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Himalaya: A Human History

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This is the first major history of the Himalaya: an epic story of peoples, cultures and adventures among the world’s highest mountains.

Spanning millennia, from its earliest inhabitants to the present conflicts over Tibet and Everest, Himalaya is a soaring account of resilience and conquest, discovery and plunder, oppression and enlightenment at the ‘roof of the world’.

From all around the globe, the unique and astonishing geography of the Himalaya has attracted those in search of spiritual and literal elevation: pilgrims, adventurers and mountaineers seeking to test themselves among the world’s most spectacular and challenging peaks. But far from being wild and barren, the Himalaya has throughout the ages been home to an astonishing diversity of indigenous and local cultures, as well as a crossroads for trade, and a meeting point and conflict zone for the world’s superpowers. Here Jesuit missionaries exchanged technologies with Tibetan Lamas, Mongol Khans employed Nepali craftsmen, Armenian merchants exchanged musk and gold with Mughals. Here too the East India Company grappled for dominance with China’s emperors, independent India has been locked in conflict with Mao’s Communists and their successors, and the ideological confrontation of the Cold War is now being buried beneath mass tourism and ecological transformation.
Featuring scholars and tyrants, bandits and CIA agents, go-betweens and revolutionaries, Himalaya is a panoramic, character-driven history on the grandest but also the most human scale, by far the most comprehensive yet written, encompassing geology and genetics, botany and art, and bursting with stories of courage and resourcefulness.

592 pages, Hardcover

Published August 27, 2020

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About the author

Ed Douglas

37 books19 followers
Ed Douglas is a writer and journalist with a passion for the wilder corners of the natural world. A former editor of the Alpine Journal, a columnist for Climber and The Guardian, Ed is an enthusiastic amateur climber and mountain traveller, with a particular interest in the Himalaya

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 68 reviews
Profile Image for 8stitches 9lives.
2,787 reviews1,628 followers
August 27, 2020
Having had a keen interest in natural history and enjoyed plenty of books before this on the Himalaya I was slightly sceptical regarding the bold claim that this book is "by far the most comprehensive yet written" about the area, its culture and its people. For many years, the unique and astonishing geography of the Himalaya has attracted those in search of spiritual and literal elevation: pilgrims, adventurers, and mountaineers seeking to test themselves among the world’s most spectacular and challenging peaks. But far from being wild and barren, the Himalaya has been home to an astonishing diversity of indigenous and local cultures, as well as a crossroads for trade, and a meeting point and conflict zone for the world’s superpowers. Here Jesuit missionaries exchanged technologies with Tibetan Lamas, Mongol Khans employed Nepali craftsmen, the East India Company grappled for dominance with China’s emperors, and independent India confronts Mao’s Communists and their successors.

Writers and publicists often have a tendency to make all sorts of outrageous claims to lure readers into purchasing a book and many fail to deliver what they initially promised. However, Ed Douglas does deliver with this superb read. His passion and enthusiasm are a delight to witness and are evident right from the get-go whilst remaining for the entirety. His ceaseless enthusiasm fed into mine and I saw the topics, places and people come alive more and more with each turn of the page. Vividly tracing the mountainous terrain Douglas draws spectacular portraits with his prose and his richly detailed descriptions evoke a feeling of freedom and wanderlust despite me being at home curled up under a blanket. If you have been searching for an extensive, all-encompassing work on the beauty of the Himalayas, peppered with stories, myths and legends, and engaging anecdotes then you can't go wrong with this immersive masterpiece. Many thanks to Bodley Head for an ARC.
Author 5 books102 followers
February 23, 2021
I admit I feel like I've climbed Everest finishing this tome. It is an Everest in its own right, steeped (yes, that choice of verb is no accident) with facts and details that often made me leave the book at rest for a few days before gathering the mindset to pick it up again. (I've read four books in the breaks I needed reading Himalaya).

But with that warning, I have to admit that it is not only excellent but in a class of its own, and a book that clearly deserves more than one reading. I consider this first read akin to getting a feel for the terrain before the real trip is made. My advice is to pace yourself. Don't give up. Find your own base camp in its depths and explore from there, whether it's the region's history, or politics, personalities, people, plants or, of course, the mountaineers.

