The Spiral Staircase
The Spiral Staircase
My Climb out of Darkness
Knopf, Hardcover, 9780375413186, 336pp.
Publication Date: March 2, 2004
Karen Armstrong begins this spellbinding story of her spiritual journey with her departure in 1969 from the Roman Catholic convent she had entered seven years before—hoping, but ultimately failing, to find God. She knew almost nothing of the changed world to which she was returning, and she was tormented by panic attacks and inexplicable seizures.
Armstrong’s struggle against despair was further fueled by a string of discouragements—failed spirituality, doctorate, and jobs; fruitless dealings with psychiatrists. Finally, in 1976, she was diagnosed with epilepsy, given proper treatment, and released from her “private hell.” She then began the writing career that would become her true calling, and as she focused on the sacred texts of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, her own inner story began to emerge. Without realizing it, she had embarked on a spiritual quest, and through it she would eventually experience moments of transcendence—the profound fulfillment that she had not found in long hours of prayer as a young nun.
Powerfully engaging, often heartbreaking, but lit with bursts of humor, The Spiral Staircase is an extraordinary history of self.
Karen Armstrong is the author of numerous other books on religious affairs, including A History of God, The Battle for God, Through the Narrow Gate, Holy War, Islam, and Buddha. Her work has been translated into forty languages. She is also the author of three television documentaries and took part in Bill Moyers’s television series Genesis. Since September 11, 2001, she has been a frequent contributor to conferences, panels, newspapers, periodicals, and throughout the media on both sides of the Atlantic on the subject of Islam. She lives in London.
Praise for Karen Armstrong
“Karen Armstrong is a genius.” --A. N. Wilson, author of Paul: The Mind of the Apostle
“Armstrong can simplify complex ideas, but she is never simplistic.” --The New York Times Book Review
“The Spiral Staircase at once combines memoir, theology, philosophy. It’s a story about becoming human, being recognized, finally recognizing oneself. And it’s written with self-respect but not egomania, compassion that never turns into self-pity. More than anything, it fills the reader with hope.”
–Carolyn See, Washington Post Book World
“A minor masterpiece of dry, acerbic autobiography.”
–Joseph Hooper, Elle
“Enjoyable and deeply interesting . . . Here we find no name-dropping, no writers’ conferences, and barely a mention of the publishing business; the book is, rather, the story of the making of a writer . . . It manages to dramatize the writer’s process of intellectual development and to find in it genuine interest, and, indeed, suspense . . . As an account of the intellectual journey of an intelligent and unique individual, the book is often gripping, sometimes moving, and ultimately very rewarding.”
–Troy Jollimore, San Francisco Chronicle
“Weirdly riveting, thanks largely to Armstrong’s candor and her unstuffy, disarming prose . . . It’s a pleasure to read simply because it’s honest and hopeful.”
–Stephanie Zacharek, Newsday
"Charming and eloquent, intimate and illuminating, The Spiral Staircase tells the remarkable tale of the spiritual odyssey of an exceptionally gifted thinker and teacher. Readers who turn to Karen Armstrong for her insights on God and the great religions will thrill at the opportunity to witness her own intimate struggle toward truth, health, and wholeness."
--Jonathan Kirsch, author of God Against the Gods
“All rising is by a winding stair. In her most personal work to date, Armstrong takes us behind
the scenes in the life of a freelance monotheist. Like Jacob, she climbs toward Transcendence.”
--Michael Wolfe, author of The Hadj: An American's Pilgrimage to Mecca
"The world of religious autobiography is now singularly enriched by the remarkable story of
the remarkable Karen Armstrong as told by her good self. We who have taken great profit
from her insight into the life and faith of others now see here in this book her insights on
her self. She really is light in darkness."
--Peter J. Gomes, author of Strength for the Journey: Biblical Wisdom for Daily Living
"Karen Armstrong, chronicler of the human search for God, writes here with exquisite
authenticity of one person relentlessly searching for the necessary self. A deeply
moving account of a serious and large-hearted life. The book rings like the stroke of a
bell--that clear, true tone. And it summons every reader to do the same."
--James Carroll, author of Constantine's Sword
"Opening this book is like sitting down for coffee on a first date with someone who is interesting and odd. Your conversation becomes unexpectedly intimate: painful tales of bafflement and illness, gleaming crystals of self-discovery and joy. By the time you get up from the table, you have fallen in love."
--Rabbi Arthur Waskow, author of Godwrestling -Round 2: Ancient Wisdom, Future Paths
"An engaging story of her own spiritual journey by contemporary religion's foremost public intellectual. Armstrong's narrative is candid, witty, insightful, and moving. A book that teaches as it entertains."
--Marcus J. Borg, author of The Heart of Christianity
"I loved this powerful and moving account, and read it nonstop."
--Elaine Pagels, author of Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas