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The Story of Tibet: Conversations with the Dalai Lama Hardcover – 6 Nov 2006

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 470 pages
  • Publisher: Grove/Atlantic; 1st Edition edition (6 Nov. 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802118275
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802118271
  • Product Dimensions: 23.7 x 16.1 x 4.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 4,609,495 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"Thomas Laird's lively conversations with His Holiness the Dalal Lama and the history and mythology of Tibet couldn't come at a better moment, as China stubbornly persists in negating the distinctive Tibetan identity. The honesty, subtlety, and complexlty of His Holiness's thoughts of these crucial matters comes through in these fascinating dialogues. Everyone who cares about Tibet, or about a stable peace in Asia, should read this amazing account." --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Thomas Laird has been based in Kathmandu, Nepal for thirty years and now divides his time between there and New Orleans. He has worked as a journalist for Time, Asiaweek and Newsweek. His first non-fiction book was Into Tibet: The CIA's First Atomic Spy and His Secret Expedition to Lhasa. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Fizza on 25 Aug. 2007
Format: Paperback
I was surprised to see that this book didn't have any reviews here, so I'm writing one. This is an unusual approach to presenting a comprehensive history of Tibet through a series of interviews with the Dalai Lama, conducted over several years. The result is absolutely delightful, very readable, and informative. The Dalai Lama's philosophy and personality shine through and the history is woven together with legend and anecdotes, which makes it very entertaining. It is not an academic history, but there is quite a good bibliography and the information presented is accurate as far as I could tell. It's bound to appeal whether you're interested in the history of the region, Buddhism or the Dalai Lama.
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By BrynG on 1 Aug. 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book tells the story of Tibet from the arrival of Buddhism to the current day (well, 2008 as the Olympics are just about to happen in Beijing). It is a 'story' in the sense that it is largely about how the Dalai Lama understands the history of his country; and he is very much at pains to point out he is not a historian.
How the lineage of the Dalai Lama came into being is well covered, and there is a brief summary about all the current DL's predecessors, with most attention spent on the two most important before the current 14th (e.g. the 5th and 13th).
The final third of the book concentrates on the life of the 14th, his dealings with and (importantly) his attitude towards the Chinese is presented thoroughly. There is a very strong message that comes through this book, which is that the DL's view is that history is largely irrelevant and what matters is the present and the future. The Chinese should acknowledge that Tibetans are racially and culturally different and should be allowed to govern themselves (within the framework of remaining part of China). There is a very strong sense throughout this section of the book of just how carefully the DL has considered the "Tibetan question", and I find it quite difficult to see how his suggestions can be viewed as anything but constructive (The Chinese describe him as a splittist and wanting to break up the motherland).
My only objection to the book as a whole is that the author quite often makes sure the reader is aware that Chinese historians/politicians have re-written the history of Chinese/Tibetan relations. I found this somewhat unnecessary, particularly as the DL's point is that what matters is the here and now.
On the whole though this provides an excellent overview of the cultural development of a fascinating people, and once again shows what a great, albeit unwilling, statesman the Tibetans have as their spiritual leader.
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By jon on 12 July 2010
Format: Paperback
A Great read if you are interested in Tibet or not.A unique explanation of the history and events leading to the disastrous chinese invasion.Also a fascinating insight into the tibetan form of Buddhism,very hard to put down but also a book that can be taken in at leisure if that is your preference.A book that is actually very relavant to the modern world.
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By Tub Tam on 27 Aug. 2011
Format: Hardcover
It is a good occasion to check if your idea about all the Dalai Lamas and your mental story about Tibet is according to reality. Here is mainly explained how H.H. the present Dalai Lama has experienced it.
I'm 60 years old.
This book changed my view for much more realistic and open...

Good luck !

