Tao Te Ching

Traditionally attributed to Lao Tzu, an older contemporary of Confucius (551 – 479 BC), it is now thought that the work was compiled in about the fourth century BC. An anthology of wise sayings, it offers a model by which the individual can live rather than explaining the human place in the universe. The moral code it encourages is based on modesty and self-restraint, and the rewards reaped for such a life are harmony and flow of life.

For more than seventy years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,700 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators.


  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Reprint edition (May 30, 1964)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 014044131X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140441314
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.5 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars See all reviews (1,026 customer reviews)
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4 thoughts on “Tao Te Ching”

  1. Tao Te Ching is ancient, now a couple of millenia in print. Stephen Mitchell has not translated this classic, but rather has paraphrased it — as he admits in the Foreward. But he is a Zen student of a couple of decades and has good insight into the Zen of the Tao (Zen Buddhism is Buddhism heavily dosed with Taoism).

    Mitchell’s version of the Tao Te Ching is very, even extremely, modern. Perhaps to the point of being “politically correct.” However, he does have a way with words and this is a very readable version of the Tao. To show how modern it is, let’s take an example and compare his version of the beginning of chapter 46 with two other versions:

    – Mitchell
    “When a country is in harmony with the Tao,
    the factories make trucks and tractors.
    When a country goes counter to the Tao,
    warheads are stockpiled outside the cities.”

    – Victor Mair
    “When the Way prevails under heaven,
    swift horses are relegated to fertilizing fields.
    When the Way does not prevail under heaven,
    war-horses breed in the suburbs.”

    – Addiss & Lombardo
    “With TAO under heaven
    Stray horses fertilze the fields.
    Without TAO under heaven,
    Warhorses are bred at the frontier.”

    Obviously, there were no factories, trucks, tractors, or warheads in ancient China. So, Mitchell is providing a modern interpretation of the Tao Te Ching, while Mair as well as Addiss & Lombardo are closer to a literal translation (which is not possible however, because the Chinese language and the English language are so completely different from one another.)

    None of this is to find fault with Stephen Mitchell. This is just to say that his book cannot be definitive, because it is less literal and not really a translation.Read more ›

  2. When my wife Sandy was diagnosed with terminal cancer, this is the ONE book she kept nearby at home and in the hospital. She found great comfort in it words and wisdom.
    When she died I picked it up and began to read. Several passages fell right open (8 & 16). These were the passages that she must have been reading the most. So I read those passages at her funeral. I’m still reading this book and finding something new with each reading. Even if a passage may not make sense on the first or second reading, it may become clear by the fifth or sixth. Or maybe it will take years.
    Sandy was a poet and teacher who studied many translations of the Tao, but this was her favorite. It may not be the most literal translation, but it surely is the most poetic. If this translation was good enough for her, then it’s good enough for me.
    In fact, this book is so good, I’ve given away at least 8 copies in the two months since her death. This book has helped me deal with and survive the most difficult time in my life. I’m much wiser and more open having read this book. My friends to whom I’ve given copies agree and are sharing it with their friends.

  3. I just bought Jonathan’s Star’s 2003 Edition of “Tao Te Ching – The Definitive Edition” (ISBN-13: 978-1585422692) and was checking Amazon to see what other people had thought about this book, so you can imagine that I was a little worried when I saw this newer edition that I might have bought an outdated version. On closer inspection though I realized that the 2008 edition only has 128 pages compared with 368 pages of the 2003 edition.

    On reading the table of contents for both editions I discovered that what Star’s publishers appear to have done is to reissue the translation section of his original 2003 book without all the extra and very helpful information he had provided in the early edition.

    My advice is to go and check out the 2003 edition before you commit to this later, less definitive, work.

    Tao Te Ching: The Definitive Edition (2003)

  4. Regardless of the translation, the Tao Te Ching relaxes you. Then, you start comparing the different translations, and you get to panicking real fast. Pretty ironic. It’s something the Tao itself would warn you against. Sharpen the blade too much, you lose the edge.
    Still, as an American consumer, I want the real deal, whether I’m buying a cheeseburger or an ancient philosophy. If true words can’t be spoken, and you’re gonna go and speak ’em anyway, at least make ’em as true as you can. I mean, what does a guy have to do to get the meaning of life around here, learn Chinese?
    Enter Jonathan Star. Based on my comparison to five others, Star’s lawn jart lands smack in the middle. Isn’t that what Taoism is about? Getting to the center? He also made sure this would be the LAST translation you’d ever need, by including a second, “verbatim” translation– a list of the various possible English meanings of every single Chinese character. Don’t like something about his answer? Check his math. That’s truly definitive. There might be other translations that do that, but I’ve got a shelf full of ones that don’t, and I’m glad to say my search is finally over. I’m giving this book a perfect score. It’s a good place to start AND a good place to finish.

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