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The Snow Leopard

4.12  ·  Rating Details ·  9,039 Ratings  ·  642 Reviews
When Matthiessen went to Nepal to study the Himalayan blue sheep and, possibly, to glimpse the rare and beautiful snow leopard, he undertook his five-week trek as winter snows were sweeping into the high passes. This is a radiant and deeply moving account of a "true pilgrimage, a journey of the heart."
Paperback, 352 pages
Published August 4th 1987 by Penguin Books (first published August 30th 1978)
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Joan O'Connor This book was the reason why I went to Nepal as a 20-something, hiking the Himalayas on my own, sleeping in tea-houses, eating dahlbat everyday and…moreThis book was the reason why I went to Nepal as a 20-something, hiking the Himalayas on my own, sleeping in tea-houses, eating dahlbat everyday and still reminiscing 30 years later about the best time in my life. This book will spark that interest in you and prompt you to search yourself.(less)
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Apr 09, 2014 Darwin8u rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: aere-perennius, 2014
“The sun is roaring, it fills to bursting each crystal of snow. I flush with feeling, moved beyond my comprehension, and once again, the warm tears freeze upon my face. These rocks and mountains, all this matter, the snow itself, the air- the earth is ringing. All is moving, full of power, full of light.”
― Peter Matthiessen, The Snow Leopard


I'm a little embarrassed to say I hadn't paid attention to much of Matthiessen's work before he died. I had Shadow Country on my shelf and every intention o
Nov 03, 2015 Cody rated it really liked it
Shelves: travel
This is one of the more beautifully written books I can remember reading. Descriptions of the flora, fauna and Himalayan villages were all very well done. Matthiessen's writing made it very easy for me to imagine the high reaching peaks and snow covered passes that gave the expedition so much trouble. His descriptions of the villages really made me pause to consider the hardships that such a life would entail. We also get to meet some fun characters along the way. GS is an interesting guy, but i ...more
Lisa (Harmonybites)
May 08, 2012 Lisa (Harmonybites) rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: Those Who <i>Love</i> Pop Mysticism
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 ...more
Grace Johnson
Jul 28, 2008 Grace Johnson rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Grace by: Simon Avery
I really took my time with this book. I didn't want to be disturbed by the sounds of subway trains, interrupted by phone calls or daily trivialities. This wasn't a read I just 'fit in' but truly savored. And oh, my heart hurts a little now that it is over. It is a slow book, and thus may not appeal to those looking for action or conclusion even. It is a book that celebrates the spark of life that propels us towards transcending our heavy human existence in pursuit of something...more. Here, the ...more
Jan 27, 2010 Laura rated it it was amazing

A masterpiece of travel and nature writing that gloriously transcends both genres. This is one of the best books I've ever read in the English language. Yes, that's right. I'm including a quote at the end of this review so you can see what I'm talking about. When you get to that quote, try reading it aloud. The beauty of those words spoken will break your heart.

At age 46, in 1973, Peter Matthiessen walked, with biologist George Schaller, from Kathmandu to the Crystal Mountain in Tibet and beyond
David Schaafsma
I have taken months since reading it to finally write this (long) review, 3/11/16:

Here's some selections from the Book, so you can see his spirit, his Buddhist nature, and his love of language, without my intervention or commentary:

“The secret of the mountain is that the mountains simply exist, as I do myself: the mountains exist simply, which I do not. The mountains have no "meaning," they are meaning; the mountains are. The sun is round. I ring with life, and the mountains ring, and when I can
The Hook - Peter Matthiessen passed away April 5, 2014 at the age of 86. I had read some of his fiction, loving the way his adventuresome novel Far Tartuga (1975) made me feel. I decided it was time to give this memoir, The Snow Leopard (1978) recounting his climb of Mount Everest in search of Blue Sheep and a quest to spot the elusive snow leopard a try.

The Line – On Acceptance
In its wholehearted acceptance of what is, this is just what Soen Roshi might have said: “I feel as if he had struck m
Mar 31, 2012 Jessica rated it it was ok
Shelves: travel-writing
I don't want it to seem like I didn't enjoy this book. I did. You do get a feel for how liberating, calming, centering, that it would be to walk out of the modern world to the cold and quiet mountains and let it all go…all the complications and illusions of life. He is a student of zen Buddhism and is trying to write a zen Buddhist book. I think if this were a different book I would like it better…but these people, this place…his attempt to be 'zen' all the time, it just feels detached and that ...more
Jan 30, 2017 Ana rated it it was amazing
Shelves: animals
Sometimes it's not till I finish a book that I realize how much I am in love with it. That's the case with this lovely travelogue, which smartly does not pretend to be anything that it is not. It's not given any frills or decoration, other than beautiful and inimitable descriptions of nature. It is a humble record of a man's journey through the Himalayas and his concurrent spiritual journey. To ask after the object of the journey is missing the point—and I hope this doesn't sound cheesy, as it d ...more
Feb 22, 2017 Chris rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“Amazingly, we take for granted that instinct for survival, fear of death, must separate us from the happiness of pure and uninterrupted experience in which body, mind, and nature and the same.” (42)

Matthiessen’s book is part travelogue, part naturalist observations, and part coming to terms with loss. About a year after the death of his wife, Matthiessen travels along with a friend in search of a snow leopard, really in the search of big blue sheep. It’s much hiking and camping, and eating.

