Despite its unfortunate title, this is one of the most readable and informative books I've read about Tibetan Tantra. It's not a "first book" -- not one of those books that makes converts, like Walpola Rahula's "What the Buddha Taught," or the Dalai Lama's "Art of Living," or Suzuki Roshi's "Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind." Those books distill the Buddhism into a single powerful, moving message, leaving behind everything distracting or extraneous -- they're basically the Four Noble Truths, told again, told new. If you want a simple introduction to Buddhism, read one of those, not this.
This is a completely different kind of book. It's full of details and byways. What's the difference between Nyingma, Gelugpa, Kagyu, and Sakya? What are the four different Ngondro practices? What's a Yidam? What's Tummo? What are all those Kayas, and how do they signify? How is Mahamudra different from Dzogchen?
If you're not already a Tibetan Buddhist, you probably don't want to know these things. If you just became one, don't mess with all that stuff yet: find a good teacher, listen to what he or she says, ask a lot of questions, and meditate a lot.
This is, however, a great book for a year or two down the road, when you've settled down to some practice and are starting to get irritated by all the terminology you still don't know, and all the references to persons, places, practices, and things that everyone seems to think you'd just magically already know about. This book is sort of like that trusted friend you sidle up to after puja to ask, "so just what *is* a Bhumi, anyway?"
Not that The Secret of the Vajra World doesn't have its inspiring moments. The story of the 16th Karmapa's death in a Western hospital is very moving, as are the stories of various Westerners on retreat. Ray's own commitment and inspiration come through very clearly. But the book's main virtues are accuracy and detail. There's simply a lot of information here, easy to find, easy to digest, about what people who practice Tibetan Buddhism actually do, how they do it, and why they do it.
Secret Of The Vajra World: The Tantric Buddhism Of Tibet by Reginald A. Ray (Professor of Buddhist Studies, Naropa University, Boulder, Colorado) is the second and final volume of "The World of Tantric Buddhism" series from Shambhala Publications. A straightforward presentation written in plain accessible terms for readers at all Buddhist studies and experience levels, Secret Of The Vajra World deftly explores the foundations of Vajrayana, the essence of Tantric Buddhist philosophies, and applications of Buddhist principles and insights to one's own personal life, bodhisattvas in the world, and a great deal more. Secret Of The Vajra Worlds is a very welcome, superbly presented, truly comprehensive introduction focusing upon a unique and profoundly important aspect of Buddhist spiritual practice.