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 23 reviews
25 of 28 people found the following review helpful
The Middle Way of History 21 Nov. 2006
By doomsdayer520 - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This is a very unique, though sometimes problematic, historical study of Tibet. Thomas Laird had the opportunity to interview the Dalai Lama dozens of times while constructing this book, while His Holiness heartily endorsed and encouraged the project. Thus, we get a very eye-opening combination of corroborated historical data and religious conviction. Granted, this pattern isn't always successful, and the book gets off to a rocky start with the ancient history (and pre-history) of Tibet, for which information is scarce. In the early part of the book, Laird depends more on the Dalai Lama's mythological and faith-based creation tales and his interpretations of sketchy historical and archeological evidence (or, in his view, interpretation of history at different spiritual and mental levels). While it is always fulfilling to hear directly from His Holiness, the result here is a rather confusing and dubious history. Laird doesn't help much with googly-eyed reactions to the Dalai Lama's wisdom like "this is vast and complex," or "this is very difficult for non-Tibetans to understand." Meanwhile, Laird exhibits the standard Western devotee's simplistic amazement at having his mind blown by Tibetan philosophy, and while his feelings are surely sincere, he doesn't articulate them very well.

Fortunately, the book gets much better as it moves into the modern era, in which Laird can analyze concrete historical data and the Dalai Lama can give his own unique perspective on his country's developments. Laird also gained confidence by this point, actively debating His Holiness on contradictions in Tibetan philosophy or mistakes he may have made as a political leader. Ultimately, this book offers strong coverage of Tibet's history after the colonial era, with a very insightful focus on how the country has been affected by geopolitics and the worldwide support for the Tibetan cause, not to mention this Dalai Lama's vast popularity. Though there is one story that gets brushed over quickly - China's meddling in the succession of the Panchen Lama. For great coverage of that episode, plus another strong modern history of Tibet and the Dalai Lama, I would recommend "The Search for the Panchen Lama" by Isabel Hilton. "Trespassers on the Roof of the World" by Peter Hopkirk offers more in-depth coverage of the colonial era, while this book by Laird possibly offers the most accessible (though not totally problem-free) look at ancient Tibet, before you decide to tackle the classical histories noted in his list of references. [~doomsdayer520~]
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
The book for newcomers to Tibet 13 Nov. 2007
By Richard Weston - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I read this book a week after going to Tibet for the first time in October, 2007. It confirmed everything that I experienced in Tibet with a former monk as the guide for our group of 20 (China Focus Tours), and enriched our experience enormously. I'm glad I read it soon after the trip so the place names, experiences, history and relationship with China were so fresh. We had been warned in China not to ask about or comment on politics or religion while we were in Tibet. I did ask one mild question and got a reply from our guide that clearly told me that he could not respond.

The book will probably tell general readers more than they want to know about the intricacies of the changes of rule over the last fourteen hundred years but it helped me understand the richness of Tibetan Buddhism. I found it well written and fascinating throughout. The author clearly has a pro-Dalai Lama bias (how else could he have arranged the many interviews with the Dalai Lama?). We found China to be virulently anti-Dalai Lama and this book helped me understand that. The personal details of the Dalai Lama's life and the lives of his predecessors gave me a full sense of what it has meant to be Tibetan both recently and in the long history.

We knew that China had changed Tibet enormously in recent years but we were astounded on our visit to see how they have been moving Han Chinese into Lhasa and changing the face of Tibet. "The Story of Tibet" helped us understand how the incursion of China since the 50's has changed the culture that visitors will see--as long as the Tibetans aren't completely submerged by the Chinese. It seems about 50/50 now. Brief visits to Sera Monastery with our ex-monk guide who had lived there 14 years, to Jokhang Temple when no other tourists were there and to a non-tourist village outside Lhasa during harvest helped me understand the Tibetan culture described well in "The Story of Tibet."

I also recommend Tsering Shakya's "The Dragon in the Land of Sorrow" for a very detailed history of Tibet since 1947. "The Story of Tibet" covers in 65 pages and much less detail what Tsering Shakya describes much more fully in 450 pages.

