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The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions | [Karen Armstrong]

The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions

From one of the world's leading writers on religion and the highly acclaimed author of the best-selling A History of God, The Battle for God, and The Spiral Staircase, comes a major new work: a chronicle of one of the most important intellectual revolutions in world history and its relevance to our own time.
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Publisher's Summary

From one of the world's leading writers on religion and the highly acclaimed author of the best-selling A History of God, The Battle for God, and The Spiral Staircase, comes a major new work: a chronicle of one of the most important intellectual revolutions in world history and its relevance to our own time.

In one astonishing, short period, the ninth century BCE, the peoples of four distinct regions of the civilized world created the religious and philosophical traditions that have continued to nourish humanity into the present day: Confucianism and Daoism in China; Hinduism and Buddhism in India; monotheism in Israel; and philosophical rationalism in Greece. Historians call this the Axial Age because of its central importance to humanity's spiritual development. Now, Karen Armstrong traces the rise and development of this transformative moment in history, examining the brilliant contributions to these traditions made by such figures as the Buddha, Socrates, Confucius, and Ezekiel.

Armstrong makes clear that despite some differences of emphasis, there was remarkable consensus among these religions and philosophies: each insisted on the primacy of compassion over hatred and violence. She illuminates what this "family" resemblance reveals about the religious impulse and quest of humankind. And she goes beyond spiritual archaeology, delving into the ways in which these Axial Age beliefs can present an instructive and thought-provoking challenge to the ways we think about and practice religion today.

The Great Transformation is a revelation of humankind's early shared imperatives, yearnings, and inspired solutions, as salutary as it is fascinating.

©2006 Karen Armstrong; (P)2006 Books on Tape

What the Critics Say

"Dazzling prose with remarkable depth and judicious breadth." (Publishers Weekly)
"This could very possibly be one of the greatest intellectual histories ever written." (Library Journal)
"A lucid, highly readable account of complex developments occurring over many centuries....A splendid book." (The New York Times)
"Armstrong at her best - translating and distilling complex history into lucid prose that will delight scholars and armchair historians alike." (The Washington Post Book World)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

4.0 (180 )
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4.1 (61 )
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  •  
    Laura Lake Grove, NY, United States 09-20-06
    Laura Lake Grove, NY, United States 09-20-06 Member Since 2002
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Fills in the blanks"

    I think this book is a very well researched and non judgmental view of the beginnings of the major religions. It fills in a lot of the blanks and explains the inconsistencies in many of the sacred writings. I listened to this one before "Short History of Islam" and enjoyed her narration much more - she should narrate all of her own books. Definitely worth the listen!

    28 of 28 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Colin ReadingUnited Kingdom 06-08-07
    Colin ReadingUnited Kingdom 06-08-07
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    "An excellent piece of work"

    A great, concise history of our religious traditions covering China, India, Israel and Greece. I found the balance of presentation of fact and analysis perfect, there is no forced agenda here, and there is more than enough room for your own thought and conclusions. There is no doubt much more to be read concerning this topic, and the reader is left with enough knowledge to pursue any further investigations they may want to.
    The book is an epic listen, and if your purposes are informational then it’s a great bet. If you are more inclined to study the material I would suggest the printed version, (as I will be purchasing) mainly for notes and also for what must be a massive bibliography.
    The work is read by the author and she does a fantastic job, even paced and well spoken.
    I'll be spending more time with this book.

    13 of 13 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Leslie Canmore, Alberta, Canada 07-12-07
    Leslie Canmore, Alberta, Canada 07-12-07 Member Since 2002
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    "Balanced and informative"

    I agree completely with Colin. This is a superb book, as are all of Karen Armstrong's works. But it is dense and requires complete concentration, preferably with a world map and a dictionary beside you. I bought the printed version after listening to this, and it's probably a better form to use.

    7 of 9 people found this review helpful
  •  
    John Denver, Colorado, United States 07-24-13
    John Denver, Colorado, United States 07-24-13 Member Since 2010
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    "Good starting point, but take with a grain of salt"

    I enjoyed how the author brought together many world religions and compared them, but I feel as if she failed to sufficiently compare them and prove they were essentially the same thing (as was her thesis). Had the author simply recalled history and left it at that, I would have enjoyed it more. Also I would have liked it if the author had discussed each religion individually instead of breaking up all the different religions along chronological order. I didn't want to use this as a resource, but had I wanted to talk specifically about ancient Greek Religion I would be forced to search several dozen different sections of this book for information, as opposed to just one.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Timothy Evans, GA, United States 12-11-10
    Timothy Evans, GA, United States 12-11-10 Member Since 2010
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    "I'm sadly disappointed"

    This book starts right off the bat with the author voicing her perspective that a belief in the spiritual is the answer to the world's problems. I'm extremely disappointed and wish I'd have spent my credit on another book. I was expecting an objective, historical, perspective on the worlds religions and how they have shaped, damaged and influenced the history of our species. I wasn't interested in getting a spirtual review of how religions can save the world.

    5 of 9 people found this review helpful
  •  
    EQReader Alturas, CA United States 11-13-11
    EQReader Alturas, CA United States 11-13-11 Member Since 2009
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    "Rich with detail broad in scope--a gift"

    Ok, so there are parts I am going to have to go back and listen to again. There's a lot of detail here about this era across the world. Karen tracks the big religious ideas across four cultures: Judea, India, Greece, and China and she doesn't skimp when providing the context. I have found it an immensely satisfying relatively "short" history of man's relationship to the idea of God and Ultimate Reality at the (again, relative) beginnings of the big cultures that shaped the last coupla thousand years.Easy enough here to see how those ideas have changed in accordance with and often to accommodate--but also to shape--the social and political landscape. Karen narrates her own book easily and with a great pace. I thought I would get tired of her British accent (I often do with Brit narrators) but found her nicely bass voice even and pleasant.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Randall Cherrylog, GA, United States 09-14-07
    Randall Cherrylog, GA, United States 09-14-07
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    "Yes! (for the abridged)"

    Karen has some good facts mixed with some interesting conclusions taken from them. However, from my own knowledge and other readings about these religions, I think she has reached some unsubstantiated conclusions as well.....much of which were drawn from suppositions that are rampant throughout the book. There are just too many things presented as fact that could not be known from such a time. Feelings and thoughts for example. I think it is an excellent listen for historical generalities, but as a member of the 'Jesus Seminar' that is biased towards many religions, just be careful and do not let her opinions and suppositions shape your belief.... as she has been historically prone to do. Remember that she is an English major and not in comparative religions, history, nor is she particularly skilled in the ancient languages. Yet it is certainly worth listening to, albeit the unabridged length tends to bog down a little, and Karen does a very good job as her own reader.

    5 of 10 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Kyle NYC 10-04-07
    Kyle NYC 10-04-07 Listener Since 2007
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    "yawn!"

    Although I Armstrong, this was 20 hours of snooze. It's dense, confusing and incoherent. Perhaps its the subject matter in this one but I was not impressed. If you absolutely MUST read this - buy the abridged print version, get a world atlas and take notes - maybe that would be a better bet!

    3 of 10 people found this review helpful
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