Books by Karen Armstrong

For years she was tagged the "runaway nun," the rebellious ex-Catholic with outspoken opinions about religion--comparing, for example, Pope John Paul II to a Muslim fundamentalist. Now, with her 12th book, "Islam, a Short History" (Modern Library), Kare


THE LOST ART OF SCRIPTURE by Karen Armstrong
NONFICTION
Released: Nov. 5, 2019

"Excellent reading for religious scholars and students."
The forgotten value and purpose of sacred scripture. Read full book review >
FIELDS OF BLOOD by Karen Armstrong
HISTORY
Released: Oct. 30, 2014

"An intriguing read, useful resource and definitive voice in defense of the divine in human culture."
Comparative religions expert Armstrong (Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life, 2010, etc.) provides a comprehensive and erudite study of the history of violence in relation to religion. Read full book review >
TWELVE STEPS TO A COMPASSIONATE LIFE by Karen Armstrong
NON-FICTION
Released: Jan. 7, 2011

"A commendable effort well-executed."
A call for compassion based on the teachings of the world's religions. Read full book review >
THE CASE FOR GOD by Karen Armstrong
NON-FICTION
Released: Sept. 25, 2009

"Accessible, intriguing study of how we see God."
Fascinating journey through Western civilization's ongoing attempts to understand and explain the concept of God. Read full book review >
THE BIBLE by Karen Armstrong
NON-FICTION
Released: Nov. 1, 2007

"Overshadowed by Armstrong's more ambitious A History of God (1993), but religion students will find this a worthwhile resource."
Detailed review of the creation and study of the Bible through the centuries. Read full book review >
HISTORY
Released: April 3, 2006

"The point being, as Armstrong writes, that tolerance is a sine qua non in a world in which so many people 'prefer being right to being compassionate.' A useful text for an intolerant and uncompassionate time."
Prolific religious-studies scholar Armstrong (The Spiral Staircase, 2004, etc.) offers a lively, big-picture treatise in comparative religions, finding similarities more than differences. Read full book review >
THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE by Karen Armstrong
BIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR
Released: March 8, 2004

"Well-written and relentlessly self-aware."
An introspective, decidedly un-cheery work that seeks to set the author's record straight. Read full book review >
BUDDHA by Karen Armstrong
NON-FICTION
Released: Feb. 19, 2001

"Those who wish to acquaint themselves with how Buddhism came to be, and with the individual who created it, will find this an essential text."
An excellent primer on the Buddha's life and teachings. Read full book review >
ISLAM by Karen Armstrong
HISTORY
Released: Aug. 25, 2000

"Less attention to politics and a closer look at the spiritual side of Islam would have made this brief history more palatable. Maps (not seen), a key to historic figures, a glossary of Arabic terms, and a bibliography will aid readers who persist."
Would-be students of Islam will throw up their hands in despair at this tangled account of 14 centuries of battling Muslims. Read full book review >
HISTORY
Released: May 19, 1996

A weighty but not evenly weighted study of monotheism's sacred geography and the inglorious history of Jerusalem's turf wars. Armstrong (a former Catholic nun and author of the bestselling A History of God, 1993) begins by desanctifying her setting as a Bronze Age high place of paganism called Rushalimum. Even King David's Yerushalayim (Jerusalem) is said to be a Jebusite holy city turned Jewish by biblical chroniclers named J, E, D, and P, who were highly subjective and ``cavalier'' with their sources. While Israelites are dismissed as Canaanite idol worshipers and even Trinitarians (whom Armstrong graces with belief in Christian typologies), early Christians are depicted as rising above Jerusalem's savage and exclusivist Temple ``cult.'' The author's critical tone recedes as she depicts how the apostle John ``saw Christ, mysteriously identified with God himself, seated on the heavenly throne'' in a New Jerusalem, a celestial city where Christ had taken the place of earthly Jerusalem. Centuries later, Christianity takes a revolutionary turn from the concept of a Heavenly Jerusalem after the Byzantine ``discovery'' of the tomb of Christ on Golgotha (whose historicity is unchallenged). Armstrong's tone nearly rises to reverential when the bloody Crusaders are displaced by Muslims, who are depicted as Jerusalem's most tolerant, nonviolent, and monotheistic rulers. We learn that inside the Dome of the Rock are Koranic ``verses denying the shocking notion that God sired a son,'' but we're never reminded how aggressively Islam rewrites and coopts Jewish and Christian scripture and history. While both Christians and Muslims used the Temple Mount as a garbage heap, Armstrong closes with concern that today's Jewish state, whose ``claim to the city was dubious,'' not continue its ``sterile and deadly struggle for sovereignty'' in the Holy City. A History of God is a hard act to follow, and this lucid but unbalanced sequel on God's hometown may not be popular with many of those readers most eager to make a literary pilgrimage to Jerusalem. (60 illustrations, 37 maps; color photos, not seen) Read full book review >
NON-FICTION
Released: Oct. 6, 1993

