Finally, I have found a book on Buddhism that hits all the right buttons for people interested in practical, Western Buddhism.
'Why I Am A Buddhist' is written in a simple, casual style with a strong personal slant, and the focus is on science and rationality (beliefs such as reincarnation and karma are also discussed in this context). Asma also writes on the the role of art as a kind of overlay to the pure rational side, noting its potential to heighten one's sense of connectedness and community, and its ability for taking people outside of themselves via the ecstatic experience.
All in all, this book proved highly engaging, easy to read, and dare I say it, enlightening. Having read quite a few books on Buddhism over the past year (it all started with an inspiring Coursera course on Buddhism and modern psychology), I feel I have developed an appreciation for the philosophical core of the system. I have deliberately veered away from the religious, historical and cultural aspects of Buddhism over this time, and have instead tried to focus on the useful and practical side of things. I should clarify to readers that I am not a Buddhist and probably will never be, not in any strict sense. However, I do believe quite firmly that the Buddhist outlook, along with its accompanying contemplative toolkit, has the potential to change the practitioner's response mechanisms and driving forces for their good and for the good, whether they are religious or non-religious.
Notes and quotes will follow in a sepate post