The Snow Leopard

by Peter Matthiessen

Other authorsPico Iyer (Introduction)
Paperback, 2008

Call number




Penguin Classics (2008), Edition: Revised, 368 pages

User reviews

LibraryThing member anna_in_pdx
I cannot say enough good things about this book. Peter Matthiessen has, alas, left us but his writing will live on forever.

This is the kind of book you take with you on a backpacking trip and savor over and over. Like Desert Solitaire, or A Sand County Almanac, or Thoreau's Journals. This is a book that can't be adequately described in a review.

Anyone who has ever identified as a seeker of any kind should read it.

Beautiful, crystalline prose as rarified and miraculous as the Himalayan setting he describes.
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LibraryThing member viking2917
part contemplative travelogue, part Buddhist primer...intriguing reading so far.
LibraryThing member Stbalbach
National Geographic ranked "The Snow Loepard" #12 in its respected list of 100 all-time best travel and exploration literature. It opened new vistas in the travel literature genre, combining spiritual quest, autobiography, nature writing and travel/adventure literature. It also won the National Book Award.

In some ways "The Snow Leopard" represents a document of not only Peter's journey but an entire generations. Traveling to the Himalaya's, smoking pot, zen-ing out with Buddhist's monks - this was the height of hip in 1973 when Peter took the trip, and it obviously has had life-changing impact on many people. Some of this vision and lifestyle has lost its luster over the past 30 years with new generations and new values, but this book will certainly be forever a documentary of the times. Peter's descriptive powers are formidable - it can take some effort to get into his flow as the passages are dense with information, visual and encyclopedic, but if you can keep up with his energy, the reward is an unforgettable trip.… (more)
LibraryThing member Barbless
What I liked best was Matthiessen's writing style. It is so first person that several times it seemed like I had suddenly become brilliant in fields like anthropology and zoology. So this is what it must be like to be someone who is aware and educated about pretty much everything they lay eyes on.
LibraryThing member LisaMaria_C
Matthiessen's The Snow Leopard is his account of his two months in Nepal. He was invited along by field biologist George Schaller on his expedition to study Himalayan Blue Sheep--and perhaps catch a glimpse of the elusive snow leopard. (Said in the book to consist of only 120 remaining individuals. Thankfully, at least according to the Wiki, the current population is estimated to be in the thousands.) So on September 28 of 1973 "two white sahibs, four Sherpas, fourteen porters" assembled to make their way up the Himalayas. As the introduction notes, the book begins like many a "scientific log" with maps and ends with notes and index, and this book was found in the nature section of my neighborhood book store. And the nature and travel part of this narrative was superb. Matthiessen has a gift for bringing to the page vivid details of the landscape and people, painting it so vividly you hardly yearn for photographs. His writing at times approaches poetry and there are many beautiful passages.

Where it loses points for me? Well, it might have been shelved with books on science, but despite the title there's really little here about the snow leopard and not enough really about nature. On the back of the book it's described as a "spiritual journey" and I could have used much less of the "spiritual." Matthiessen at the time considered himself a "student" of Zen Buddhism and according to the introduction would later be "ordained as a Zen priest." I could identify with the irritation of Schaller, his scientist companion, at Matthiessen's mysticism--even as Matthiessen insists Buddhism has nothing to do with the occult. He's the kind of guy that takes seriously the Yeti and Carlos Castaneda. I know for many the spiritual aspect of the book is the point--for me it was intrusive and Matthiessen's tone often hectoring. I found his attitude towards the Sherpas and porters all the more annoying because some of them shared his faith--at one point he compares amulets with one of them--and yet he displays plenty of condescension towards them--describing them more than once as "childlike." Admittedly, I don't agree with his philosophy, though after reading Thich Nhat Hanh, Thoreau and Emerson and Joseph Campbell within the last few months, I also felt as if the way Matthiessen conveyed Buddhist philosophy was trite. It was like going from reading the New Testament, Saint Augustine of Hippo, Thomas Aquinas and C.S. Lewis to reading the ramblings of some narcissistic Christian television evangelist as he treks over the mountains. Add to that Matthiessen's rapturous description of his experimentation with mind-altering drugs in search of enlightenment (and his abandonment for months of his young son who had just lost his mother in search of a Buddhist lama on Crystal Mountain)--well, it was hard to tap down my disdain at times. Very, very hippie.
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LibraryThing member AlexiFrancis
This book took me a while to get through; it was like digesting something very rich. I persevered and was not disappointed overall. I enjoyed the account of the Nepal journey, the character portrayals of the porters and the field biologist George Scaller. I found some of the philosophical discussions rather tedious but I did like the author's personal thoughts and feelings about the expedition and his life which kept me reading it all the way through.… (more)
LibraryThing member teaperson
A good book to read in mid-winter. Matthiessen takes a trek to the Himalayas along with a naturalist, looking for some sort of insight, and finds that the journey and his companions were more important than the destination. That summary sounds trite, but the novelistic diary form is generally interesting reading. It provides interesting looks at rugged adventure in the mountains before satellite phones and space-age gear.

