In a tenderly crafted study that is equal parts love letter, traditional history and oral history, Laird chronicles the development of Tibet from its mythic origins to its takeover by Communist China in 1950. Weaving historical research with interviews with the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled leader, veteran journalist Laird (Into Tibet: The CIA’s First Atomic Spy and His Secret Expedition to Lhasa) offers insight into the triumphs and failures of the country. In one particularly fascinating section, the Dalai Lama expresses reservations about the truth of the Tibetan creation myths involving a demon and a monkey and accepts Darwin’s theory of evolution as the most logical explanation of the origins of humankind. Laird traces Tibet’s sometimes tortured relationships with China and India, recounting the country’s conflicts with the Mongols and the Manchu Empire, as well as its struggles for independence in the face of Chinese occupation. The Dalai Lama also recounts his early life; vividly recalls his first meeting, at age 19, with Mao Zedong; and reflects on his years in exile and his hopes for Tibet to be freed from occupation. Throughout, Laird’s colorful and lively writing brings to life thousands of years of Tibetan history, inviting the reader on his journey to a strange and wonderful land. 16 pages of color photos.

– Publisher’s Weekly

Journalist Thomas Laird employed a unique strategy in writing this popular history of Tibet, basing it on conversations he had with the Dalai Lama supplemented by primary research. The Dalai Lama doesn’t call himself a historian. Nonetheless, his training has given him an encyclopedic knowledge of Tibetan history, both fabulous and factual. The Story of Tibet covers the ground from the myths of the first Tibetans to the development of the Tibetan Empire in the eighth century to the rule of Mongols and the Manchu and finally to the Dalai Lama’s escape from the Communist Chinese in 1959. Laird, an American writer and photographer who has lived in Tibet for the last thirty years, lets the Dalai Lama do the talking. You get a strong sense of the Dalai Lama’s personality, culture, and beliefs. There are insights, too, into how the Dalai Lama’s Buddhist training has influenced his political-historical view, which makes a distinction between the “common” and “uncommon” views of history: “We must approach Tibetan history from a holistic viewpoint. The Western academics just pick one viewpoint—say, political—and then draw their conclusions from that viewpoint alone. That is a mistake.”

– Lion’s Roar

Thomas Laird, “a former Asiaweek correspondent has written about the CIA’s Cold War meddling in the region (Into Tibet, 2001).” With The Story of Tibet, he moves directly to the heart of geopolitical matters in a surprisingly intimate “history” of Tibet as revealed in conversation with its outcast leader, Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama. Composed over three years from more than 60 hours of interviews with His Holiness, the text makes it clear that neither Laird nor his esteemed collaborator is a historian. “This is not just a book about history,” the author declares at one point, “but about how you learned it.” Yet what emerges from their give-and-take is a thoughtful dialogue (call it a philosophical dialectic) about Tibet’s past not simply as a sequence of events, but as seen through the perspectives of myth, spirituality, morality, human frailty and fate. The intermixture of historical research with dialogue and the writer’s own descriptions of working on the project is at first distracting. But as the unique nature of Tibet’s identity as “an inward-looking religious state” emerges, it becomes painfully clear how the nation came to be overrun by the People’s Republic of China in the 1950s, eventually forcing the Dalai Lama to flee and set up a government-in-exile in northern India. The book fares best when, as in its later chapters, it stays close to the present and to Tenzin Gyatso. His Holiness remains committed to dialogue and nonviolence in resolving Tibet’s longstanding disagreements with China, and his humor and humility in the face of adversity are remarkable for a figure representing a nation and people so clearly wronged.

-Kirkus Reviews

Compiled from more than sixty hours of interviews over a period of three years, this book presents a much wider range of material than we are accustomed to hearing discussed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Journalist Thomas Laird includes valuable background information throughout, lending valuable support to their conversations; but it is the Dalai Lama’s mastery of a wealth of historical information that makes this captivating reading. He candidly discusses topics such as the early history of Buddhism in Tibet, the first incarnate lama, his memories of Chairman Mao, and his favorite image of the Buddha.