We learned while we were in Tibet that the Potala Palace will be closed next year before the Olympics in Beijing, probably permanently. A new museum is being built at the base of the Potala that will show visitors what the Chinese government wants them to know about Tibetan Buddhism and this marvelous building. We were there in early October, 2007. Go now.The Dragon in the Land of Snows: A History of Modern Tibet Since 1947
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
More than a history lesson. 13 Dec. 2006
By Frank - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Thomas Laird's latest book is a pleasure to read. It successfully juggles history, legend and the thoughts of the present day Dalai Lama for an entertaining and enlightening view of Tibet. The Story of Tibet is more than a survey of a civilization, a tale of a lost country, an interview with a living moral compass, a cautionary tale and a primer on Tibetan Buddhism. It is also a story of the personal relationship between the author and the greatest spiritual figure of our time. The Dalai Lama has an openess to the interpretation of history and the discoveries of modern research and science that is non-dogmatic and hopeful. It is really inspiring to see how willing His Holiness is to letting go of past belief systems when there is experiential, tangible evidence to the contrary. If only the other world leaders could except change so graciously.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Western history meets Eastern commentary 27 Aug. 2008
By John L Murphy - Published on
Format: Paperback
Subtitled if boldly "Conversations with the Dalai Lama," this combines interviews and commentary about Tenzin Gyatso's homeland with Laird, who offers a popular history of the embattled nation. I stress "nation": this collaborative work stresses the claims that Tibet's entitled to its own independence, as it was taken over somewhat as a client state by the Mongols and then the Manchu rulers in tandem with China, not as a vassal of China itself, but around the same time, if in different contexts, from the larger subservient entity around present-day (if greater) Mongolia. This may smack of nitpicking, but in fact it distinguishes Tibetan rights to be recognized as its own sovereign state, rather than the dubious PRC (following the Kuomintang Nationalist government) argument that China should incorporate Tibet "back" into its empire.

If you have little interest in such a treatment, you'd best go elsewhere for more romantic or more propagandistic fare. This book, written for a wide audience, nonetheless devotes considerable space to debunking not only the illusion (held by some New Age admirers today) that a strife-free, non-martial Shambhala materialized in medieval times, but the common leftist riposte that it was a corrupt realm of cruel monks, feudal savagery, or serf-perpetuated ignorance. It's not always a grippingly narrated tale, especially in long stretches of tedious medieval and early modern sections, but the novelty of hearing Tibetan history echoed and elaborated by the Dalai Lama via Laird's own knowledge, interpretations, and comparisons to Western models makes this an inherently valuable document.

Laird's careful to assert his own Western understanding of how politics can infiltrate into the purportedly religious condition into which the Dalai Lamas have been born. He serves often as a skeptical foil for the Fourteenth Dalai Lama's hesitant disclaimers and introverted aversions to his leadership role when-- as a youth of sixteen-- he found himself set up by Mao to be manipulated, perhaps, into the Communist's potential dupe as their prize convert to collectivist purity and Marxist fervor. This poignant story of the current Dalai Lama's predicament's terribly deepened. You learn what's far too little taught: about 20-40 million whom Mao and his regime killed of their own people, and the 500,000-1.2 million Tibetans murdered since the triumph of Marxism. We in the West prefer often to ignore these facts, but such data have been compiled.

From Tibet, as Laird notes, we can predict how China may treat other minorities and neighbors, and how determinedly the PRC manipulates spokespeople from East and West whom it favors or monitors to tell its sanitized story in our media. This spin-doctoring proves relevant. It tells us if we care to hear beyond the commercials and the glitz many serious lessons amidst our global post-Olympic awe at China's supposed human rights "progress." The Dalai Lama's eloquent at times and then bitter when he summarizes the idealism of the early cadres, his own admiration for what he was promised would accompany Marxist reforms, and his own disillusionment at the spiritual and physical distortions that befall those Chinese who warped after young optimism for a cause curdled into deceit, invasion, and thuggery.

The brief accounts of torture, slaughter, and destruction inflicted on Tibet by China here humble you, and one must ask if China's advances economically and socially rest indeed on a legacy of rapine and plunder no less savage than that done by imperialists elsewhere. The Tibetans-- facing capitulation or extermination-- have been left with little choice. Despite the claims that many modern nations admire non-violent resistance more than revolution against tyranny, which countries stand by Tibet today? Out of all the United Nations in 1950, only El Salvador sponsored, as Laird shows years ago, a resolution in the UN condemning China's invasion, and such protests mattered in the long run about as much as may a few banner-waving activists in the Olympic Stadium a few days ago, I suppose, vs. the clout that 1.3 billion people hold over the silence of 6 million natives of Tibet. I hope I am disproved in the future.

