Book Review: A History of God

A History of God by Karen Armstrong, Gramercy Books, 2004

Pros:

Fair and balanced look into the history of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism.

Succinct summary of dense information

Well-written

Cons:

Lot of information

Can be dense and is a long read

Could be organized differently

This is a well written and fair book that covers the history of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. When I read the introduction, I was nervous about Armstrong’s bias since she had a heavy Catholic background. However, her handling of the different religions was surprisingly fair and well-researched. I have to so some research to see if people of those faiths agree, but me, as an atheist, found her to be non-judgment. If anything, she is hardest on Christianity while keen to highlight the beautiful elements of Judaism and Islam. She doesn’t shy from critiquing the other religions but is softer in her comments than when she talks about Christianity.

Overall, the book is not an easy read because of the density of the subject, but Armstrong is a strong writer who is a natural at taking a difficult topic and breaking it down so it’s easy to follow and understand. My only real critique is that it would have been slightly easier to digest if each chapter had been broken into sections with section headers. She organized her book chronologically so each chapter covers the developments for all three religions within a certain time frame. I understand the logic, but it makes the chapters thick and dense and can occasionally be confusing. But other than that, while a lot of information is covered, it is not a hard book to read. It is worth taking your time to read because there is so much information. Armstrong’s strongest chapters are the first five, where she takes her time to explore the origins of each religion. She also does a great job diving into the Sufi religion, which I found amazingly informational and fascinating. Would love to research into that religion more. However, once we reach the reformation, she isn’t as diligent in her research until we reach the later half of the 20th century.

While there is a lot of information, I would have liked to see more research into the Sunni-Shia split, the Crusades, as well as the Reformation. She definitely rushes through the Reformation and does a huge time jump from the Reformation to the 20th century. She also fails when writing about Islam during the 18th and 19th century. She claims that it’s hard to write about because little research has been done which seemed like a perfect opportunity for Armstrong to do the research. And the Crusades are barely mentioned at all, which seems odd since that is a defining (and horrific) moment for the Christian faith

Overall, a time-consuming read, but not a difficult read. Full of fascinating information about the world religions that are handled in a fair and compassionate manner.

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