In the preface to Introduction to Classical Chinese Philosophy Bryan Van Norden warns his more scholarly readers that he has "greatly simplified many aspects of both Chinese and Western history and culture." His reason for doing so is to avoid overwhelming the beginner with too many nuances and controversies. It is noteworthy that while his work is an introduction to Chinese philosophy, he makes frequent mention of Western philosophical ideas. His hope is to both inspire a more in depth study of Chinese philosophy, while also prompting readers to study Western philosophy. As such, his book will make an excellent text for any introductory Western philosophy course that hopes to take a multi-cultural perspective.
The time period that Norden explores runs from the sixth century B.C.E. to through the third century B.C.E., though a final chapter races through the remainder of the history of Chinese philosophy. Figures given the most attention are Kongzi (Confucius), Mengzi (Mencius), Mozi, Yang Zhu, Laozi (Lao Tzu), Zhuangzi, Xunzi, and Han Feizi. The central ideas that are used to distinguish these figures are their theories about ethics, e.g., cultivating virtues, promoting beneficial consequences, or promoting one's own well being, the nature and value of rites, the foundations of a good society, and human nature.
The work also contains three appendices on how to read a text, particularly a philosophical text, an explanation of the Chinese language and writing, and three alternate readings of Kongzi's philosophy. Each are not without value, but with the exception of the third appendix, they add little to the work. The alternate readings of Kongzi comprise only six and a half pages and as such, might well have been easily incorporated into the main text.
More valuable appendices might have included annotated philosophical and political time lines and a glossary of terms. Norden appears to have consciously decided to avoid using Chinese terminology, probably in an effort to keep the text accessible for beginners, but introducing students to the terms and characters actually used by the philosophers in question would not only make the appendices more valuable, they would be a clear reminder to Westerners that, as much as possible, one needs to place one's preconceptions in abeyance when trying to understand Chinese philosophy. One can only begin to understand it after becoming familiar with a great deal of the history, culture, and intellectual heritage of China.