Superb kaleidoscopic history of religion, from an English nun- turned-scholar. Armstrong (Holy War, 1991, etc.) was a nun in the early 1960's but left her convent in 1969 as part of the great wave that defected from religious life at that time. Although her faith grew progressively weaker, her fascination with religion didn't abate, and, even as a nonbeliever, she continues to pursue theological studies. Here, her basic message is that ``religion is highly pragmatic. We shall see that it is far more important for a particular idea of God to work than for it to be logically or scientifically sound.'' In an extraordinary survey, Armstrong traces the development of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam from their inception to the present day, and shows how they were created and shaped by their historical surroundings—which, in turn, they helped form and alter. Although this approach is standard among religious scholars, Armstrong uses it to particular advantage in underscoring the historical correspondences among the three faiths- -for example, examining the messianic fervor that surrounded the career of the Sabbatai Zevi (the 12th-century rabbi who built up an enormous apocalyptic cult among diaspora Jews prior to his imprisonment and conversion to Islam) in light of the early Christian response to the crucifixion of Jesus or of Jeremiah's prophecies about the destruction of Jerusalem. It's particularly in the mystical traditions, according to Armstrong, that the different faiths corroborate each other—in large part, she says, because the mystical apprehension of the divine is more abstract and therefore less dependent upon the traditional symbols by which most religions distinguish themselves. There are major gaps in Armstrong's history—she pays little attention to the Christian churches of the 20th century—but she manages against the odds to provide an account that's thorough, intelligent, and highly readable. Magisterial and brilliant. Read full book review >
HISTORY
Released: April 1, 1991

Revisionist history with a central thesis that the Crusades were among the direct determinants of latter-day strife in the Middle East. A former nun who spent seven years in an English convent, Armstrong (Through the Narrow Gate, 1981; Beginning the World, 1983), relies solely on secondary sources and insights gained during a 1983 sojourn in Israel (as producer of a Tv series on early Christianity) to make her arguable case and collateral allegations. While she offers an interpretive account of the campaigns undertaken by European soldiers of the cross in the Holy Land from 1095 through 1291, she is at least as concerned with the present and recent past, according equal attention to the modern world in general and the embattled Middle East in particular. She also offers quirky perspectives on the global village's three major monotheistic religions: Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. With the deadly earnestness of a true believer, Armstrong (who is at pains to note she is no longer a believing or observant Christian) reaches any number of arresting conclusions. Characterizing the Crusades as ``a vicious Western initiative,'' she asserts, for instance, that there probably would have been no Jewish state in the Middle East if not for the perdurable anti-Semitism engendered in Europe by eastward marches during the Middle Ages. In like vein, she suggests that today's Israelis draw belligerent inspiration from the castles, churches, and cities left by Crusaders as reminders of a colonial movement that tried to establish itself in a hostile Muslim environment with powerful backing from the West. At the same time, she insists, contemporary Arabs (who despise Zionists ``as either new Crusades or as tools of Western imperialism'') continue to look for another Saladin's advent. In Armstrong's book, moreover, the Crusades (or their evangelical spirit) are a root cause of the Inquisition, the Nazi Holocaust, and a host of other recorded disasters-secular as well as militantly ecclesiastic. While the author may have lost her own vocation, she does not shrink from asking prospective pilgrims to take rather a lot on faith. The provocative, albeit tedious, text (previously published in the UK) has six helpful maps. Read full book review >