This book is a very thorough description of many aspects of Hinduism. The book is written for a Western audience, so the author assumes no prior familiarity with Hinduism on the part of the reader. The book is organized into four sections: development and essence of Hinduism, the three Hindu paths to liberation, the structural supports of Hinduism, and the meeting of East and West in modern India. Each section contains a number of chapters addressing specific topics that fall within the general topic of the section. The end material, which comprises over 200 pages, contains a chronology, endnotes, a glossary, a bibliography, and the index.
The style of writing is extremely dense and detailed, yet the vocabulary and presentation are still quite accessible to non-Indian audiences. The extensive footnoting, use of primary and secondary source material, and lengthy quotations make this a remarkable work of scholarship. The text itself is more like an encyclopedia in nature; the chapters are independent articles in themselves, so there is little cohesion from one chapter to the next. Some of the chapters are quite interesting and illuminating- -others cover material that is of more marginal interest. I almost put the book down after struggling through chapter 1, which provides a rather detailed history of Western scholarship on Hinduism, and might have made a better appendix than an introduction. But fortunately, I kept slogging through the material, and learned quite a bit about the core Hindu beliefs from subsequent chapters. The book would make a good textbook for classes on comparative religion or South Asian cultures. It may also provide some answers for independent readers with a burning curiosity about Hinduism.
The second edition of the book is a much more substantial edition and it has corrected the errors of the first. The book is definitely the best general resource the reader will find on Hinduism. Unlike other texts that present an Orientalist view of Hinduism, Klostermaier lets the tradition speaks for itself. For a book of this size, dealing with a tradition as rich and complex as Hinduism, it is natural that the reader will not always agree with the author. But Professor Klostermaier tries to be as fair in his presentation as is possible.
The book should be a successful textbook to teach Hinduism at the college level.