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The Great Transformation: The World in the Time of Buddha, Socrates, Confucius and Jeremiah Paperback – 8 Mar 2007


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The Great Transformation: The World in the Time of Buddha, Socrates, Confucius and Jeremiah + A History Of God + Islam: A Short History (UNIVERSAL HISTORY)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Books; New edition edition (8 Mar. 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1843540568
  • ISBN-13: 978-1843540564
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 4.2 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 94,405 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

"'A remarkable history... fascinating and highly readable... profoundly relevant.' Julie Wheelwright, Independent '[Armstrong] shows a formidable grasp of sacred history and biblical scholarship.' Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, The Times 'Armstrong writes with her customary elegance and lucidity... It would be hard not to learn a lot from this substantial book.' Diarmaid MacCulloch, Guardian 'This book deserves nothing but praise.' Bryan Appleyard, Sunday Times"

About the Author

Karen Armstrong is one of the world's foremost commentators on religious affairs. Her bestselling books include Islam: A Short History; Buddha; A History of God; Through The Narrow Gate and The Spiral Staircase.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

61 of 65 people found the following review helpful By Ralph Blumenau TOP 500 REVIEWER on 9 May 2007
Format: Paperback
The range of Karen Armstrong's work on the history of religion is becoming ever more ambitious. To her previous works on Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam she has added in this book sections on Hinduism, Confucianism, Taoism and Greek thought. She examines how thought in China, India, Ancient Greece and the Biblical Middle East became transformed during the Axial Age (the phrase was coined by Karl Jaspers)- the seven hundred years between about 900 BC and 200 BC - from primitive beliefs and practices into the more sophisticated religious and philosophical teachings which laid the intellectual foundations of the following centuries. All this in 400 pages, so it is sometimes a bit of a gallop, especially in the first two chapters (about a fifth of the book) which describe the 800 or so years before the Axial Age begins. After that, when the transformation really gets going, Armstrong allows herself much more space to expound the teachings of the great axial thinkers.

She argues that axial insights were often the result of suffering and that the search for them was born out the experience of the local region being convulsed in unsettling change, in chaos and in violence, the political and economic background of which she provides in rather more detail than I think is really necessary.

The 700 years described as the Axial Period are quite long and have been stretched to this length in order to accommodate processes that happened in different phases and at different speeds within it. Indian thought, for instance, was already becoming quite sophisticated at the beginning of that period, whereas Greek thought matured much later.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Daniel Teo on 2 Sept. 2007
Format: Paperback
In the Great Transformation, Karen Armstrong traces the origins and development of spiritual thought during the Axial Age. The Axial Age was a period between approximately 900 - 200 BC, in which new philosophical and religious concepts emerged in four disparate regions - namely China, India, Israel and Greece - and which still have a lasting impact on our world today.

Armstrong does an admirable job of expounding the political and social situations of the period, and how they eventually developed into the new schools of thought. Although the situations in the four regions are highly different, they share some striking similarities as well. The Axial Age was a very violent and unstable period, and the new schools of thought are all arisen from the same basic need for a better life, in which compassion, understanding and tolerance all play an important role.

Through all this, Armstrong attempts to impart a valuable lesson which we would do well to heed in our time and age. Instead of focusing on the differences between the different religions, we would do well to remember that these differences evolved out of the very particular needs and situations of the people of that time, but that they ultimately all share the common ideals of compassion, understanding and tolerance. Religious thought should not be dogmatic, but should rather be a guide towards achieving those ideals.

Or to use one of Buddha's metaphors in the book: "In just the same way my teachings are like a raft, to be used to cross the river and not to be held on to."
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Jeremy Bevan TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 31 Oct. 2009
Format: Paperback
A fine, if ultimately rather forced, analysis of how religion matured and refined across four cultures (Greek, Hebrew, Indian and Chinese) in the period from 900 - 200 BCE known as the Axial Age - a term that originated with philosopher Karl Jaspers. Armstrong demonstrates, as usual, a formidable grasp of both the primary religious source-writings and a very wide range of scholarship on the historical and wider cultural background of the cultures during the period in question. Though I didn't feel the book made the case for a linear or smooth `progress' (perhaps a rather dubious notion in any case), Armstrong is mostly convincing in showing broad, repeated patterns emerging across all four - though Greece and China both, at different times in the period in question, look like outliers to her thesis.

The book is a very good introduction to the classical Indian texts, Confucius and Lao-Tse, Ezekiel and Jeremiah. Surprisingly though, given its Jewish roots, Armstrong fails to trace the Axial Age's lineage through to Christianity. Instead, she leapfrogs it and attempts to show a linkage to Islam, which appears tenuous at best given Islam's rise 800 years after the end of the Age. Not her best work, then - rather too much `fitting' of the evidence at various points to prove the hypothesis, it seems to me - but engaging and absorbing, nonetheless.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Mr. P Szyndel on 30 Dec. 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I just love the way that Karen writes
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By bernard watson on 24 Feb. 2015
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
very well written and interesting
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