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The "I Ching": A Biography (Lives of Great Religious Books) Hardcover – March 25, 2012
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One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2012
"Smith's book succeeds admirably in making the history and importance of this esoteric and enigmatic classic accessible and understandable to a wide audience. A must read for anyone interested in fathoming 'the Way' (Tao/Dao) in ancient China."--Choice
"Smith's book demonstrates that if the Book of Changes is anything, it is alive."--James Carter, Los Angeles Review of Books
"His biography is, at every turn, full of scholarship."--Jon Sweeney, Tablet
"One of the advantages to this book is Smith's prose; not only is it clear and accessible, but he writes in a way that brings the material to life. He is an engaging writer. . . . This 'biography' of the Yijing is an attractive and thorough resource. It should prove to be a useful addition to any library (academic or not) and a valuable help in any high school or college courses that incorporate study of the Yijing in any classroom context."--Robert Steed, Education About Asia
"[N]ever before in English has the substance of this vital text been explicated with such transparency, lucidity, and--on balance--objectivity. However, even in charitably demystifying it, Smith has simultaneously retained and even enhanced the compelling attraction of this ever-tantalizing essentialist work for the would-be initiated. Such is a balancing act deftly executed, for which we should commend the author lavishly."--Don J. Wyatt, Journal of Chinese Religions
"Smith's biography does what an introduction should do: encourage the reader to want to know more and provide a smooth over-arching conceptual framework, in economic fashion, through which one may understand the details. It would, therefore, be a helpful tool in a university course on Eastern or World religions and is highly recommended."--Stephanie L. Derrick, Relegere
"Smith offers an unparalleled biography of the most revered book in China's entire cultural tradition, and he shows us how this enigmatic ancient classic has become a truly global phenomenon."--RSR, Buddhism Now
"This work serves both as a sinologically sound exposition of East Asia's Yijing, and a fearless foray into the West's endless fixations on the Yi's malleable meanings."--Russell Kirkland, Religious Studies Review
"To all [I Ching] aficionados and many others, Richard J. Smith's book, The I Ching: A Biography, will be usefully informative."--Yu Liu, European Legacy
From the Back Cover
"Richard Smith's 'biography' of the Book of Changes delivers to us just what the series promised: it is wide-ranging, clear, up-to-date, comprehensive, and entertaining."--Jonathan D. Spence, author of The Search for Modern China
"The I Ching has had many guises and uses in what Richard Smith calls its 'transnational travels' during its three-thousand-year course. Smith's accessible book combines general orientation and fascinating detail in ways that enable readers to grasp the complicated, transcultural history of a vital, enigmatic little classic."--Willard Peterson, Princeton University
"Richard Smith synthesizes a great deal of information about the I Ching and presents it with admirable clarity. I know of no one else who commands the history of this text to the extent that he does, whether in China or especially in its global context. His excellent book will find a ready and wide readership."--Edward L. Shaughnessy, author of Confucian and Taoist Wisdom
"This one-of-a-kind biography of the I Ching is a masterpiece of scholarship for general readers as well as scholars and teachers. The first book in English to explain the history and impact of this ancient text from a global perspective, it will remain a must-read in I Ching studies for a very long time. A welcome and important contribution."--Benjamin Wai-ming Ng, author of The I Ching in Tokugawa Thought and Culture
Top customer reviews
Yes, if you are among the thousands, perhaps millions, who use the I Ching in their own lives and want even more understanding of its many lives. Yes, if you are among the scholars interested in the history of great religious books. Yes, if you find the by-ways and side-roads of social & religious thought as fascinating as the main highways.
For example, the first section on the domestic, within China, evolution of the Changes, includes three chapters: on the genesis of the Changes, the making of a classic, and interpreting the Changes. These are well written, informative, rich in detail. On p.41, as an instance, is the story from 672 BCE of a diviner's interpretation of Guan and Pi (which resemble gates, openings, doors) for the Marquis of Li's question on his son's chances of becoming a ruler. The interpretation of the couplet, "Beholding the light of the state, It is beneficial to be the king's guest", goes into the lower trigram, representing land; the upper trigram, the Sun, and the upper trigram of the Pi, the heavens. Yes, the Marquis's son will occupy the land.
From such a rich, detailed baseline of early interpretation, the rest of Section I develops the changes in interpretation and uses, schools of thought, disputes among these, and the elaborations within China of the Changes. Fascinating and vividly written.
Yet trade-offs had to be made in preparing this otherwise wonderful book. The small book format of series (about 5" x 7") perhaps is not a perfect match for such a rich, large topic. For example, some illustrations are readable in this size (p. 81) and some are less so (p.80). This may be my eyes and might not be a concern for other readers, as a helpful comment has pointed out.
Part II (about 100 5 x 7, wide-margin pages), has to cover the centuries from about 1600 to the present across East Asia (Japan, Korea, etc.) and the West (US, South American countries, Europe, etc.). The author has had to choose between breadth or depth. The choice often is breadth, leading to such passages as
"Another of Paz's close associates in Mexico was his disciple Francisco Serano, who also experimented with the use of the Changes as a literary device, especially in poetic composition. Among the visual artists in their creative circle were painters such as Arnaldo Coen, Aturo Rivera, Augusto Ramirez, and Felipe Erenberg, all of whom found inspiration and guidance in the Yijing." (p. 205)---
This is followed by another list of names, this time of musicians with no more information of the ways in which the Changes influenced their music
Thus, we have a scholarly, careful, well-informed writer (Richard J. Smith)writing about a huge topic in a small book. That he does as well as he does is a credit to the author, to the inherent interest of the I Ching and its own changes.
Overall, the book is not wildly expensive; it makes for a good read; and may be deeply meaningful to students of the history and diffusion of the I Ching. Just be aware that the many pleasures are accompanied by some slight pain.
It's also a very attractive book, while most books from Princeton University Press are quite well bound, this one stands out. It is small with a heavy matte pearl finish dust jacket and the cloth binding is lapis blue with gold lettering. The leaves are deckle-edged (uneven like handmade very attractive). This would make a great gift for any fan of the I Ching or just a book nerd.