A biography of the Buddha that provides useful historical context for both his distress and his subsequent teachings. Armstrong situates the Buddha's ideas and practices in the preceding religious cultures, the shift from agricultural/pastoral society, and the Axial shift of world view occurring in some cultures of the region in that epoch. She brings alive the suffering and restlessness of the era, describing issues such as the rise of a merchant class and the changing faces of religious observance, caste boundaries, and types of poverty that are still very much evident in contemporary India elsewhere.Armstrong does a good job of describing the differing goals of biographers of different eras and pointing out aspects of the Buddha legend that, while not true by the contemporary Western standards for biography, either were true in the world of the Buddha's biographers or were true in the sense that they reflected established tropes for narratives of this type. Armstrong's cultural, linguistic, and philosophical explanations contribute to this book's utility and the reader's enjoyment. For context, read these in this order: [b:The Bhagavad-Gita: Krishna's Counsel in Time of War|91233|The Bhagavad-Gita Krishna's Counsel in Time of War |Anonymous|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1320482173s/91233.jpg|1492580] for a taste of pre-Axial, pre-Buddhist and more role-stratified, less-individual society; [b:Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity|11869272|Behind the Beautiful Forevers Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity|Katherine Boo|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1315601232s/11869272.jpg|16826575] for contemporary problems identical to those of Buddha's time; this book ([b:Buddha|27304|Buddha|Karen Armstrong|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1309204347s/27304.jpg|585602]) as commentary on the previous two and an introduction to the Buddha's teachings; and the 14th Dalai Lama's [b:How to See Yourself As You Really Are|104949|How to See Yourself As You Really Are|Dalai Lama XIV|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1171533250s/104949.jpg|415545], which is an excellent and accessible introduction to the empirical practices of Buddhist philosophy.