In the end though, I have to say I didn't like the narrator. He abandoned his orphaned young children to selfishly look for enlightenment. Better to have sought it in being present in his own life instead of trying to escape to the mountains.
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LibraryThing member delta351
A healthy mix of travel memoir and Buddhist doctrine. Some of the sociological commentary is poorly footnoted and suspect, but thought provoking nonetheless. I read this about 15 years ago, and was not all that impressed. I like it a lot more this time. I think the contrast b/t the two main subjects is a great dichotomy.
LibraryThing member dbsovereign
A fascinating trip into mystical realms. Ostensibly a non-fictional story of Matthiessen's trek into Nepal, it also traces his interior journey/development.
LibraryThing member EricFitz08
I enjoyed the contrast in the book of the banal and the majestic. It more closely resembles the realities of life where even the most magical moments are only seconds away from the earthly realities of a rock in your shoe, the biting cold, falling behind schedule. Matthiessen is prone to the same pains and failings as the rest of us which makes him such a compelling character.
I did get lost in some of the more technical aspects of field biology and the history of Buddhism, but mostly it was the names that turned me around and it was often helpful. The philosophy is interesting and the story compelling. Give it a try.
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LibraryThing member Grace.Van.Moer
My favorite Matthiessen book. Adventure, beauty, hardship, sadness, natural history, regret, this book has it all. I've read it several times and will certainly read it again.
LibraryThing member dryfly
I think everyone who goes trekking in Nepal reads this book. What the hell, it's okay...
LibraryThing member chworm
Matthiessen describes his very personal journey to Dolpo, a very remote area in Nepal. While officially on a field trip researching mountain sheep the trip is journey inward, more like a pilgrim.
I liked the story, the mixture of every day life trekking such a remote place and the emotions caused by this. The only nuisance are Matthiessens remarks about philosophy and science. They are nonsense. Fortunately they are rare in the book, which otherwise is very good.… (more)
LibraryThing member rkstafford
I expected this book to be great: a respected writer describing a trek through a spectacular landscape in search of a magnificent animal. That book was there, but unfortunately it was nearly buried under long philosophical discussions of the nuances of Buddhism. I stuck with it, but without much enthusiasm, and it took me more than a month to get through 300 pages.… (more)
LibraryThing member conniekronlokken
So many amazing passages in this book, it kept my mind busy for several years! So vivid and fine was the writing. "If the snow leopard should manifest itself, then I am ready to see the snow leopard. If not, then somehow (and I don't understand this instinct, even now) I am not ready to perceive it, in the same way that I am not ready to resolve my koan; and in the not-seeing, I am content. I think I must be disappointed, having come so far, and yet I do not feel that way. I am disappointed, and also, I am not disappointed. That the snow leopard is, that it is here, that its frosty eyes watch us from the mountain -- that is enough."… (more)
LibraryThing member AngieMargi
This book back great memories of our very spiritual trek through the Annapuna Ranges of the Himalaya's. Peter Matthiessen captures a very moving account of his pilgrimage to find the Lama of Shey, at the shrine on Crystal Mountain.
LibraryThing member LibraryCin
This wasn't what I expected. I guess I should have read the description and/or reviews a little closer. I thought it would be about snow leopards, like Tigers in the Snow was about tigers, their behaviour, their habitat, conservation of, etc.

