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Not Her Best: Perhaps Too Much Breadth to Leave Much Depth
on September 19, 2015
This book was something of a disappointment to me, at least compared to several other of Ms. Armstrong's works. Some of her books have been very important to me, offering understanding, knowledge, and even enlightenment. This one, however, falls short of her best efforts, perhaps because it attempts so much. The problem is not the quality of Ms. Armstrong's research or clarity. In discussing the evolution of four major religious/philosophical traditions (the Indian, the Chinese, the Judaic, and the Greek) in the centuries around 500 BC, she imparts an enormous amount of information without overloading or confusing the reader. Rather, it seems to me that she tries to force what she is telling us into a pre- determined conclusion; that religion in general in this period moved away from violence and towards compassion. Certainly, this pattern did appear in the emergence of Buddhism, in some Hebrew texts, and in some strains of Chinese thought. But other, contradictory elements were there as well, and the compassion she finds in Chinese thinking seems very different to me from the compassion of Buddhism, or from contemporary developments in Judaic thought -- let alone what was happening in Greece. This is an interesting and instructive book, but it lacks for me the depth of some of her other works.