The last book I read in 2006 was one of the best, and it deserves its own category: The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions by Karen Armstrong. She explores the Axial Age of religion (800-200 BCE) moreso of four regions than traditions: Greece, China, India, and Judea. She clearly has her favorite heroes: Socrates, Confucius, Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama), and Ezekiel, though there are quite a few others as well. What her heroes have in common is that they all, somehow or another, came to passionately preach and espouse the Golden Rule.
Armstrong has an agenda, but it’s a blameless one: that religion’s at its best when it’s inclusive, peaceful, and empathic. She also shows how fundamentalism and indoctrination are anathema to the purest religious teachings of all the world’s great traditions. This is a history book on its surface, but one with a moral, and a moral that most true believers of just about any following should be able to get behind.