The Snow Leopard (Penguin Classics)

by Peter Matthiessen

Other authorsPico Iyer (Introduction)
Paperback, 2008

Call number

915.496 MAT



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


"In 1973, Peter Matthiessen and field biologist George Schaller traveled high into the remote mountains of Nepal to study the Himalayan blue sheep and possibly glimpse the rare and beautiful snow leopard. Matthiessen, a student of Zen Buddhism, was also on a spiritual quest{u2014} to find the Lama of Shey at the ancient shrine on Crystal Mountain. As the climb proceeds, Matthiessen charts his inner path as well as his outer one, with a deepening Buddhist understanding of reality, suffering, impermanence, and beauty."--Publisher information.

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
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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
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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.
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LibraryThing member BookConcierge
2.5** (rounded up to 3***)

This was a choice for one of my F2F book clubs a year ago. The person who selected it has frequently chosen books that may be challenging but are always thought-provoking, and sometimes quite entertaining. Also, I love nature and wildlife and reading about efforts to save
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various endangered species. So, I was eager to read it. Then some issues came up in my non-reading life and I had to skip that meeting, so never got to the book or the discussion. Another challenge brought it to the top of the TBR now and once again, I eagerly anticipated reading it.

Unfortunately for me, and for my rating, this book isn’t really about the snow leopard. As in real life, the creature is extremely elusive, hardly ever mentioned, and not making an actual appearance until late in the journey.

Instead this is more Matthiessen’s personal quest for enlightenment, which happens to dovetail with a friend’s planned trip – as a wildlife biologist – to study sheep / goats in the Himalayas. I was willing to go along with Matthiessen’s musings for the first 100 pages or so, but when it became clear that I’d never see, let alone learn much about, the snow leopard, I lost my enthusiasm.

Also, once he relates how he’s left his son behind, who has recently lost his mother, I pretty much was annoyed with the self-absorption that would have him go on this dangerous trek at this time in his life.

I kept reading because I needed it for a challenge … and the library is closed during the pandemic, so I’m reading what I happen to have in the house. Still, it took me nearly a month to read a book I would normally have powered through in a week or less.

I will give him this, though. Matthiessen manages to write some really stunning passages on the majesty of the terrain he is covering, as well as a few interesting observations about the people he encounters. And, though it was first published in 1978, it contains a couple of philosophical passages that are perfect for this Coronavirus quarantine:
• Having finally gotten to meet the Lama at the Crystal Monastery he is surprised by the man’s attitude and remarks: “Indicating his twisted legs without a trace of self-pity or bitterness, as if they belonged to all of us, he casts his arms wide to the sky and the snow mountains, the high sun and dancing sheep , and cries, ‘Of course I am happy here! It’s wonderful! Especially wen I have no choice!’”
• And towards the end of his journey he remarks: “With the wind and cold, a restlessness has come, and I find myself hoarding my last chocolate for the journey back across the mountains – forever getting-ready-for-life instead of living it each day.” (Kinda describes how I feel some days in quarantine .. getting ready for the return to normal rather than living each day as it is.)
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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.
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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
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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.
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LibraryThing member BrokenTune

Damn. This book started out so well.

However, after only a few pages it seems to have turned into a version of Log from the Sea of Cortez, complete with philosophical and religious musings on the author's own life, his experimenting with different drugs, and his understanding of Buddhism - in
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none of which I have any interest at all.

The parts where Matthiessen describes the natural environment of his trek through Nepal are fascinating. Unfortunately, these are too few and too far between for my enjoyment.

I read 85 pages, then skipped to the end. The only sighting of the snow leopard is literally mentioned in the last 3 pages - and he doesn't go into much detail because he wasn't even there. He simply included a very short letter from George Schaller which briefly stated that he did manage to see one in the end (and after Matthiessen had returned home).

I get that there may be some beauty in Matthiessen's writing, his musings, and his dealing with grief after the loss of his wife, but all that esoteric babble just isn't for me, especially not when I expected the book to focus more on the expedition and the wildlife.
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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 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 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
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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
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subjects is a great dichotomy.
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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
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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 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
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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 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
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enthusiasm, and it took me more than a month to get through 300 pages.
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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
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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.
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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
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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.
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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
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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."
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LibraryThing member MalloryMann
wonderful writing! powerful lessons!
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.
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
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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.
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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
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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 kakadoo202
I really want to like this book but i don’t have currently the quiet tome that it deserves. Need to postpone this




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