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4.4 out of 5 stars
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4.4 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 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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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 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 24 May 2014
by Peter Matthiessen
26116517
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 6 November 2007
I bought the book for its travel and nature writing perspective. It's very enjoyable on those fronts, but what really strikes deep into your thoughts and heart is the thread of zen buddhism running throughout, from the people he meets along the way, to the prayer stones, walls, and flags, the lamas and their spoken wisdom and Matthiessen's own inner trials and quest towards the sacred. I was in the habit of turning down a page of interest for further pondering when I came across it, but I had to give up when every other page was getting folded.... it will have to be read, and read again, to let the deep quiet meaning of the book seep in. Even after the book is finished, half of my mind is still in the Himalaya whilst washing up- it takes you there.
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on 21 October 2004
On one hand, there is no doubt that Matthiessen is a master of English prose. This book, the record of a journey in Nepal with the naturalist George Schaller to find the elusive snow leopard, works on both a terrestrial and a spiritual level. On the other hand, like quite a few American writers, one of Matthiessen's main influences seems to be Disney. Everything is just a little bit too good to be true: the trees are archetype trees, the animals are archetype animals; the snow is archetype snow. There is a feeling - the same one I get from reading the late Bruce Chatwin - that Matthiessen is trying a little too hard to show how clever he is. I would have preferred a little of the agony and the ecstasy, rather than Matthiessen's rose-pink candifloss, 'Main Street USA' world, where everything is 'just wonderful'. A brilliant book in many ways, but slightly contrived in execution.
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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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