It was actually about a trip the author took with zoologist George Schaller. GS was going to the Himalayas to study sheep and invited Matthiessen along. The area they would be in is a place where they might spot a snow leopard. Along the way, as they hike to the area they need to be, Matthiessen describes the people in the area, as well as the religion. His focus is on Buddhism. Overall, it was o.k., but I was disappointed that it wasn't what I'd hoped.… (more)
LibraryThing member MalloryMann
wonderful writing! powerful lessons!
LibraryThing member Schmerguls
This book was listed on Outdoor Magazine's 2003 list as one of the 25 best adventure books of the last 100 years--in fact, it was no. 5 on the list. Since that list contained some books I really liked--such as Alive, read 10 June 1989, and West with the Night, read 5 May 1999, and The Worst Journey in the World, read 26 Feb 2008, and since The Snow Leopard was no. 6 on the list I decided to read it. It tells of a trip the author and a friend made in 1973 in Nepal, where they hoped among other things to see the rare snow leopard. Some of the account of the trip was dizzyingly awful, and one could not help but think foolhardy for a 46-year-old man.. Much of the book discusses Buddhism and meditation which I found of little interest so I was bored at times while reading the account--which consisted of daily entries from Sept 28 to Dec. 1, But there are interest-holding portions of book. But it did not inspire me to want to trek in Nepal.… (more)
LibraryThing member RajivC
I have been fortunate this year, in that I have read some exceptional books. This is one more in that list.

The book tells the story of Peter Matthiessen's trek in the Himalaya Range in search of the fabled snow leopard.

It is a journey that is difficult, because of the terrain, and the lack of equipment that was to become available in the succeeding decades.

It is a journey that is difficult, because it is as much an inward, spiritual one, as it is a physical one. This is as it should be. To be in nature means to be one with nature. To be allowed the silence between the spaces to reflect is an opportunity that is granted to few of us.

His writing style is sparse, yet it draws you - the reader - in. It is a journey that grips you. At the end, you can wish that you were with Peter on that journey.
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LibraryThing member Niecierpek
A very personal account of both a physical trek in Dolpo region in the Himalayas in search of the snow leopard, and a spiritual journey.
LibraryThing member browner56
The Snow Leopard relates the story of a very long and very hard walk that writer Peter Matthiessen took in the fall of 1973. The journey was hard for at least two reasons. Most transparently, the author spent two months trekking through the Himalayan mountains of Nepal at elevations exceeding 15,000 feet with the famed naturalist George Schaller, who was there to study the mating habits of the indigenous bharal blue sheep. But the more subtle difficulty of the trip was the spiritual quest that Matthiessen, a practicing Zen Buddhist, found himself on following the recent and untimely death of his wife. Along the way, the two men focus much of their energies on catching a glimpse of a snow leopard, an animal so elusive at that point in time that only a few visitors to the region had ever seen one in the wild. For the author, this unrequited effort becomes a perfect metaphor for the search for enlightenment and inner peace that he seemed quite desperate to attain.

I had a decidedly mixed reaction to reading this book, which is composed as an extended daily journal of the entire trip. On one hand, it is extraordinarily well written. Matthiessen was a truly gifted scribe of the natural world and his closely observed account of all that he saw and experienced along the arduous route pulled the reader in right along with him. However, I also found the whole trip to be so highly self-indulgent as to be more than a little off-putting. To make journey, for instance, the author left his young son—who undoubtedly was also grieving the loss of a mother—at home in tears and broke a promise to return for the holidays. Further, many of Matthiessen’s actions on the trek were boorish and inconsistent with the philosophy of living he espouses in great detail throughout the book (e.g., he is frequently cross with the hired staff and the people he meets along the way and, at one point, even urinates on a dog whose barking disturbed his sleep—really, who does something like that?) On balance, then, I found this to be a travel narrative that promised a little more than it was able to deliver.
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LibraryThing member jasoncomely
Matthiessen's prose reminds me of Japanese hiaku, in the sense it is economical and his experiences of the expedition are rendered bare bones, as they are, with minimal artistic embellishment. That is the Zen aesthetic and that makes sense as this is a book about Zen Buddhism. It's not so much about snow leopards.
LibraryThing member kcshankd
Still haunting. I was somewhere under the Pacific when I first read this penultimate line:

"The path I followed breathlessly has faded among the stones; in spiritual ambition, I have neglected my children and done myself harm, and there is no way back. Nor has anything changed; I am still beset by the same old lusts and ego and emotions, the endless nagging details and irritations - that aching gap between what I know and what I am."

(257-258 of the Folio edition)

I shuddered reading that the first time as a single unattached 25 year-old. Now, twenty years on, it echoes still. I can't imagine that voyage after the death of a partner leaving the children for others to manage for months on end.

An immensely powerful book, perhaps in my lifetime top ten. Read it.
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LibraryThing member Marcial87
As with all things Zen, words fail, but when you read the book you'll get it and the book will stay with you.




0140255087 / 9780140255089


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