Oct 04, 2011 Thalia rated it did not like it
I started reading this book, expecting to enjoy it. I love travelogues, natural history and animal discoveries, studying animal behavior... and I put this book down. Matthiessen's tone drove me bonkers. I may try it again later. He is not a lens through which to observe a part of the's all about him, and, quite frankly, I found him boring.
Nuria Castaño monllor
Sep 17, 2014 Nuria Castaño monllor rated it it was amazing
"Crezco en estas montañas como el musgo. Estoy hechizado. Los cegadores picos nevados y el aire sonoro, el ruido de la Tierra y los cielos en silencio, las aves sepultureras, los animales míticos, los estandartes, los grandes cuernos y las antiguas piedras labradas, los tártaros toscamente tallados, con sus trenzas y sus botas de fabricación casera, el hielo plateado en el Río Negro, el Kang, la Montaña de Cristal. También estoy enamorado de los milagros corrientes: el murmullo de mis amigos al ...more
Mar 04, 2009 John rated it it was amazing
Read this, which I've had for years, in 3 days. Brilliant, vivid account of Matthiessen's journey with a biologist and a team of porters and sherpas through the quiet, snow-covered and strange Himalayas. The biologist is seeking to observe the rutting of the region's unique blue sheep. Matthiessen is seeking an encounter with the more secret snow leopard, a not-so-vieled metaphor to the real substance of the journey, which is a quest for enlightenment. Interwoven are reflections on the history o ...more
May 27, 2008 Kara rated it it was amazing
FIVE STARS AND BEYOND! This memoir chronicles, in the form of a daily log, the months-long trek Matthiessen took in the Himalaya with legendary wildlife biologist George Schaller. GS had planned the expedition to observe montane wildlife - primarily the snow leopard and its prey, the blue sheep. PM, a student of Buddhism, made the journey as a kind of pilgrimage after the death of his wife. Their ultimate destination was a range so remote it was nearly impenetrable by travelers and its villages ...more
Lars Guthrie
Feb 03, 2009 Lars Guthrie rated it it was amazing
Cliches become cliches because of their truth. So noting that the journey is more important than the destination fits here, in a book whose title refers to the author's quest to view the snow leopard in its Himalayan habitat during a perilous late fall journey to the remote Dolpo region of Nepal, an area so far from the rest of the world that the author's traveling companion notes the total absence of machine sound, even the engine noise of a plane. Matthiessen fails to see the snow leopard, but ...more
Apr 01, 2012 Sylvia rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone who like travel stories with a deeper background
This one of those books, that make you think deeply about the greatness of nature and how small mankind is. I'll make this book one of my all time favorites, because when I finished it, I wanted to start reading it again. There's so much in it to think about and so much that I missed reading this first time.
I have a crush on countries with mountains, and especially those with snowcovered caps. Whenever I'm is Switzerland, or Norway I'm enjoying the great glaciers: those mighty rivers of ice.
This is a beautifully written book of Matthiessen's journey to the roof of the world in Nepal. He is travelling with George Schaller, primarily to look for and study the wild blue sheep of the region. Whilst they are on there, they are hoping to spot a snow leopard, a rare almost mythical creature, that Schaller has glimpsed very occasionally.

Matthiessen is a Zen Buddhist, and this for him is as much a spiritually journey as a physical one, and he uses the metaphorical journey to look back at ev
Kevin Lawrence
Dec 22, 2014 Kevin Lawrence rated it it was amazing
Read years before as a young man interested in travel/nature writing: recently, I lost one of my beloved dogs and so I read this again more as a journey about mourning and exploring Buddhist principles. Really a beautiful book that one can get a good feel for by sharing a haiku written by the field biologist Matthiessen accompanies through this Himalayan region:

Cloud-men beneath loads.
A dark line of tracks in Snow.
Suddenly nothing.
Ridhika Khanna
Jan 23, 2017 Ridhika Khanna rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: all nature lovers and also people who are into hiking/climbing.
Actual Rating: 4.5

This book has been a very refreshing and a peaceful read.

In the beginning, Mr. Pico Iyer introduces this book as a mystical book which takes you on a journey in Himalayas where you can feel each and every blister on your feet.
It is a big thing to say and I was actually apprehensive on reading it as the introducer had set high expectations for me. What if it is not that good? What if it is just like any other travel book?

