Review: Lopez’s Story of Buddhism

The Story of Buddhism: A Concise Guide to its History and Teachings
Donald Lopez

I thought I wanted a history of the central tenets of Buddhism, and that’s exactly what I got. It turns out though, that I think I wanted something a bit different.
This history of Buddhism is a serious (if at times academic) look at the development of the core principles of Buddhism across the first 1000 years or so of its development. From the conception of “enlightenment” and “karma” to the evolving role of the clergy and lay people, Lopez does an admirable job of attempting to explain these concepts to those (like me) relatively new to the idea.

Still, the book smacks of the problems many academics have when they try to write for a popular audience. Even when attempting to be approachable, Lopez assumes knowledge, or he assumes that by mentioning a complex abstract concept, or historical once, you’ll remember it when it’s used again 100 pages hence.
All of which is to say, this isn’t a bad book. It does what it says it will do, but I needed something a bit more popular, a bit more journalistic. I wanted to learn more about what we know of the Buddha himself and his immediate followers. There’s little of that. Much more time is spent on the important (but less interesting to me) nuances of the changes overtime in the doctrine enlightenment and other theological matters. I don’t regret reading it, its interesting stuff as far it goes, but I wish I’d chosen a different text, more focused on the real world history and less on the intellectual history for my introduction to the movement.

Recommended for the enthusiast.

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