Excellent historical view of Buddhism in the world.
Pankaj Mishra is an excellent writer and in his "An End to Suffering: The Buddha in the World" he uses this ability to great effect. He tells the story of Buddhism between accounts of his travels in India, England, Pakistan, Afghanistan and the United States, weaving a coherent tale that does not spare the negatives, but also presents the positive aspects of Buddhist history. Like other belief systems, Buddhism has been misused, misinterpreted and misapplied, sometimes in the service of quite evil goals, as in Japan's militarism in the 20th Century and in Cambodia's destruction of the city-dwellers during the Pol Pot regime. That said Buddhism at its best is a very civilized religion (or philosophy, if you prefer.) It has no gods, no real holy prophets (Buddha says that he is no greater than any of his followers and asserts that he is only "awake", not holy,) and its texts are considered teachings, not revelations.
In its essence, Buddhism has a number of similarities to early Greek philosophy, but also was more egalitarian, including all sentient beings. The Buddha himself says that women, slaves, and untouchables are all capable of enlightenment, although like any other mortal he sometimes did not practice what he preached, especially in regard to women. Still he was among the first (if not the first at around 500 BCE) to recognize that women could be as good as men in the spiritual realm.
Mishra has told this story with good humor, local color and skill. This is no dry history of Buddhist theology, but a living and charming exposition of both reality (as much as we know it) and myth behind the modern rise in Buddhism. Indeed, Buddhism's attraction lies both in its positive goal of compassion and the ending of human suffering and in its lack of the literalism that dogs other worldwide religions in their too often expressed extreme forms. It is certainly refreshing not to hear absolutist rantings for a change (unfortunately the worst of the three revealed religions seems often to the forefront these days, between bombings, attempts to control national politics and laws and indeed, nihilist longings for the End Times!)
Mishra is a native of the part of the world where the Buddha lived and it is also refreshing to read an account of the history of Buddhism from someone who has experience with the land out of which it arose, someone who knows it intimately.
If you would get the essence of Buddhism, its history, geography, concepts, and failures and successes, this is definitely the book to read!