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 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. This Penguin Classics edition features an introduction by acclaimed travel writer and novelist Pico Iyer.
In the autumn of 1973, the writer Peter Matthiessen set out in the company of zoologist George Schaller on a hike that would take them 250 miles into the heart of the Himalayan region of Dolpo, “the last enclave of pure Tibetan culture on earth.” Their voyage was in quest of one of the world’s most elusive big cats, the snow leopard of high Asia, a creature so rarely spotted as to be nearly mythical; Schaller was one of only two Westerners known to have seen a snow leopard in the wild since 1950.
Published in 1978, The Snow Leopard is rightly regarded as a classic of modern nature writing. Guiding his readers through steep-walled canyons and over tall mountains, Matthiessen offers a narrative that is shot through with metaphor and mysticism, and his arduous search for the snow leopard becomes a vehicle for reflections on all manner of matters of life and death. In the process, The Snow Leopard evolves from an already exquisite book of natural history and travel into a grand, Buddhist-tinged parable of our search for meaning. By the end of their expedition, having seen wolves, foxes, rare mountain sheep, and other denizens of the Himalayas, and having seen many signs of the snow leopard but not the cat itself, Schaller muses, “We’ve seen so much, maybe it’s better if there are some things that we don’t see.”
That sentiment, as well as the sense of wonder at the world’s beauty that pervades Matthiessen’s book, ought to inform any journey into the wild. –Gregory McNamee
150 of 154 people found the following review helpful
No Title of Mine is Adequate,
I read this book the first time back in the 70s, shortly after it was published. I’ve re-read it every two years or so since then. As in reading any number of times lines from Shakespeare, I never tire of their inherent beauty; my heart soars again and again re-reading Mattheissen’s lines of ice-like clarity.
The book on one level is a extraordinary travel documentary, describing brilliantly one man’s experiences during a trip into a recently opened area in Himilayan Nepal. On a profoundly different level, the book also is a diary of his journey into his own heart and soul, one, perhaps, calling for more true bravery than any mere physical experience.
There are many moments of exquisite beauty and intimacy that have left me sobbing, longing to be on the journey with Matthiessen and his travel companions.
Matthiessen is an Everyman, seeking he really knows not what, searching for what may only be the quest itself. Perhaps he and his fellow Buddhists have the answer: their goal is ultimate acceptance of what each moment brings us, not wanting or desiring anything but what is now.
In closing, if one is looking for some answers to how to live a good life, without being told what to do and not to do, I find that this book is a far more useful guide to being a human being than any religious text that I know.
By all means, even if you think you have all the answers, buy this book.
60 of 62 people found the following review helpful
Spare, lyrical and honest, the Snow Leopard lifts the reader’s mind to the high deserts of Nepal. Reading it is almost like spending an afternoon in quiet contemplation. I’ve read several books that deal with Zen and what makes this book work is that the author is unflinchingly honest about the internal journey that is at the heart of the book. He shares with the reader the mental baggage he brings with him, and that makes the external journey — described in vivid detail — seem all the more real. I can understand why other reviewers say they went to Nepal after reading it.
30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
zen and the art of chasing wild cats,
Simply one of the best books I’ve ever read. Matthiessen manages to capture the length and breadth of his journey in every sense of those words. A book this helpful on the spiritual aspects of the journey would be excellent; a book this fascinating about a trek like his would be great; put ’em together and you win a national book award. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to think, learn, and grow. If you want simple entertainment enter John Grisham in the search box.