The Story of Tibet
Conversations with the Dalai Lama
Thomas Laird

Grove Atlantic Press
Hardcover/455 pages
ISBN: 0-8021-1827-5
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"A fascinating story of Tibet . . . filled with myths, intrigue, and mystery . . ."

Armed with decades of research and interviews with the Dalai Lama and others, journalist Thomas Laird attempts to write a “popular history of Tibet—aimed at modern Westerners and Chinese—that is accurate, concise and easy to read.” That’s arguable—his hefty book bulges with historical facts from the birth of the Tibetan Empire to the numerous military invasion by the Mongols, Manchu, and finally by the Chinese in 1950. But Laird’s documentation supports the current Dalai Lama’s claim that Tibet was never ruled by China and that the Chinese terrorize the Tibetans into assimilation, thereby committing cultural genocide.

The Fourteenth Dalai Lama, exiled in India, early on sought complete independence from China. But nearly fifty years later, the Dalai Lama has shifted his goal, asking for “genuine autonomy” for the Tibetan people to practice and preserve their culture and history within the framework of the Chinese constitution.

“This is a tragic situation which was caused over many centuries,” he tells Laird. “So the worst things have happened and now to overcome that, it is very difficult. Our generation’s tasks seem almost impossible. Very difficult.”

The Dalai Lama claims there were lost opportunities. Tibetan advisors refused to modernize or support a defensive military and did not promote education. Corrupt monks were more interested in their own vices, power, and wealth. Laird was surprised at the Dalai Lama’s quickness to place blame at home.

This fascinating story of Tibet is filled with myths, intrigue, and mystery and laced with amusing and enlightening statements from the humorous Dalai Lama. On one occasion, the Dalai Lama produces a newspaper clipping from his pocket on an archeological dig. He says, Buddha “gave us the freedom” to accept science over religious texts. Therefore, he believes Tibetan civilization existed 6,000 to 10,000 years before Buddha.

He offers valuable insight into different Buddhism practices, his commitment toward non-violence and his analysis of history. Ancient history is complex, the Dalai Lama claims, because modern international law is based entirely on western concepts with a failure to understand the ancient tie between priest and patron.

“In the near term, the 2009 summer Olympics in China will be watched as an indicator where China is headed,” Laird writes, but he doesn’t sound hopeful about Tibet.

He admits he failed to write a two-sided story. The Chinese leadership refused to be interviewed for the book. Other world leaders and scholars were fearful about losing their access to China’s growing market if they spoke with Laird. And no government supports Tibet’s claim they were never part of China’s motherland.

Reviewer: Kate Padilla