This book, 'Buddhism: A Way of Life and Thought', was recommended for me during the final hours of the Bamiyan Buddha statues in March 2001. Published in 1980 and later dedicated to Richard Dudley Baker, this book is "...a primer for those who know nothing about Buddhism. Yet those who are already students and practitioners..." - Beginning with the historic Buddha's life story and basic teachings, Ross leads into an introduction to general teachings and practice before the major three specific approaches to Buddhism. Mainly Theravada, Tibetan, & Zen are covered. An over emphasis, and well warrented one, is laid on paragraphs from other fine read Buddhist titles which keeps the book alive. Perspectives from the likes of Dr. H. Saddhatissa, Lama Anagarika Govinda, and Shunryu Suzuki keep a modern touch while reading about legends such as King Mongkut, Emperor Ashoka, Wu-ti, and Shotoku Taishi. Much of this book speaks of the historic and cultural impact of Buddhism but still stays fairly informative to the basic teachings & practices of the traditions. - Ross, an open-minded Christian, includes many photographs, paintings, a glossary, and quite some vocabulary!
Nancy Ross' book is highly recommended to anyone wishing a concise, clearly written introduction to Buddhism. It is focused on the history and development of the many forms of Buddhist practice and not as much on the different teachings put forth by one or another (although these are also discussed). If you ever wondered how Buddhism could be a ritualized religion, a humanistic philosophy, a deterministic psychology, and a social activist movement ... all without contradiction and sometimes simultaneously ... then sit and read this book.