The author of this book set out on a search to find out what American Buddhism might be like. What we have in U.S. is Tibetan Buddhism, Japanese Zen Buddhism, Vietnamese Buddhism, etc. All Asian. If you stripped away all the cultural adornments, what would Buddhism look like in modern America? Is it even possible? Or is Buddhism so naturally Asian that when you strip it clean of Asian-ness, nothing is left? That was Dinty's question.
The Accidental Buddhist is the story of his search. He went to weekend retreats where he meditated all day (and sometimes got to ask the head Buddhist dude some questions), he set up personal interviews with some of the most famous Buddhists in America. He talked to John Daido Loori of the Zen Mountain Monastery, the Tibetan Monk Geshe Lobsang Tenzin Negi, Father Robert Jensen Kennedy (Zen teacher and Jesuit priest), Helen Tworkov, the editor of Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, Bhante Henepola Gunaratana (author of the excellent book, Mindfulness in Plain English), and he even got to ask the Dalai Lama a question. Dinty found many different kinds of Buddhism, many different levels of intensity of practice, but they all shared the core of Buddhist principles, which, by the way, I found beautifully explained in a book called The Heart of Buddhism by Guy Claxton (who is a British writer, and ironically, is the closest I've seen to what Dinty was looking for: American Buddhism).
Dinty tells you what he found, and in the process, you get a pretty good understanding of what Buddhism is about. Dinty is honest, charming and disarming. He's got a great sense of humor. The writing is good (easy to read, flows well, not academic-ese), and the author is very human and easy to identify with.
I'm the author of the book, Self-Help Stuff That Works, and the principles of Buddhism work. But what we need is exactly what Dinty was searching for: Those principles without the shaved heads, chanting in a foreign language, superstitious beliefs, etc. The Accidental Buddhist is a broad look at several different forms of Buddhism, and points the way, in an entertaining book, of how we might find our own American Buddhism.
The Accidental Buddhist is a great little romp through a delightful little religion. With an author named "Dinty Moore" (tragically, no stew connections are made in the book), I couldn't not buy it. And I was glad I did.
Moore uses his own experiences as a springboard for Buddhism as a whole-- rather than reading like a religious textbook, the book feels like a travelogue, with insights into different sects (although it focuses mostly on his own Zen experiences).
I've recommended this book to quite a few people who've asked me about Buddhism-- it's really a lighthearted way to break into a great subject, and it dabbles in the American Monestery experience, breaks into the Christianity/Buddhist overlap and brings up the Tibetans, all without preaching or going too deep into the slower, more philosophical aspects of Buddhism.
It's no textbook: if you're looking for something that'll sit you down and teach the ins and outs of all aspects and all sects of Buddhism, this book isn't it. But if you want a quick read for a lighthearted overview, then by all means, buy this book.