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Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life

3.85  ·  Rating details ·  2,937 ratings  ·  423 reviews
One of the most original thinkers on the role of religion in the modern world—author of such acclaimed books as A History of God, Islam, and Buddha—now gives us an impassioned and practical book that can help us make the world a more compassionate place.

Karen Armstrong believes that while compassion is intrinsic in all human beings, each of us needs to work diligently to c
Audio CD, 222 pages
Published December 28th 2010 by Random House Audio
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Lisa McKenzie
Jan 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: my kid
Recommended to Lisa by: NPR
The only thing cynical about this book is its title.
In her closing pages, Armstrong writes, "The attempt to become a compassionate being is a lifelong project. It is not achieved in an hour or a day-or even in twelve steps. It is a struggle that will last until our dying hour. Nearly every day we will fail, but we cannot give up."
Why do I point out the obvious marketing ploy of the title? Because my name is Lisa, and I am a recovering snark-a-holic. I grew up in a household where debate was a b
Karen Armstrong is a fabulous researcher and she knows her world religions. She uses the major world religions and teachings to come up with 12 steps to becoming a more compassionate person. This is a lifelong process and you can't just read the book and be compassionate. This is a daily practice.

I am glad I read this book. The truths she reveals have the power to open your mind and they can be very helpful. The problem is that this was oh so dry. I mean it was crisp like the cracked desert floo
This is an inspiring look at ways to be more kind and compassionate in your life.

One of the things I especially appreciated about this book was how the author referenced the compassionate teachings in all of the major religions of the world, which gave it a universal feeling, a kind of global esprit de corps.

Each of the world religions has its own particular genius, its own special insight into the nature and requirements of compassion, and has something unique to teach us. By making room in you
David Glasgow
Karen Armstrong loves religious history, which is an invaluable trait for the author of a history textbook. Unfortunately what she's tried to write here is a self-help/devotional book, and the skill sets don't quite match up.

Good, true, and valuable pointers for compassionate living abound in this book. But to get to these gems I found myself slogging through example after example from diverse religious traditions and time periods that, while neither technically irrelevant nor wholly uninteresti
Jan 03, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
This is an important book. But it is a book which cannot simply be read to do any good. Caveat: I simply read it.

Before I go on, let me recommend that you get the book from a library and read it. If you decide that you want to actually work at being more compassionate, if you want to work at the twelve steps in your own life, then go ahead and purchase yourself a copy.

The book itself is a quick read; but it is meant to be read slowly. Each chapter (step) is supposed to be mastered before moving
Nov 25, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: spirituality
Karen Armstrong's latest work, "Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life," is a fascinating look at concepts of compassion across all of the world's major faiths -- and includes the concept that one need not be religious in order to have a compassionate viewpoint (something that many religious writers nowadays seem to ignore).

Armstrong starts with an overview of compassion as discussed in various religious writings from around the world and then shows twelve ways to incorporate the practice of compa
Erin Caldwell
Jul 25, 2011 rated it did not like it
This book is brutal. I gave up in the middle.

It is titled "Twelve Steps to..." so I naturally thought it would be a book that helps individuals develop compassion in their everyday lives. Wrong. I was on disc 3 when I quit and had only been through one step, and I can't even tell you what that step was. I think it was "Practice compassion." Oh, ok. Thanks!

This woman is difficult to listen to and wants to talk about the history of every religion in the densest terms possible. No, thank you.
Mar 29, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Karen Armstrong brings to bear her sensibilities as a religious historian in this book. Don't mistake it for a new-agey self-help treatment of the subject of compassion; she dissects the subject like a scientist more than a sage. No holding hands around the campfire and singing Kumbayah. She turns to neuroscience to explain how we are hardwired for compassion--just as we are hardwired with the capacity for aggression--and identifies the biological imperatives for both self-preservation and empat ...more
Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
I liked this book, but I'd hoped to love it. Perhaps I didn't spend enough time with it...of course, I didn't do the prescribed exercises...does anyone really do them all? Lovely ideas here, but I think I've lived in macho-posturing Texas too long to have any real hope that compassion will take hold of our people. I will press on with the exercises; one must try.
Erika RS
May 29, 2012 rated it liked it
This is yet another book that is good but disappointing because it did not live up to my expectations.

