I vacillated as I read this. I was often engrossed in Thoreau's twin urges—to simplicity, and to presence in each moment within nature. But I was repelled by his twin delusions—that the poorer a person is, the happier he must be, and that Thoreau himself was aware of the One True Way to live. He spends an awful lot of time disparaging the common actions & manners of virtually every human being other than himself. And over & over again he valorizes poverty, in a way that makes one doubt he's ever actually experienced it.
But after all, those are mostly just faults in the author's voice, and they're more than outweighed by the moments of clarity and presence that suffuse the book. I remembered a lot of the quotes, of course—"In wildness is the preservation of the world", "If you have built castles in the air...", "If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer", etc.—but to come across them again in context was to encounter them as new. There's a richness and texture to Thoreau's philosophy that's really quite gorgeous. I was glad to spend time there.
In some ways, less compelling than the first of the series. The mythology of the first one, I guess, was more interesting to me. I also liked the side characters from the first better—Iorek Byrnison, John Faa, Farder Coram—and the cultures they represented.
That said, this book was still a good one. The action & pacing were steady, and the suspense perhaps even increased. I'm ready for the next, to finish the series.
It's a good book, though pretty brief in parts. It makes an OK introduction, though, for precisely that reason.
A more significant complaint might be that it's not objective. There is a distinctive thread running through Armstrong's work, which is her belief that the "true" form of any religion is compassionate, humanist, based on some flavor of the Golden Rule. As such, she simply rejects most forms of fundamentalism, or any religious view that is particularly rigid, oppressive, or violent. That's certainly present here. It's not a neutral view of religion, though, and it's not one that everyone shares. On the other hand, the firmness of her conviction provides Armstrong with a good vantage point from which to elucidate what she calls the "symbiotic relationship" between fundamentalism and "coercive secularism." I found that insight quite thought provoking and valuable, and so I'm more than happy to work through her subjective viewpoint. Nor do I think there would be much value in her qualifying or disclaiming her non-objective sense of religion. All of which is to say, it works for me.
So I enjoyed the book—the third I've read from this author—and I'll probably take a look at A Short History of Myth as well. But I'll also be looking for a more in-depth introduction to Islam, because this one was a little on the compact side.