However, I decided to read it. It took me a few chapters
Jun 23, 2010 Melanie rated it really liked it
I read this in Laos but lost it somewhere in Muang Khua, so had to wait until returning home to read the last 100 pages. Reading this while eating alone in restaurants gave the impression of a conversation with Matthiessen that stopped and started with my meals, and also lying in bed. Such an ideal way to read this book. It taught me some about Buddhism, about which I am extremely ignorant, and motivated me to learn more from different sources. In Nong Khiaw, a roach as big as a mouse crawled un ...more
Josh Hogan
Mar 10, 2009 Josh Hogan rated it it was amazing
Matthiessen's book is now on my favorites list. The book is successful on many levels. First, this book is gripping as a travelogue, full of vibrant images and an otherworldly quality. Secondly, the book serves as an exploration of the author's struggle to come to terms with his wife, Deborah Love's, death the year before as well as his own fear of inadequacy as a father (e.g., he seems to struggle with the very fact that he has left his children for this epic journey to Inner Dolpo). Finally, M ...more
Sep 24, 2008 Abailart rated it liked it
This is a much revered book which I was looking forward to reading. It’s not a climbing book, though the long trek two man expedition contains its fair share of ardours that you’s expect to find at Himalayan altitudes. And actually, of course, the expedition is one of many men, the porters and Sherpas too. I would mention only that the attitude to the latter sometimes left me with a bad taste. With Matthiessen was zoologist George Schaller, and the prime purpose was to study the Himalayan bharal ...more
Aug 22, 2010 Matt rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Just a beautiful book.

Part personal memoir, part natural expedition, part cultural immersion. He takes the reader on his exploration and discoveries in Buddhism, mindfulness, sense of the moment. I can definitely see why people are so attracted to the Buddhist path.

He writes with beautiful emotion, I experienced his joy when he thought of his children, his sorrows when he thought of his second wife, his frustration with his struggles along the path of Buddhism.

The snow leopard takes on a mythica
Feb 15, 2009 Theresa rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
For those who read this book a long time ago, when it won the National Book Award in 1978, and for those who have never availed themselves of the pleasure, I must break my lame habit of not reporting and encourage you to read (or re-read) this book. Peter Matthiessen treks with his biologist friend, GS, to the inner Dolpo region of the Himalaya - GS, to study the mating habits of the bharal ( a rare breed of "blue" sheep), and Matthiessen, to find himself after the death of his wife, nine months ...more
Olly L-J
Nov 28, 2016 Olly L-J rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A beautifully poetic account of two journeys - one physical and one spiritual.

I loved Matthiessen's descriptions of Nepal and the Himalayas, there are passages of exceptional beauty, especially around the Crystal Mountain. And, this being the high mountains in late autumn, there are also parts where you his descriptions of the darkness and cold seem to seep into your bones.
I thought his observations of the people there were fascinating, they reminded me a lot of the descriptions of the locals wr
What a versatile metaphor the snow leopard is: a rarely-seen predator you go on a quest to find by trekking into difficult, inhospitable territory; a hard-to-see feline that watches you closely, knowing where you are, but who you might miss even if you were looking right at it; an animal that could kill or maim you if it wanted but really just wants you away from its regular blue sheep prey, and an irresistible quarry for you, even if only to glimpse it for a few seconds, since those few moments ...more
Arun Divakar
Jul 19, 2011 Arun Divakar rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Traversing the mountainsides in the relative warmth of the huddle of human bodies in a closed vehicle, I heard the wind whipping outside. The valleys were green after the onset of the rains and the water in the river had a shade of turquoise to it. Far away on the mountainsides appearing and re appearing in the mist were the herds of Yak. There were dwellings of men scattered among the valleys and it always surprised and excited me to know of humans who lived amidst so much silence. On the slick ...more
Thanks to the stranger who left this book on the top of a trash can. I walked passed it once in the morning, then came back and still saw it there in the afternoon. Couldn't help it, I took it with me.

I like it, in some way, and dislike it, in some other way. In the end I'm perplexed.

The Snow Leopard has a great writing. It is quite beautiful and you want to merge into those mountains. Matthiessen is able to generate the atmosphere of western Tibet out of his words. It feels so quiet, just wind,
Roger Bailey
This book was not what I was expecting. I was expecting a book about the biology, behavior and ecology of the snow leopard. What it was actually about was, first, a travelog, second, a popularized survey of the anthropology of the people who live in the range of the snow leopard and, a distant third, some mention of the wildlife of the Himalayas and there was more discussion of Himalayan goats than of snow leopards. This is not necessarily a bad thing because I might very well have read it anywa ...more
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Monkeys and Mount...: * Book for January: The Snow Leopard 2 11 Feb 06, 2016 03:50AM  
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Peter Matthiessen is the author of more than thirty books and the only writer to win the National Book Award for both non-fiction (The Snow Leopard, in two categories, in 1979 and 1980) and fiction (Shadow Country, in 2008). A co-founder of The Paris Review and a world-renowned naturalist, explorer and activist, he died in April 2014.
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“The secret of the mountain is that the mountains simply exist, as I do myself: the mountains exist simply, which I do not. The mountains have no "meaning," they are meaning; the mountains are. The sun is round. I ring with life, and the mountains ring, and when I can hear it, there is a ringing that we share. I understand all this, not in my mind but in my heart, knowing how meaningless it is to try to capture what cannot be expressed, knowing that mere words will remain when I read it all again, another day.” 54 likes
“And only the enlightened can recall their former lives; for the rest of us, the memories of past existences are but glints of light, twinges of longing, passing shadows, disturbingly familiar, that are gone before they can be grasped, like the passage of that silver bird on Dhaulagiri.” 45 likes
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