One intriguing aspect of this story of overwhelming force vs. principled resistance emerges in how the Dalai Lama had to survive with next to nothing of worldliness or a knowledge of realpolitik let alone the outside world when he had to deal with being a prize captive-- or hostage so to speak-- of Mao and his minions in the early 1950s. Laird prods the Dalai Lama to reveal more of his own reactions to this dangerous diplomatic situation in which he suddenly found himself. Eager manipulations and nimble retellings of history by the PRC belie their frequent mendacity regarding the status of Tibet today and historically. What the Dalai Lama articulates historically-- in talks with Laird-- as a patron-priest relationship of Tibetan rulers with their Chinese contacts and Mongol emissaries, akin to popes and emperors in medieval Europe, becomes more the predecessor for the Mongol-Tibetan and then Chinese-Tibetan power-sharing rather than the hegemony willed by China, past and present.

Regarding critiques by other reviewers, I found that Laird never strikes a worshipful tone or a credulous stance towards what the Dalai Lama explains or what Tibet's defenders counter. Laird gives as good as he gets, and he holds his own ground against what he regards now and then as the naivete or intransigence of his formidable interlocutor, one of the very few people alive who, as Laird comments, has dealt with every president from FDR on. The Dalai Lama and Laird talked at length over a period of years, but they never become over-familiar. It's a meeting of two smart people, rather than inspirational claptrap, conversational blather, or pat platitudes. It's a study in how the world works, vs. how some of us less wordly would like it to work.

The appeal of Buddhism also permeates parts of the Dalai Lama's exchanges with Laird, a skeptic at best. Even he is moved by the compassion the Dalai Lama embodies. He sees what we cannot: a double vision of the common and the uncommon. This fits not only with Buddhism acceptance of transience and impermanence, but with, as Laird cleverly shows, many Westerners in their acceptance of the Resurrection despite its clashing with "facts." If billions can believe in the rising of one from the dead despite our everyday knowledge that what's dead stays dead, then, looking at Tibet through the Dalai Lama's eyes, we can better perceive the multiple perspective appreciated by him and other Buddhist adepts.

Such similarities and contrasts with our own culture and mindsets make this one of the book's strongest appeals for readers curious, unfamiliar, or mystified by the continuing appeal of Tibet in the judgment and dreams of so much of the world today. Tibet's not a mystical playground, but it has amassed a cultural patrimony and spiritual legacy worth preserving, and its defense should -- in an idealistic world again-- remain our priority even in our debased condition! You don't have to be Buddhist to learn many lessons here.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
A Case for A Free Tibet 5 Sept. 2009
By Miz Ellen - Published on
Format: Paperback
This is a remarkable and valuable work which combines in one volume an entire bookshelf of concepts. First, it presents to the Western reader an overview of the history of Tibet from ancient times to the present. Secondly, it examines the sources of the People's Republic claim to the territory and people of Tibet and mounts a countervailing challenge. Thirdly and most uniquely, it records a series of interviews the author had with the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, obtaining his view and commentary on the history of his native land.

In the final part of the book, history, challenge and commentary all come together in a unique exploration of the geopolitical issues concerning Tibet and China. One can see why this is such a thorny issue for the Chinese and why they desperately protest anything to do with the Dalai Lama and his visits to other nations.

Hollywood has made Tibet into Shangri-La, a mystic mountain land of wonders. Laird's portrait of this ancient land shows that the facts can be even more amazing. However, his overview of early history is uphill work for the reader. In sharp contrast, when he interviews the Dalai Lama, Laird adopts a more journalistic style and these interviews are real gems. The Dalai Lama is an authentic personality with a clear if unique perspective and the pages sparkle when he is talking, brimming with sadness, determination, optimism and humor.

The author has attempted to blend a conventional history with the commentary of an unconventional (by Western standards) man. That these things mix no better than oil and water is not the author's fault. The Dalai Lama's insistence that there is the common history that all can see plus an uncommon history working beyond the surface is an illuminating aspect to the ongoing drama between China and Tibet.
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