cover image His Holiness the Dalai Lama: The Oral Biography

His Holiness the Dalai Lama: The Oral Biography

Deborah Hart Strober, Gerald S. Strober. John Wiley & Sons, $26.95 (282pp) ISBN 978-0-471-68001-7

The Strobers, who have written oral biographies of John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, use the same techniques here for an oral biography of Tibet's famous spiritual leader. They begin by offering brief profiles of the 54 interviewees, ranging from Western Buddhist VIPs like Robert Thurman, Jeffrey Hopkins and Lama Surya Das (an American convert from Judaism) to Tibetan lamas and monks, including Venerable Lama Thubten Zoba Rinpoche and Lama Lobsang Thamcho Nyima. (Refreshingly, this volume doesn't pander to Hollywood celebrities; Richard Gere is the only famous entertainer interviewed, and he has some genuinely insightful things to say.) The authors arrange the interviewees' snippets thematically, beginning with the lama's basic appeal and personal character before moving through his life chronologically, starting with his recognition as the Dalai Lama at the age of three. (About this, Thurman makes the helpful analogy that it's not only that the lamas are expected to be child prodigies and ""little Mozarts,"" but also that they're believed to have ""already written a million symphonies in ten previous lives."") The interviews then cover Chinese occupation and the exile to India, and the Dalai Lama's gradual rise to international fame. Some of the stories are humorous and light, while others are profoundly moving and personal. One of the great strengths of this book is that the interviewees are allowed to discuss the Tibetan political situation at some length, and to speculate on Tibet's evolving relationship with the Chinese government.