“As soon as Downing began work on his groundbreaking history of the San Francisco Zen Center, the first Buddhist monastery established outside of Asia, he realized that Richard Baker, the charismatic and controversial dharma heir of the center’s Japanese Zen Buddhist founder, Suzuki-roshi, was the epicenter of a complex and mutable tale . . . Rather than imposing a rigid narrative structure, Downing wisely takes a Zen approach and weaves together diverse voices, including Baker’s, to create a fascinating, multifaceted chronicle that reveals the monumental challenges the center faced in creating an American form of Zen Buddhism, the intensity of the participants (including high-profile figures such as poet Gary Snyder and former California governor Jerry Brown), and Baker’s mercurialness . . . Downing’s masterfully orchestrated inquiry is an invaluable portrait of the heart of the contradictory, still evolving, and unquestionably significant American Buddhist movement.”
—Booklist starred review

“Dramatic and thoughtful . . . With no prior experience as a social historian or a connoisseur of Zen, the novelist Michael Downing has nevertheless proven himself well-suited to piecing together the facts and assessing their meaning. He has done so chiefly by interviewing more than eighty of the involved figures and weighing each nugget of testimony against the others . . . Downing is no relativist. His narrative line, though continually interrupted, is lucid and convincing, and he challenges his interviewees’ occasional half-truths with sharp comments and rhetorical questions that bring buried factors into view.”
—New York Review of Books

“He paints a complex picture of Westerners in a genuine struggle with Eastern concepts and traditions…This is a highly readable book, important for the healing it invites in giving voice to the thoughts and feelings of Zen Center members who have remained silent until now.”
—Los Angeles Times

“Downing unpacks Zen Center’s story deftly, drawing the reader in with his comfortable, chatty prose and wry wit. . . The intrigue of the story will draw you near, but it is Downing’s nuanced delivery of the facts that will make you stay, hungry for more.”
—Austin Chronicle

Shoes Outside the Door is not simply a narrative history; it raises the larger question of what constitutes the Americanization of Zen…Downing’s work is a very important addition to the literature on American Zen and, more broadly, American Buddhism.”

Shoes Outside the Door is a not only a fine history of the San Francisco Zen Center and Zen in the United States, it is a cautionary tale, valuable to anyone embarked on a spiritual practice.”
—San Jose Mercury News