Volume two of two.
This volume picks up on the life of the Buddha as he heads home to die in a location that will have the greatest karmic effect as Nakamura notes that the Buddha was worried about the political issues that would follow after his death. Through the re-telling of this story by painstakingly cross-referencing a plethora of sources, Nakamura further flushes out the personality and the core, de-mythologized teachings of the Buddha. This voyage leads to the eventual sickness and parinirvana of the Buddha. The same brilliant scholarship of the first volume still stands, so I will include my review of it below for convenience.
Nakamura finishes this biography up with a short piece on the deification of the Buddha, which was really the topic that was in the background of each chapter, central to this entire work.
Volume one of two.
While reading this book, you will quickly become aware of how Nakamura is in a completely different league than anyone else who has attempted to write on this topic. His mastery of seemingly every language he has bent his mind to is legendary. When approaching a topic spread about Sanskrit, Pali and Chinese, this skill comes in very handy.
The strength of this book comes from Nakamura's careful examination of a variety of primary sources in their original language. His purpose here is to parse out what probably happened in the life of the Buddha and what is egregious myth. He carefully cites his texts, states what they contain and then juxtaposes this with other texts (often times written later) to demonstrate how first-hand accounts of the Buddha were turned into outlandish superstition. When he cannot say anything definitive, he gives his reasons for why a certain bit of information cannot be known to such a degree. By utilizing these scholarly methods, Nakamura strips away the myth from the man revealing a far more human (and thus far more relatable) image of the Buddha.
By carefully dissecting the myths behind the life of the Buddha, a different character emerges from this process that makes other contemporary renderings of the Buddha seem rather trite in comparison. I would say that this is -the- definitive piece on the Buddha if the book were not so pedantic and probably un-approachable to most. I guess what I'm saying is that you had better be pretty motivated to get into the material or you will end up putting the book down out of boredom. I can assure you though that if you get through it, you will be thankful that you did.
I should also note that the footnotes are extraordinarily useful as Nakamura carefully cited his sources. This makes for a great place to begin future study, especially for getting familiar with the original Pali cannon.