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4.5 out of 5 stars43
4.5 out of 5 stars
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on 14 July 2004
I must have read this book at least a dozen times since first being given a copy at Christmas 1987. (I don't reread books much, as a whole.) Every time I come to it, there is something new to learn, to appreciate.Then there are some things that strike me EVERY time. Not least, the elegance and beauty of Matthiessen's writing-one minute he is writing of his meditative practice(he had been a Zen practitioner for several years when he made this Himalayan journey in the autumn of 1973), the next minute he's describing the very practical difficulties encountered on such an expedition (snow-drifts, altitude sickness,) and the NEXT minute he's describing-informatively, beautifully-the animals and plants. He's also very deep into Buddhist philosophy-as one might expect, of course-and knows a good few things about Buddhist iconography as well(whatever he modestly claims to the contrary).The book is not only an examination (and, ultimately, a celebration) of the snow leopard, or the Himalayan blue sheep, but also of the Himalayan way of life. I share some of his delight when, after many weeks of trials and tribulations, he finds himself standing in a remote gompa( a sort of Buddhist chapel or oratory), a place subtly gleaming with brass statues, prayer-wheels, etc. and lit only by candles.
It's an infectious book. And a powerful one. I'd also recommend Matthiessen's TIGERS IN THE SNOW, his study of the Amur( Siberian) tiger.If you're remotely interested in the big cats, you could do worse than treat yourself to both these gems.
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This book is a story of two journeys of exploration. On one hand it is an account of an expedition by the world famous field biologist Georges Schaller to remote North Western Nepal in search of the fabled Snow Leopard.
The second journey is Matthiessen's personal journey of spiritual discovery amongst the Himalayan gompas of both Buddhism and the ancient Bon religion.
Combining a remarkable eye for detail in the flora and fauna of the journey with a deeply moving account of his personal spiritual discoveries, this book is a "must read" for anyone with even the slightest interest in what lies beyond the mundane day to day world.
It is also a detailed account of a world which was at the time of the expedition untouched by Western technology or values. A world which largely no longer exists.
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on 9 November 2011
This is a deep book that gets you thinking, chiefly about the absurdity of the wealth seeking, greedy, `because I'm worth it' western culture. This book, almost subliminally, has had a gentle but something approaching profound effect upon me. It has removed the scales from my eyes and shown me what really matters.

Matthiessen wrote this book following his accompanying Dr George Schaller into the Himalayas reaching close to the Tibetan border. Schaller was a zoologist who wanted to study the rut of the blue sheep, a rare form. He wanted to assess through field observations whether this animal was more goat than sheep or vice versa. (It never ceases to amaze me the way in which some people earn their living). Both hoped to see the elusive snow leopard, hence the title of the book. I shall not spoil the book for future readers by revealing whether their hopes were realised.

This book is many layered: an account of the author's arduous trek on foot through the Himalayas of Nepal to the Crystal Mountain and Shey Gompa, the Crystal Monastry and back again; of his coming to terms with the recent death of his wife, and their relationship before her diagnosis of having cancer; a vivid and beautiful description of the landscape, wildlife, flora and people that he saw and on his long and often arduous journey; of his deepening understanding of Buddhism and his continued attachment to things corporeal. The author is very candid and honest with himself when looking within at his own spiritual path on this journey and as he sees it lack of spiritual growth.

In short this is a spiritual and thought provoking book that we in the west could all do with reading.
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on 19 January 2006
Bought this while travelling, and didn't really appreciate how good it was until I returned home. Matthiesson's expedition with Schaller is excellently retold, and his linking of the essences of both spirituality and nature makes this book inspire a sense of calm, yet also sadness at the nature of our supposedly 'modern' society. I don't recall him beating any sherpa's as another reviewer has mentioned - he is (or was)a buddhist practitioner, and this would seem to be against his overriding principle - that we are all one with nature. This book is excellent as both a form of escapism, and for those who wish to read an informed and enlightened travel journal
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on 3 March 2006
Matthiessen’s book, written in beautiful, otherworldly prose, is a masterpiece.
The book describes the physical and spiritual journey the author undertakes to the far North-West of Nepal with the renowned naturalist George Schaller.
Mathiessen undertook this trek shortly after the death of his first wife - and whilst wrestling with the loss of a loved one, the shackles of modern western life and Mathiessen own spiritual exploration of Buddhist philosophies – the words drip off the pages like honey.
The pace of the narrative and the nuggets of spiritual and philosophical truth found within these pages echo in the readers mind and far outlive the reading of the book.
The people, the culture and the landscape come together and thrust the reader into a forgotten land at the time untouched by western influence. One of those classic reads you’ll be sure to tell friends and loved ones about and probably force them to read!
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At the beginning of Ernest Hemingway's The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories (Scribner Classics) there is an epigraph that states that the Masai call the western summit of this mountain the "House of God." Moreover, Hemingway says that the dried and frozen carcass of a leopard was found there, and concluded with the subject line. I first read this work of Hemingway's in the `60's, which commenced a fascination with that mountain. And when Peter Matthiessen's book on leopards whose normal habitation is at such altitudes came out in the late `70's, it was an obligatory read.

