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on January 25, 2008
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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on April 11, 2000
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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on 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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on June 19, 2005
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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on April 22, 2015
This is the best academic translation around. From my experience, prints from Oxford provide better clarity when they are compared to other translations on the market. I recommend this print for students studying eastern philosophy through a program/professor. This book is organized well and is easy to follow. Provided commentary is clear and easy to understand. I highly recommend this book over other translations out on the market. Patrick Olivelle's translation is the best!
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on February 19, 2009
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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on June 10, 2014
Everything Man has as divine gifts grow s with time! Our understanding of a given book when we were 17 to 25 of age is completely different if only we would give it a trouble to re-read the same book with CRITICAL MIND this time at the age of 30+, we will never believe our nedless findings! look for the pulse of wisdom in various books, and start building the big picture with the EYE OF YOUR BRAIN! You can rise! Rise then!
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on June 9, 2011
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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on 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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on June 9, 2012
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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