I am a big fan of Karen Armstrong. Although she is selective in what she chooses to focus on in her writing, she is still, in my opinion, one of the best religious historians when it comes to writing books that are readable, compassionate, intellectually challenging, and jam packed with information.

Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life is, quite intentionally, a very different type of book. It is
I liked this book a lot. In it religious historian Karen Armstrong suggests a series of simple and easily achieved mental exercises that can help one increase one's capacity for compassion. Armstrong offers justification for these exercises by way of copious examples from the history of religion. Some of the examples I was familiar with from her longer and more detailed The Great Transformation, about religious development during what is known as the Axial Age (900-200 BC), though the impetus he ...more
Mar 31, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Every major religious tradition in the world contains some version of the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have done unto you, or, more simply, treat other people as you want to be treated. We're all familiar with the saying, but how often do we see the Golden Rule in action?

When Karen Armstrong, whose expertise is in comparative religion, received a TED grant to develop an "idea worth spreading", her thoughts turned to this simple idea.

The title is a bit disarming. Those expecting a sac
Scott Lupo
Mar 07, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Well, I picked this book after hearing the author on a TED video speaking about the Golden Rule. Specifically, how to change the Golden Rule from the usual "Do unto others" to "Do not do to others what you wouldn't want done to you." There are many religious examples and overtones (all types of religions by the way) and her message is extremely thoughtful, inspiring, and relevant in today's global climate. I am not a religious person at all but I found her thoughts on compassion (or lack thereof ...more
Beth Lind
Dec 30, 2015 rated it really liked it
This book is so good and I learned a lot about the similarities of several religions. Basically - be kind. Treat others as you would want to be treated. Learning how is much harder than it seems. I like the idea of a compassion epidemic. We could all be a bit kinder. We could all stand to learn more about other people, other nationalities and other religions.
Sue Smith
Well, after taking my time to come back to set down afew thoughts about this book I'm finding it hard to put into words - thought provoking, meaningful, incisive, carefully and deliberately structured words. It's not that the book doesn't invoke them, it's just that I can probably sum it up in a couple of sentences and that just seems - well - unjust.

However, that being the case, it pretty much sums up the book. It's an awful lot of words that really didn't need to be in a book format when much
Judy Croome
Mar 28, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
A well-structured and systematic programme encouraging people of all faiths to practice conscious compassion in the same way we would learn any new skill. Armstrong’s belief that humanity has an innate capacity for goodness, which can override the baser instincts of the “crocodile brain” is reassuring. Her twelve steps provide a simple enough guide and, based on Socratic dialogue, ask questions that challenge the reader’s known perceptions.

