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The Spiral Staircase Hardcover – 1 Mar 2004
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"I have decided to try again", Karen Armstrong writes at the beginning of The Spiral Staircase, in explaining why she is telling her life story for a second time, 20 years after doing so in Beginning the World. "We should probably all pause to confront our past from time to time, because it changes its meaning as our circumstances alter." That's a clue to the sort of open-minded and intensive inquiry that Armstrong is capable of, which has made her, in those 20 years, a bestselling theologian and historian of religion, known for such hugely popular books as The Battle for God, A History of God, and Islam: A Short History.
In the lucid yet reflective manner that is Armstrong's trademark, The Spiral Staircase recalls her painful early life as a nun, her even more painful reentry into secular society, and most compellingly, the long-undiagnosed epilepsy that made her life a horror show of phantom visions and misplaced hours. We follow Armstrong to the Middle East and elsewhere as she searches for answers to questions no less daunting than the significance of faith. Yet what drives Armstrong is her distaste for and distrust of those who see only black or white, never shades of grey. "I disliked the crusading certainty of Ayatollah Khomeini, yet I was also disturbed by the shrill rhetoric of some of Rushdie's champions", she writes in the wake of debate over Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses and the ensuing fatwa issued by the extremists on the Islamic right. Indeed, as religious dogma divides the world in ever new ways, Armstrong's learned views are especially resonant. But The Spiral Staircase, its name inspired by TS Eliot's poem cycle Ash-Wednesday, is not a polemic, despite Armstrong's forceful and persuasive arguments for religious tolerance. Rather, it's a beautiful letter sent by a gifted writer attempting to decode the meaning of her life. --Kim Hughes, Amazon.com
‘The book deserves many readers… Karen Armstrong must be a Woman of Iron to have survived, made a career and a life.' Hilary Mantel
Praise for The Battle for God:
‘The quality of this remarkable book lies as much in its detail as in its sweeping vision’
‘Armstrong displays all her usual talents: she has an eye for colourful evidence, a wonderful gift for clarity of exposition and an unerring sense of pace and voice and narrative.’
Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, Literary Review
Praise for The History for God:
‘Only those who think they know it all will fail to be fascinated by Armstrong's search for God.' The Economist
'Highly readable and ought to be read….Karen Armstong has read widely, has missed nothing, and gives us as solid a purview of the God of the past as it would be possible to find in a book,' Anthony Burgess, Observer
'Karen Armstrong is a genius.' A. N. WilsonSee all Product description
Top customer reviews
"Hyam Maccoby had given me a clue six years earlier, when we sat together, eating egg and tomato sandwiches in the little café near Finchley Central tube station. He had told me that in most traditions, faith was not about belief but about practice. Religion is not about accepting twenty impossible propositions before breakfast, but about doing things that change you. It is a moral aesthetic, an ethical alchemy. If you behave in a certain way, you will be transformed. The myths and laws of religion are not true because they conform to some metaphysical, scientific or historical reality but because they are life-enhancing. They tell you how human nature functions, but you will not discover their truth unless you apply these myths and doctrines to your own life and put them into practice. The myths of the hero, for example, are not meant to give us historical information about Prometheus or Achilles - or for that matter Jesus or the Buddha. Their purpose is to compel us to act in such a way that we reveal our own heroic potential."
(Karen Armstrong, Spiral Staircase pg 304.)
I hope this review has been helpful.
Overall, this is an excellent book for anybody with a spiritual turn of mind and I look forward to reading her next book
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