This is a book about a branch of the Buddhist tree, the Mahayana Buddhism.
It covers not only the branch and leaves of the tree, but also takes a look at the root, and the stem holding the branch up.It is an scholarly book made by an scholar. And it shows.
The reference pages alone is 30 pages long.
Do note though, this is not an introduction for the beginner.
Each side in the book is crammed to the max with facts, names, dates, terms, and sad to say, his own views.
The author, Paul Williams, is a Professor of Indian and Tibetan Philosophy and Co-director of the Centre for Buddhist Studies at the University of Bristol.
That means he's a scholar, used to reading scholarly texts, which is why I again and again, ask myself, why?!?
Don't get me wrong, its a very good book.
His writing is good, clear and the issues are discussed in an interesting way which gets me, as a reader, interested in reading more. He presents the history, central texts and teachings, and disputes of the Mahayana with more or less well-focused discipline.
He presents a core text and then adds the rest as notes to the text, which gives 120 (!) pages of notes.
And that in a book of 440 pages. I don't see that as an problem, it is actually helpful sometimes when you read. It gets you some kind of flow in the storyline. Alas if you are not used to reading books like these I can see a problem...
The problem I have with this book, is that, now and then, he puts in his own thoughts and views in the mix and muddling it up. If this had been any fluffy pinkcloudbook about Buddhism, I can see some people doing like that. But this is an scholarly book on Buddhism done by a Buddhist scholar in an scholarcontext.
You don't do that.
Despite some minor setbacks this is by far the best allcovering introduction on Mahayana Buddhism in english out there. It is not something you begin with but as you feel the need to get your feet wet, this is your perfect companion on the trip.
Thank you for your practice.