'My Spiritual Autobiography' isn't an "autobiography" in the traditional sense (for that, check out 'Freedom in Exile: The Autobiography of the Dalai Lama of Tibet'). Rather, this is a collection of many of the Dalai Lama's writings and speeches spanning the duration of his entire career, all revolving around the subject of spirituality. They have been carefully compiled, with in-depth annotations, by the Dalai Lama's personal translator, Sophia Stril-Rever.
This book has been divided into three sections, exploring the Dalai Lama "as a human being", "as a Buddhist monk" and "as the Dalai Lama". All three sections highlight the struggles the Dalai Lama has faced regarding Tibet, and how he has always managed to retain his good-nature and inspiring values in the face of such overwhelming adversity. His philosophy towards life and other people is exemplary, and a ray of light in these troubling times. Although heavily entrenched in Buddhism, the Dalai Lama always seeks to make his views accessible to the secular Westerner.
But it was the third and final section, about his life as a political leader, which stole the book for me. Although the Dalai Lama is clearly not the most impartial source in the world to discuss the current political situation in Tibet, his analysis makes for crucial reading for anybody who wants to understand one of the most troubling human rights issues in the world today. This section was difficult for me to read, especially as it followed on from two sections which were so full of hope and optimism. The Dalai Lama doesn't shy away from telling us the disturbing reality that Tibetans in their homeland have been facing for the last half-decade, and every time he has something hopeful to say, it seems to get dashed in the very next paragraph. Yet, despite this, he always retains dignity, constantly reminding us of his unwavering hope and the love he shares towards his Chinese "brothers and sisters". What's more, through his messages of peace and stance of non-violence and mutual cooperation between nations, more and more people throughout the world are being drawn to his teachings, and countries can no longer sit idly by while China continues its genocide on Tibet. This message of hope prevails throughout this troubling section.
But, while 'My Spiritual Autobiography' is an inspiring read, it also falls short on a number of counts. Firstly, as an anthology of sorts, most of the material in here is available elsewhere. Anybody who's read one or two books by the Dalai Lama before will have heard much of what's been said already. Secondly, it may seem long at 265 pages, but there's actually a huge amount of wasted space inside (blank pages, big borders, etc.). And, finally, due to the very nature of such a collection, there's a lot of repetition of some of the same points.
So, like anything else written by the Dalai Lama, this is an incredibly beautiful and inspiring book. It would probably make for a very good introductory book to the Dalai Lama's teachings, the situation in Tibet and, to a lesser extent, Tibetan Buddhism. But anybody who is already at least somewhat familiar with these subjects would probably do best to save their money (or wait until the cheaper soft cover is released).