Profile Image for George Ilsley.
Author 12 books229 followers
October 9, 2022
A fat book about the Himalayan region, which touches on India, Nepal, Bhutan, China, Sikkim, Ladakh, Kashmir, and of course, Tibet; as well as covering topics as diverse as the East India Company, British colonialism, the Great Game, Afghanistan, botany, mountaineering, boundary disputes, generations of Nepalese politicians and royalty, Queen Elizabeth tiger hunting, a Chinese highway into Kathmandu, more Sherpas in New York City than in Khombu, the brisk trade in rhubarb, political protests and uprisings in Lhasa, Younghusband's invasion of Tibet, Nepali migrant workers, and deaths on Chomolungma (sometimes known as Mount Everest).


I greatly enjoyed the first several chapters about Lost Kingdoms and First Explorers, and appreciated the assertion that Tibet was not "isolated" but was trading and interacting with its neighbours throughout history. There were long-established trade routes through the mountains, and goods and ideas travelled in all directions.

However, there are long detailed chapters about Plant Hunters (think endless rhododendrons and Himalayan blue poppies) and waves of Mountaineers seeking records, glory, and early death — these sections were rather a slog. There are also long passages about the nuances of Nepalese politics, which felt overly-detailed, especially compared to other regions, such as Kashmir, that were barely mentioned. However, this author knows Nepal and the Tibetan occupation so of course he has focused on that, and brought years of research onto his study.

The result is a look at the region taking different approaches or views: through science or botany, or exploration, or power and politics.

When you walk among these mountains, you feel humbled and overwhelmed, and mounting a ridge may be startled by the view — a hidden valley, an unexpected snowy peak shimmering in the sun, or a beckoning village on the next ridge that appears so close yet will take a day to reach. Attempting this book was much the same experience — overwhelming and enriching, even daunting.
Profile Image for Jess.
81 reviews
July 7, 2020
This is a bold and ambitious book which aims to chronicle the history of the Himalayas.

It is really impressively written and thoroughly well-researched with many interesting anecdotes, stories and legends to be found throughout. If you are fascinated by the Himalaya or have an interest in its history, this book is the perfect guide.

Alhough I tried however, I I found it diifficult to become fully immersed in this book. That's not to say it wasn't brilliant and impressive, it just never really came to life for me. I think if you had been to the Himalaya or were interested in it, it would no doubt capture your imagination much more thoroughly.

There is lots of substance and ambition here, which, for the right reader, would no doubt provide a fully immersive and meiticulous exploration of this awe-inspring mountain range.

Thank you to Vintage and NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review this ARC.
48 reviews
April 9, 2021
This book is the culmination of Ed Douglas’ 25-year project on what he calls “a human history” of the Himalaya. The book was too much of a slog. In an effort to leave nothing out, Douglas put too much in. Too many minor characters. Too many minor events. Too many facts. Too many thickets. Douglas often introduces a main topic then almost immediately pulls you into too many thickets of minor facts and people tangentially related to the topic, and you’re left flailing about, trying to find your way back to the main topic, which can be many pages later. He also takes you from one century to another in whiplash speed, leaving you dizzy. One moment he’s talking about an event in the 20th century, then suddenly he takes you somewhere into the 18th. Often there’s no obvious rhyme or reason for the transitions. Many of the innumerable Asian and English characters introduced, major and minor, have multiple names that Douglas uses interchangeably, leaving you confused about who you’re reading about. In short, too often in this book you lose sight of the forest for all the trees, bushes, plants, flowers, bears, and bugs Douglas feels compelled to mention.

The book poses as a “human history” of the Himalaya but is actually more of a political, military, and, to a lesser extent, religious history of Tibet, Nepal, and northern India. Bhutan and Pakistan, also Himalayan countries, don’t make much of an appearance. The book spends very little time on the sociological, cultural, or artistic history of the region. You learn very little about the different groups of people who live in the Himalaya (e.g., the Sherpas) and what their lives have been like over the historical periods covered in the book (mainly 18th through 20th centuries). This is not to say the political and military histories are not interesting. They are, indeed. Most of what I know about the Himalaya I’ve learned from reading dozens of mountaineering books. The colonial and post-colonial history of the region was fascinating. The religious history (principally Buddhism and Hinduism) was mildly interesting. Douglas spends too much time, however, on religious myths and Hindu gods. These sections are a grind.

The sections on mountaineering, which arrive later in the book and which I was looking forward to, focus less on mountain climbing than on the politics of mountain climbing, but these sections are quite interesting, nonetheless. Much of the politics was familiar to me, but there was a good deal more I learned.