Containing what seems like common sense to people who h
Feb 14, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: faith
As thorough and well presented as the rest of Karen Armstrong's work, this is in many ways the practical application of her conclusions following the years of in- depth investigation into the major faiths of the world. The central message is simple - the Golden Rule (love your neighbour as yourself) is the key to the good life but we need to take steps to apply it thoroughly in our lives. It was occasionally presented as rocket science when thinking people of faith are quite capable of reaching ...more
Feb 01, 2011 rated it liked it
Karen Armstrong is an intellectual theologian, with past experience as a Catholic nun. The Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life book heavily references Eastern philosophical and religious tradition, no doubt as one Eastern religious tradition's fundamentalist renegade group is in current conflict with some Western industrial superpower nations. Armstrong enumerates and describes each of the twelve steps toward a compassionate life imagining her audience is of primarily Western civilization and f ...more
Laura Lee
What a wonderful message! I learned a great deal about the true concept of compassion; Karen Armstrong spends time describing the central tenet of the Golden Rule and how it actually appears in all major religious traditions, rather than just telling us to to be nice to people. It seemed like a special emphasis was placed on Buddhism and Christianity, but that was fine by me; the Buddha and Jesus Christ were the two religious figures who spoke most explicitly about the Golden Rule as we know it. ...more
Mar 22, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: spiritual
I could point out the things I disagreed with in this book, but in the spirit of compassion as advocated by this book, I'd rather point out the things I liked. I liked the generosity of spirit in which Karen Armstrong writes. I liked learning about religious traditions other than my own. I liked Karen Armstrong overall argument that true religion is actually about increasing our ability to love and control the destructive parts of our makeup. So many unthinking people have a knee jerk reaction o ...more
Jan 20, 2011 rated it really liked it
Karen Armstrong advocates for expanding our sense of compassion for others in a short, succinct, heavily researched and documented 12-step program. Karen left religious orders and has focused on religion from a nondenominational viewpoint, culminating in the Charter for Compassion (
p.23: "But it is important to say that the twelve-step program does not depend on supernatural or credal convictions."
p.105: "As we practice the Immeasurables, we are bound to become awar
Teri Pool
May 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Many scary things are happening in the the world. At the same time, more and more people are calling for compassion from their employers, governments and religious leaders, but what does that mean? This book lays it out, with a course for action that any person from any religion can follow. Compassion isn't it easy, it calls for an opening of your soul and an acceptance of people not like you. Theologian and author of the Charter for Compassion pulls uses examples from Christianity, Buddhism, Is ...more
Jun 26, 2011 rated it did not like it
I tried to listen to this cd, but did not succeed, during a long road trip. I couldn't make it through the first cd. From almost the beginning the author was pompous in tone and presentation, such as how DARE anyone take into account both the good and the bad of individuals like Mother Theresa or Martin Luther King Jr? Then when she talked about the artist's intent for those who painted in the caves in Lascoux as though it were fact, I couldn't continue. Unless you have a time machine there is n ...more
Jan 07, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
My struggle with Christianity, and with structured religion of any kind, has been ongoing for my entire adult life. I discovered Karen Armstrong on my first day of college while exploring the campus bookstore for the first time, and I have been a fan ever since.

Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life (and the Contract she mentions), is a reminder that the reasons for religion were to teach humanity how to treat one another.

There is more to life than struggling through each day alone, and one way t
Jeff Brateman
Apr 14, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was able to plow my way through the religion to get to the meat of the Golden Rule. In understanding compassion, we first need to understand our thought patterns, and how they affect ourselves, others, and society at large. Also, the best lesson is that this is not a self-help book where you magically show compassion. Rather, it is one in which shows you the road you must walk, but warns against its length and difficulty. This was really helpful for me to learn and practice opening my eyes to ...more
Sep 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Would you like to expand you vision of what compassion can be? Are you willing to open yourself to learning more about world religions? This is an amazing books which truly explores how to become more compassionate in a world that can encourage exactly the opposite. She is honest about how religions themselves sometimes add to the problem
of lack of compassionate. I highly recommend this book.
Sarah Rosenberger
I thought the steps were right on the money, but this is the second book I've attempted by her and I've come to realize I just don't like Armstrong's writing. In my opinion, she has a singular talent for taking fascinating topics and making them incredibly dull. Hmm, it's probably not very compassionate of me to say that...
Feb 28, 2011 rated it it was ok
Why do I like some Karen Armstrong books a lot before I read them, but less after? This is one of those.... sorry, it's full of good stuff, but the style of delivery here is a wee bit preachy somehow, and a little too erudite for me-- hard to follow some of the Greek mythological and poetic allusions.
Destinee Sutton
Jun 01, 2011 rated it really liked it
I just love Karen Armstrong. The self-help genre is not really her style, and it shows, but this was full of great historical and religious detail that I enjoyed much more than the actually twelve steps stuff. I doubt the people who actually truly ought to read it will, but at least it's out there.
Nov 16, 2011 rated it liked it
I listened to this book on tape and felt that reading it would have been better. There was a lot of material, mainly religious history, to digest. It was very inspirational but very lofty in its premises. Some of the steps were practical and I felt I could really act on them, but others were a little far reaching unless one was willing to abandon day to day duties and activities.
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Karen Armstrong, a comparative religion specialist is the author of numerous books on religion, including The Case for God, A History of God, The Battle for God, Holy War, Islam, Buddha, and Fields of Blood, as well as a memoir, The Spiral Staircase.

Her work has been translated into 45 languages. In 2008 she was awarded the TED Prize and began working with TED on the Charter for Compassion,

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