The Great Transformation is a history of the Axial Age, the period in the approximate first millenium B.C.E. when nearly all of our present day religions and philosophies were born. The Axial Age was a time when religion and philosophy evolved from the mere worship of something out of fear it could hurt you to a true ethical, compassionate belief. Karen Armstrong is a brilliant writer and thinker, and this is her finest work.
In a series of well organized and clearly developed chapters Armstrong traces the development of Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Greek philosophy, Confucianism, Daoism, Hinduism, and Buddhism. Armstrong provides context for the developments of these thought systems by succinctly describing the troubles of the time: invasions, epidemics, and the ebb and flow of cultural diffusion and change. She then relates these problems to the developing thought systems and shows how their influence penetrated the minds of the seers, prophets, and philosophers who were at work throughout the turmoil. Most interestingly, she interconnects the ideas with each other, showing how similar circumstances and contacts created philosophies and religions which shared the same concerns and often advocated many of the same solutions.
The Great Transformation should be on the shelves of all who seek to better understand the origins of so much of our human cultural heritage.
Karen Armstrong's thesis depends on all these ideologies/religions arising within one 700-yr period, as well as their all being compassionate, loving ideologies that arose in response to violence. I'd like to point out that Judaism began much earlier; according to the Torah, some seven hundred years earlier. It was not in response to violence as far as I can tell. Christianity and Islam arose much later, and certainly not from Judaism but from the multitude of savior-mystery religions present in the region at that time. Hinduism is an artifact of modern times. Its Vedic parent was probably developed a good seven hundred years earlier than her Axial Age. And Greek rationalism certainly did not lead to love and tolerance--at least not toward women, children, slaves, Jews, foreigners, or anyone they conquered. The Greeks from this period were responsible for the invention of full-fledged anti-Semitism in the form we "celebrate" it today. They were loving and tolerant only among Greek men.
I think that if there is any cure for fundamentalism it is to continue the incredible process of evolution of all of these religions as they come closer and closer to the knowledge of God IN SPITE OF fundamentalists, rather than trying to turn back the clock.