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The Snow Leopard (Penguin Nature Classics) Mass Market Paperback – August 4, 1987

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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


"A beautiful book, and worthy of the mountains he is among" -- Paul Theroux "What began as a practical search for the rare snow leopard, revered Buddhist emblem, developed into a quest for the meaning of Being. An enjoyable combination of mountaineering and mysticism" Observer "It's a tale of an inner struggle for calm, and would be an inspiring and sustaining desert island companion" -- Emily Barr "As much the chronicle of an inner journey as it is the learned recording of an unfamiliar territory...a timeless account" Independent "An evocative account of a remote and timeless place and its people" Sunday Times --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 338 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; Reprint edition (June 1, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140255087
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140255089
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.7 x 7.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (192 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #418,211 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

178 of 183 people found the following review helpful By Wayne A. Robinson on December 27, 2004
Format: Mass Market Paperback
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.

Wayne Robinson
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67 of 69 people found the following review helpful By Seth J. Hettena on September 10, 1999
Format: Mass Market Paperback
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.
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35 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Kathryn J. O'hehir on February 7, 2007
Format: Mass Market Paperback
The Snow Leopard is not just a book, rather a marvelous mental holiday one can return to as often as one needs, like a literary hitchhiker, to get away from the modernity and electronic technology that swamps us. Matthiessen illuminates the mystery and silence of the Himalayas, and the human need for nature and it's transformational powers.

I read this book every year, and for two years taught it on a college level to over 500 freshman. Yes, freshmen, at 7:00 a.m., who have never even seen snow.

Being a public college and teaching a book with overtly religious themes, I suggested they skip over the "Buddhist bits" if it did not interest them, and stick to the journey, paying attention to PM, George Schaller and the mixed bag of porters and Sherpas who guided them. Funny thing when you tell students not to read something, they go right for it.

To my amazement, they got it. They understood Matthiessen's flaws: the drug use, failed marriages, parental doubts about leaving family once again to pursue "nothing" in one of the remotest places on earth--the Land of Dolpo, where lamas rule and people obey. Students are intimate with the concept of to work for the sake of work; be it one foot in front of the other on a trail in Nepal, or their own path of study; these young people easily saw how humans transforms themselves through their work and passions. They were also quite politically savy, impressed by the results of this remarkable and timeless journey into the heart of the wilderness where it's okay to get lost, make mistakes and fail.
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58 of 65 people found the following review helpful By Doug Anderson VINE VOICE on March 7, 2002
Format: Mass Market Paperback
A naturalist & Buddhist and adventurer extraordinaire Matthiessen met his traveling companion in 1969 on the Serengeti plain in East Africa. This newfound friend, George Schaller, later asks him if he wants to join him on his next trip to Nepal to study the bharal or Himalayan blue sheep. So late in 1973 the two set out on a journey to the Crystal Mountain that takes them west under Annapurna and north around the Dhaulagiri peaks and across the Kanjiroba to the land of Dolpo, on the Tibetan Plateau.
This is a very literate and philosophic quest ripe with quotes from Lamas and Rilke and Ovid:
Just as a white summer cloud, in harmony with heaven and earth freely floats in the blue sky from horizon to horizon following the breath of the atmosphere-in the same way the pilgrim abandons himself to the breath of the greater life that...leads him beyond the farthest horizons to an aim which is already present within him, though yet hidden from his sight.-Lama Govinda
Spiritual but in an earthy way, an approprate response to Nepal. The Tibetan culture is fascinating to seeker and secular journeyman alike. The country itself comes to life in this book and that is to be expected from Matthiessen who is a world renowned naturalist. What makes the book stand apart form all others like it is Matthiessen who is a much more nuanced character than your average adventurer and the resulting narrative is a many layered and often exalted one. I suppose as a writer he reminds me of that other great American naturalist Henry David Thoreau whose work also operates on many planes at once not the least of which is the earthen one.
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