Zen Radicals, Rebels, and Reformers: A Book Review

I request books for review from time-to-time. Then, every once in a while, some publisher will request that I do a review for them.
This was a real gem of a request. I really enjoyed this book.
The book is Zen Radicals, Rebels, and Reformers (as the picture indicates) by by Perle Besserman and Manfred Steger.
This seems to be a reprint of Crazy Clouds: Zen Radicals, Rebels, and Reformers published by Shamabala back in 1991.
Crazy Cloud was a name used by Japanese Master Ikkyu, who is featured in the book.
This version is being published by Wisdom. I can't tell you how much is new and how much is reprinted as I've never seen the original version. It is available used on Amazon for as little as four bucks if you are interested.
The book is laid out chronologically from 14th century Layman P'ang Yun, to Rinzai Zenji, Bassui, Ikkyu, Bankei, Hakuin, & it ends with 20th century masters Nyogen Senzaki and Nakagawa Soen Roshi.
I was disappointed that Rinzai was there but Dogen was left out. I guess the authors figured there is enough out there on Dogen Zenji, but it seems odd to include the founder of one of the major Japanese Zen sects, but not the other. Although you could make the argument that Rinzai, who was Chinese, didn't found anything and the sect is merely named for him.
I'm someone new to the study of historical Zen and this book is a great primer on some figures of Zen History. I can't say that these guys represent Zen well or not but the stories in the book seems to indicate that they were, in many ways, typical Zen practitioners, or they would be if they lived here, in the West, and now, in the 21st Century. At their times and places they were as the book's title tells us…Radicals, Rebels, and/or Reformers.
What I like most about the book is how these guys are all Zen Masters (lay or ordained) and yet they have vastly different views. Sometimes you could even say they are diametrically opposed. Zen, and many other forms of Buddhist Practice, is an intensely personal path in which every Practitioner must find the truth for himself and the differing views of the teachers in the book demonstrate that well.
I did find a few things wanting in the book.
There wasn't a theme, really. Nearly every Zen Practitioner from the first until today could in one way or another fit into one if not all of these categories. If anything the theme was Rinzai rocks and Soto sucks. I kid, but the fact remains that the authors did choose to write about more Rinzai aspected teachers as opposed to Soto practitioners.
A caveat for you: I am not a Zen scholar. These are just my views and shouldn't be taken as truth. If you take anyone's views as truth, you probably don't walk the Zen Path.
Who should read this book: New Zen practitioners with an interest in History or anyone with an interest in Buddhist History. If you have practiced for a while, you probably fall into this category, but there are whole works about most of these guys floating around. This book is good to give you an idea of whether or not it's worth reading those (sometimes MUCH) longer works.
Who shouldn't read this book: Non-Zenfolk might find it boring since it's all about the Zen.
In Gasso.

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