I give this book a “C.” The research behind it was most impressive. Douglas writes well, but not always smoothly. The organization of the book left something to be desired. I suppose I would’ve preferred a linear history to a hopscotch approach. Douglas, a mountain climber himself, had too little to say about the important mountain climbing expeditions in the Himalaya. I regard this book as more of an academic tome than a fascinating story for the general reader.
Profile Image for Laurie.
164 reviews44 followers
October 4, 2021
The author's writing style is well suited to non-fiction; engaging, never dry, not embellished. My personal preference would have been more focus on the social history of the different peoples of the region and a bit less on the activities of Europeans. Though to be fair, the author does a good job exploring European influence in the region and the difficulties it has created for the environments and peoples of the region.
Profile Image for Tim Chamberlain.
114 reviews17 followers
November 1, 2021
This is a wonderful book. From the first page you can tell that it was written as the fruit of a lifetime’s worth of reading about, as well as travelling in, the region it describes; hence the ‘human’ element of this history is exactly that, a personal and a personable view. It is written with a lovely fluid elegance; reading its first few chapters it feels like the reader is trekking through the Himalaya with the author as their own personal guide. Ed Douglas has a beautifully well-honed style of writing which effortlessly imparts information unobtrusively alongside his own anecdotes of travel through the region, and vice versa. It’s a subtle tour de force in the craft of good writing. The kind of book which invites revisiting and sustains re-reading. It combines the best of first-hand travel writing and historical narrative in well balanced measures of each, using the lightest of touches to combine individual immediacy with the broader, big-canvas sweep of time and place – because, after all, to attempt to distil and narrate the history of such a vast region and all its different peoples, a region as old and as diverse as the Himalaya, is no mean feat.

Clearly it is a terrain within which Douglas is comfortably at home, roaming and writing as a mountain climber himself, having first travelled to the Himalaya in 1995, he has spent much of his life writing and reflecting upon mountaineering, having edited a number of well-known climbing magazines, as well as the prestigious Alpine Journal. Douglas’s love of Nepal shines through Himalaya: A Human History, and, in many ways, it is Nepal which acts as a pivot to his telling of the many stories which are rooted in the complex interrelations of the broader Himalayan region, a vast area which extends out as much to the Karakorum and the Kunlun as it does to the borderlands of Central Asia and the foothills of India and China, as well as high up into the heart of the Himalaya itself.

Tibet, naturally, is the other main anchor point of the book. Tibet’s apparent isolation in effect transmuting through time into a magnet attracting Western adventurers, travelling both individually and in the name of empires, seeking to bridge borders through trade and conquest, making famous names for themselves along the way. From George Bogle and Thomas Manning to Francis Younghusband, by way of various Indian ‘pundits’, as well as a wide scattering of European and American ‘plant hunters’, and a host of tenaciously persistent missionaries, outsiders were forever attempting to follow in the footsteps of local Himalayan porters and the long established postal and trade routes of caravans, hoping to reach the much fabled ‘forbidden city’ of Lhasa – historical seat of the Dalai Lamas. Douglas introduces and discusses these Western interlopers in depth, but he also balances them with an eye to the lesser-known local actors – both those in positions of power as well as those with more lowly and locally-based agency – who both helped and hindered these attempts to open up the Himalaya to the insatiable voracity of an increasingly globalising world.

Likewise, the later chapters of Himalaya: A Human History do not shy away from contemporary issues affecting the region – from the decades of political unrest in Tibet since 1950, to the growing concerns relating to the escalating environmental degradation now being caused by the modern-day mass-tourism overload of trekkers queuing up to reach the summit of Mount Everest; as well as the fractious on-going border disputes which have dogged diplomatic relations between China and India from the colonial era right up to the present day. Douglas peoples this latter part of his narrative with his first-hand interviews with Tibetan prisoners of conscience, individuals who have devoted their lives to fighting for Human Rights at great personal cost, and with the Sherpas of Nepal, who perform a vital yet dangerous role in facilitating wealthy foreign trekkers, as well as those people (such as the journalist, Liz Hawley), who have long resided in and watched both the slow changes and the rapid transformations which have overtaken the region in recent decades. This element of contemporary reportage lends Douglas’s book a sense of journalistic immediacy which most modern history books tend to fall short on in their closing pages.

Douglas’s Himalaya: A Human History is a perfect introduction and an overview of a huge subject area – both geographically and historically – an excellent book for orientating oneself before setting off on more focussed and localised routes of enquiry.

