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Interesting, but flawed
on 20 September 2007
Ms. Armstrong, who spent some time in a convent, started off by writing about Semitic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam). These religions are relatively close to each other theologically, and she did a good job. Then she started ranging wider, and turned to the East, writing about Buddhism. In the present book, she adapts a wider view and goes to the origins of the present major faiths, both Eastern and Western.
It would be a wonderful approach, except that it is marred by two fatal flaws: First, Ms. Armstrong is not really familiar with the Eastern traditions, having picked up most of her understanding from English language editions of secondary books. Eastern traditions can not be assimilated from an Encyclopedia or understood through an index. These have to be either lived or learnt at the feet of a master.
Second is her attempt to fit the chronological contours of these faiths to the hourglass of Western time perceptions, and her grand argument about an Axial Age. As a result, we are asked to believe that all the surviving great faiths started in a convenient 700-year period from 900 to 200 BCE. Not because it happened thus, but because it is essential for Ms. Armstrong's thesis.
If you are comfortable with the above, buy the book for its racy text and its grand view. However, take her overall argument with a pinch of salt. Ms. Armstrong is a better entertainer than she is a scholar.