography, etc. give the reader a comfortable feel as they go forth with their reading. The reader is also provided with a table dividing the Upanisads into the four Vedas.
I find the paragraph (and the divisions of chapters the author has used) format used in this edition much easier than the verse format. Each chapter is accompanied by extensive notes in the back to the book.
The Upanisads are difficult and sometimes tedious read but this translation makes it much easier for people who have no prior knowledge.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The standard, June 19, 2005
By 
David Fowler (Kirkland, WA USA) - See all my reviews
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Professor Olivelle is a great scholar - no doubt one of the most highly respected Sanskritists and prolific translators of our time. As such, it should be no surprise to find that his translation of the Upanisads is the best currently available, and will likely remain so for quite some time. The introduction to the text is extremely informative and helps place the works in their proper context. The text itself is quite meticulously translated - striking an agreeable balance of readability, scholarship and faithfulness to the original Sanskrit. A must for anyone interested in Hinduism.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars good and bad: Useful for some but start elsewhere, February 19, 2009
This review is from: Upanisads (Oxford World's Classics) (Paperback)
First, I like to start with what I like about the book. The author did a good job of providing notes to help the reader understand the context of the Upanishads. The book is a useful addition to the library of people who want to study the topic seriously, but should not be used as the only translation.

Now for what I think undermines the quality of the book. The first is that the translation is quite stilted, and the author is somewhat inconsistent abut when to translate names. A great deal would be made more clear if there was a consistent style about this (maybe leaving all names untranslated, but adding notes with the translations).

A second issue is that there are a number of words in Sanscrit which are translated differently in different contexts, but are central to understanding the nature of the teachings in the Upanishads. Prana, for example..... One thing that would really help would be for these words and related concepts to consistently have the sanscrit word appear in parenthases next to it (so I know for sure whether "breath" is a translation of "prana" or not. Now I know some of the time that it is, but am unsure others). I know this is a difficult issue to solve when translating a body of work like the Upanishads (when I have done translations of Old English works, I tend to do a lot of footnoting).

All in all, I like the completeness of the selections. And I like the notes. But the translations seem empty, stilted, and difficult, and inconsistent.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good introduction to the Upanishads, October 13, 2006
By 
Greg (Australia) - See all my reviews
The Upanishads, regarded by Hindus as sacred scripture, are essential reading for anyone wishing to understand Eastern literature, philosophy and religion.

The Upanishads are a series of works in dialogue format which explore the nature of the universe, the nature of the human soul and conciousness, God and Gods in Hindu belief, and also the appropriate religious duties of men.

These works are often of varying length but with patience and read carefully, contain profound spiritual insights and also great philosophical interest. The Upanishads have influenced philosophers, poets, artists and writers including Emerson, Coleridge, Schopenhauer and Wittgenstein. They are also essential for understanding Buddhism, which in many ways is a reaction against Hindu philosophy and theology.

This version of the Upanishads includes a good introduction by a scholar on Eastern literature as well as very useful explanatory notes, and an introduction to each chapter and book of the Upanishads. Also like other Oxford versions it is very affordable.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best English translation I've seen, May 30, 2000
This is a superb translation of the Upanishads -- the best I've seen by a long shot. Graceful, readable prose informed by modern scholarship, and the price is dirt-cheap. What more could you ask for? This is the edition to buy.
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11 of 16 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Stilted and Stripped of Inspirational Power, June 9, 2011
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This review is from: Upanisads (Oxford World's Classics) (Paperback)
If you've read Easwaran's translation of the Upanishads, as I did, you'll be shocked by this version. Olivelle stripped all of the emotion, inspiration, and soul from these profound philosophical texts, which produces a stilted, literal, clunky translation/interpretation. You can tell that the translation is so deliberate, so painstakingly constructed by the use of a translating dictionary, that it just sounds hollow and awkward.

Example: In the Svestasvatara Upanishad, here is Olivelle's translation (in a section discussing Brahman): "...tranquil, unblemished, spotless, and the highest dike to immortality." Dike? Easwaran's translation is "bridge." Then look at Olivelle's note on this translation, on p. 395: "It may well be that in a late text such as this the term 'setu' may have already acquired the meaning of 'bridge.'" Well yes, so why didn't he use the term "bridge," instead of "dike," which is not only a different structure (a ditch/channel/embankment), but totally kills the meaning of the passage he translated?

Yes, Olivelle put LOTS of work into this translation, but you can tell that he's not interested in Advaita Vedanta for anything other than to show us how pedantic he is. It's 100% fine to approach sacred literature in a purely academic way, but he kills the real meaning and heart of this text, making it arduous to read if you've read a better translation. Still, the best and most useful thing about this version is that if you've read other ones, it will teach you how vastly different translations/interpretations can be.

The notes at the end are fairly interesting, if you want to approach this philosophy from a purely academic perspective. If that's your goal, this book would be a decent addition to your library.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best available, June 9, 2012
This review is from: Upanisads (Oxford World's Classics) (Paperback)
This translation by Prof. Olivelle is the best available for some simple reasons:

- it is the most updated ans scholarly without being arcane;
- it is intelligible (unlike Max Müller's, now very dated) *and* poetic (Eknath Easwaran's is very good too in this respect);
- it is annotated, which is of great help for non-specialists;
- it has a good introduction.

If you're thinking about reading the Upanisads for the first time, this is your translation.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A classic to know, but not a sparkling read, June 5, 2009
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This review is from: Upanisads (Oxford World's Classics) (Paperback)
The Upanisads make up part of the classic Hindu holy scriptures, so anyone wishing to more fully understand appreciate Hinduism must read them. Olivelle does a fine job of putting them into context and providing plenty of explanatory footnotes. That said, the Upanisads are not always the most invigorating read. Many are highly formulaic, antiquated expressions of humanistic science and spirituality. For the rare gems of wisdom, however, which express the Hindu ideas about the unity of the self (atman) with Brahman, the cosmic importance of OM, and a few details about the afterlife, the read does ultimately become worthwhile. Certainly not for the lighthearted reader, but for the serious student a recommended read.
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Upanisads (Oxford World's Classics)
Upanisads (Oxford World's Classics) by Patrick Olivelle (Paperback - June 15, 2008)
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