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on 28 April 2010
You'll be very surprised to find that this isn't just 'yet another boring translation' of an ancient Chinese text. As perfectly described above in the synopsis, William Scott Wilson has added two extra interesting & highly relevant chapters on "Zen and Taoism" and "Zen and the Martial Arts".

Funny how we keep on reinventing the wheel in ours lives, when the secrets to successful living (if there ever were any?) are all around us & were thoughtfully written down for us thousands of years ago in some cases.

WSW, as always, makes these sometimes difficult essays easier to access by writing them with the reader in mind & not just dumping the contents of his brain onto paper. His new research into the Tao Te Ching brings out more of its meaning & makes it more understandable. You may need to use a little grey matter on some of the verses & it's certainly not a book that one can just skim through.

Backed up with an nice long & interesting introduction about the books history & it's characters, it also has extensive notes to help the reader with the dialog.

I've read many different versions of this classic & to date this one was a pleasure to read & didn't leave me with more questions than answers.

WSW's writing style is relaxed & friendly & not full of 'long' unpronounceable words that you need a dictionary for. Definitely worth a re-read & one for the bedside.
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VINE VOICEon 10 July 2011
Initially this book seemed like yet another beginners guide to Taoism but, once I got into it, it struck me that it is actually one of those wonderful books that hits the right balance between academic rigour and readability.

The first thing to mention is the translation. As with most translations of ancient books, it claims to be the first sourced from the original documents which may explain how it has lost much of the accumulated 'flow' that has built up through the years. Despite this not being one of my favourites, it is second only to that of John Wu and is accessible, if occasionally in-eloquent.

Secondly there are the essays. The first essay (before the 81 verses is about Tao and Zen. In this essay were some fascinating insights, such as 'Zen is like a stone woman giving birth to a child at midnight, and there are also some interesting observations as to how Zen is basically an Indian version of Tao (in the words of the notes at the back "Tao is Zen with Chinese jokes").
This essay is then continued after the 81 verses and moves on to even more insightful and weird interpretations (e.g. "The Tao that be explained" = Eat good food in the Morning; "is not the eternal Tao" - this is to have a bowel movement in the evening. He also explores the 'Patriarchs of the Tao' (e.g. Bodhidharma), which is like discovering a whole new religion you never knew existed.
Moving on from this, the second essay ('Tao and the Martial arts') makes some fascinating comparisons between the two 'Tzu's (Lao Tzu and Sun Tzu) - by comparing The Art of War and the Tao Te Ching. Although one is a manual for warfare and the other is a pacifist treatise, the two share much common ground, such as the idea of behaving like water and knowing yourself being the mark of true strength.

Last thing to mention is the academic notes in the back. For any concept in the essays, or any odd bit of translation in the 81 verses, there is a note and these notes aren't the usual 'Ibid p136' variety but often flesh out or explain issues and ideas.

So, although not the most lucid translation, it is one of the better ones and the essays and notes provide just enough analysis to be insightful, but not so much as to be boring.
On the other hand, if you're fond of extremes, then a good version of the Tao is this one, which is just a no-frills translation (with no notes) but is the best I've read.
And if you want something with an exegesis on every verse, try Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life: Living the Wisdom of the Tao.
In the meantime, this book is the nearest you'll get to a Richard Dawkins treatment of the Tao.
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