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

204 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews Review

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: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (204 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #454,957 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

181 of 187 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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69 of 71 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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37 of 37 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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24 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Konrei on February 25, 2002
Format: Mass Market Paperback
THE SNOW LEOPARD is the best book I've ever read. Period. Read this book.
In sum, it is Peter Matthiessen's recounting of his trek in the Himalayas with the naturalist George Schaller to establish a new national park on behalf of the Nepali government.In substance, it is a luminescent prose poem of a spiritual journey through a universe in which the mundane is holy, the sacred is the commonplace and the profane is touched with glory.
My copy has traveled throughout the world with me, the one indispensable item I take with me when leaving home. No review can do such a magnificent book justice. Read this book.
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72 of 82 people found the following review helpful By C. B. on May 13, 2002
Format: Mass Market Paperback
At first glance, the novel appears to be a travel diary, or an exotic safari journal. Perhaps Matthiessen thought the same when he began the journey. But this is a novel that is penned from the heart and not by any distance travelled. The journey that the author relates is as intangible as the snow leopard itself.
As you can see above, the editors of Amazon deftly describe the beauty and storyline of "The Snow Leopard". But no amount of praise can empart to the reader what truly lays waiting inside the pages of this novel.
Matthiessen expertly transports the reader into his shoes. The author ceases to exist less and less with each chapter. The reader becomes the first person. Halfway through the story, it is ~we~ who are the ones making this journey deep into the wilds of the Himilayas. And by the end of the book, it is ~you~ who just may have found something you did not know you were searching for. Enlightenment.
The snow leopard Matthiessen speaks can be found by the reader, if you let it find you. Read this book with an open heart and open mind, and it just may change your life forever.
One reviewer bluntly summarised his opinion of this novel as "THE SNOW LEOPARD is the best book I've ever read. Period." I agree.
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