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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

Critic Reviews

"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 Ratings

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  • Overall
  • Laura
  • Lake Grove, NY, United States
  • 09-20-06

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!

30 of 30 people found this review helpful

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  • Colin
  • ReadingUnited Kingdom
  • 06-08-07

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.

16 of 16 people found this review helpful

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  • John
  • Denver, Colorado, United States
  • 07-24-13

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.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Leslie
  • Canmore, Alberta, Canada
  • 07-12-07

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.

8 of 10 people found this review helpful

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  • Douglas
  • Atlanta, GA, United States
  • 03-25-16

Very informative. Worth Reading.

Armstrong is as impressive a source on religion as there is in the world. She's also a tremendous writer who can make dry subjects interesting. I definitely learned a lot here. The histories of the major religions are told in great detail. Anyone interested in religion and world history should read this book.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

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.

9 of 15 people found this review helpful

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Great book

Very informative. It was pretty long but it enjoyed it very much. I would recommend this to anyone who wants to see how all the faiths of the world came to be and evolved over time.

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The most comprehensive religious book available

The narrator was wonderful. There is an enormous amount of information presented. My only quip is the background on Taoism did not come across clear on first listen. However, this is a book that surely requires multiple listens and concentration. Overall, I recommend it for anyone that desires to get to the root of modern religions.

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Spiritually enlightening!!!

Karen Armstrong has written this comprehensive yet beautiful book following a wave of spirituality than over came human kind... The term axial age covers the revelation of divine knowledge throughout the world history ... Covering all of the world's major faiths, from the original bloom of the lotus to the gardens of paradise, Armstrong unveils and weaves divine threads of knowledge from all over the world to create a gift to all from above...

💜🙏🏻💜🙇‍♀️

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AMAZING WORK

Excellent topic, extremely scholarly, incredibly wholistic, outstandingly respectful. This book has completely cemented my Karen Armstrong fandom. I highly recommend this book to ANYONE.