The Spiral Staircase by Karen Armstrong Harper Perennial $140 In her first book, Through the Narrow Gate (1981), Karen Armstrong wrote about her seven years as a Catholic nun. Now, she recounts her years after leaving the convent in 1969. As an Oxford student who'd never heard of The Beatles, she didn't fit in. She suffered blackouts and hallucinations, which made it difficult to hold down a job as a schoolteacher. After epilepsy was diagnosed, she realised her illness was physical, not psychological. Armstrong found a new vocation: writing and presenting religious programmes for television. She traces her evolution from an earnest 17-year-old seeking enlightenment, to a cynic who makes fun of Catholicism, to a mature philosopher exploring the origins of spirituality. Drawing on her studies of early Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism, she concludes that the heart of god is compassion.