Matthiessen linked up with the noted naturalist and author, George Schaller, whose works include The Year of the Gorilla and The Last Panda The year was 1973, a remote area of Nepal, the Dolpo area, which is actually part of the Tibetan plateau, had just opened to foreigners for exploration and trekking, and so the two commenced a journey which, in part, was to find this most elusive creature of the book's title. So, the book is definitely a travelogue into a unique region along the "roof of the world," long before one could make all the arrangements "on-line." Matthiessen writes well, and can instill an essential sense of "AWE," in a reader for sights and experiences he has never seen or felt. And with the ever observant Schaller along, it is a journey in good company.

But the book is much more than that, as the sub-title indicates: "It is a spiritual odyssey of a man in search of himself," with motivations perhaps not much different that Hemingway's leopard. So, the majority of the book is Matthiessen's ruminations on why we live, and what our place is in the greater scheme of things, as the expression has it. As an example: "Perhaps this dread of transience explains our greed for the few gobbets of raw experience in modern life, why violence is libidinous, why lust devours us, why soldiers choose not to forget their days of horror: we cling to such extreme moments, in which we seem to die, yet are reborn. In sexual abandon as in danger we are impelled, however briefly, into that vital present in which we do not stand apart from life, we are life, our being fills us; in ecstasy with another being loneliness falls away into eternity. But in other days, such union was attainable through simple awe."

Matthiessen is a Buddhist, and became one long before flirtations with eastern religions came into vogue. Although there are some notable exceptions in its practice (like the Burmese generals, for example), of all the major religions of the world, Buddhism is the most gentle in its practice, and so it is an odyssey that I can at least tag along on. But at some point, for me, it turns into embracing uncritically some other person's "mumbo-jumbo." A big red flag arose when the author discussed the work of "mystic-philosopher" George Gurdjieff, famous for Meetings with Remarkable Men: All and everything. 2nd Series and others, and whom I consider to be the quintessential purveyor of new age hocus-pocus.

As for that ever elusive snow leopard, and its motivations, Schaller covers gorillas and pandas in far more detail in his other works. You also have a wonderful travelogue into an area at the "beginning of (travel) time." As for the spiritual odyssey, a leavening of skepticism towards the purported wisdom of the east is much more in order. 4-stars.

(Note: Review first published at Amazon, USA, on February 14, 2011)
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on 24 May 2014
by Peter Matthiessen
Lynn Matheson's review May 24, 14 · edit
5 of 5 stars
bookshelves: travel-writing, spirituality
Read from April 07 to 14, 2014

I think this book may just have changed my life! I found the paperback by chance in a second hand bookshop on the Suffolk coast. I wasn't really looking for a book to read as I already have so many unread at home. It seemed to be fate. As soon as I started reading it I was hooked. The writing is exquisitely beautiful with descriptions of nature intertwined with the author's attempts at deepening his Buddhist practice as he travels in the mountainous arras of Nepal and Tibet accompanying an academic studying snow leopards and blue sheep. I found the details of the journey fascinating and the author is very open and honest about his personal life and his feelings about it. The book touched me and inspired me. I have now began to meditate more and to find out about Buddhism. I recommend this to anyone interested in spirituality and travel writing.
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on 16 November 2006
As a present from a dear friend, this was a marvellous read.

The author heads for the Himalayan heights to seek out the elusive and precious mountain cat with the eminent mammalogist Schaller. Matthiessen writes of the mountains there and the grand hospitality from Nepal and hermits on their mountain retreats and the book harks back to elements of his wife's death and explorations of what life involves. He analyses the lives and manners of the people he encounters and describes the ruggedness of mountain climbing marrying together endurance with views, storms and tales of blue sheep and the mythical Yeti. This is for a discerning reader wishing to pause from the rat race to really take in a big picture and to weep silently.
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on 30 January 2012
This is not a book for everyone, but if you like reading about adventures in mountains in the cold and snow, (while you are warm and cosy indoors!) If you have an interest in wild rivers, Bhuddism, wild life, plants. If the ordinary lives of the people who live in Tibet.

If so, this is a fantastic book! The quality of Peter Matthiesson writing and descriptive powers are superb. I read on average 70 books per year and it is the first time I have read such an incredible book. I will be reading my way through the extensive list of books written by this author.
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on 21 November 2014
A wonderful book. Its not really about the snow leopard but might in fact be about the ox herding pictures of Zen. This time its the story of Matthiessen himself and his experiences on the way to finding the "footprints" of the ox. If you know a little Zen then you know what I mean. Sometimes deeply moving and at occasionally it possesses those sentences a little like Zen sayings with their ability to hit the bell in your mind, not often but sometimes.
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