The above is an excerpt from a longer article about books on the Himalaya, which you can read on my blog here: Himalaya - The Heart of Eurasia.
Profile Image for Sandeep.
19 reviews1 follower
August 13, 2021
This is an incredible book. With extremely thorough and meticulous descriptions, it is probably the most comprehensive account of Himalaya that I have come across to date. Full of engrossing stories, anecdotes and myths, it almost felt like journeying through my mountains once again. Highly researched, the book mainly focuses on ancient and modern histories of Tibet and Nepal. While I do wish that it shed more light on the early history of Western and Eastern Himalaya (Kashmir, Sikkim, Bhutan, etc.), the author does a great job in chronicling the stories of a region as vast as Himalaya, traversing centuries, in just over 500 pages. I'd definitely recommend it if you're a history buff, however, some prior knowledge of Tibetan and Nepalese history might be helpful for an easier read.
Profile Image for ahmad  afridi.
139 reviews145 followers
August 28, 2022
Description of this book term this "an epic story of peoples, cultures and adventures among the world’s highest mountains" but it is just political history of Central himalaya (Katmandu valley Bhutan and sikkim and Uttar Pradesh) and Lhasa in tibet .

Except the starting few chapters which gave a historic picture of these highlands, all discussion revolve around colonial struggle to reach the roof of world, the mythical land of shangri-la and the tug-of-war with other northern powers like China Mongolia and Russia . being said that, i still enjoyed it. Writing was engaging not in a strict chronological order and was quite detailed. compared to natives of these hills and valleys there is more details about foreign explorers and colonial officers like what school they went to and who were their great grand parents and what were their contributions. there is nothing to very little about cultures, religious practices and demographic shifts. so if you are interested in these topics, or want to read about regions other than central himalayas, do read some other book(and recommend me too)
Profile Image for Elentarri.
1,497 reviews11 followers
October 11, 2022
When I picked up Himalaya: A Human History by Ed Douglas, I expected a social-cultural history of the Himalaya region (India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Tibet, Sikkim, Ladakh, and Kashmir). A history that explores the lives of the people living in the region.  I expected to learn about how the various people in this region live, their different cultures, societies, religions, political organisation, economics, what they ate and what they do for amusement... over a period of time.  This book... is not that. 

Ed Douglas has written a book that is essentially a jumbled collection of whatever historical story or event stuck his fancy at the time.  Most of these stories revolve around the history of Western exploration, exploitation and military escapades of the region as provided in Western sources.  Douglas also focuses on India, Nepal, Tibet, China (and their political/military squabbling), and mountain climbing, and practically ignores mention of Bhutan, Sikkim, Pakistan and Ladakh.  To be fair, Douglas does show that the region was a centre of commerce and religion and not isolated from the rest of the world.   He also has three nicely written chapters on the  geology and prehistory of the Himalaya.  Mostly, the book is organised under "themed" chapters, with no overarching historical or connecting narrative.  There is only a vague sense of chronological organisation or locational organisation, with Douglas ricocheting between events, locations and time-frames leaving the reader wondering at the relevance of any of it.  No time line is provided either.  Douglas provides an overwhelming plethora of irrelevant information, unnecessary detail, obscure terms, and a vast array of random names, places and minor/inconsequential characters (and their obscure relatives and where those relatives went to school), without explaining their relevance.  This makes the book practically incoherent if you are looking for a general history of the Himalaya region.  The paperback has 6 maps and 3 colour photograph inserts, mostly of European explorers.

In my opinion, this frustratingly erratic hopscotch "history" is not a particularly useful or coherent introduction to the Himalaya.
Profile Image for Hadrian.
438 reviews222 followers
June 18, 2021
A broad and sweeping survey of a region with a vast history and is often misunderstood.

Douglas starts his book with the geography, with the collision of the Indian subcontinent with the rest of Eurasia some tens of millions of years ago. And after that, the book is filled with as much information as Douglas can cram into five hundred pages. That there was once a Tibetan Empire, which defeated the Tang Dynasty in battle and existed during the life of Charlemagne and the Abbasid Caliphate. The book also includes discussions on the rise and fall of the Nepalese monarchy, and then a brief segment on the border clashes between India and China, and then on the brutality committed to the Tibetan people. Far from being completely isolated from the rest of the world, the region was a hub of trade, a center of religious beliefs, and at times quite aware of the outside world.

Aside from the wealth of detail on this political history, a large segment of the book is on outside observers, many see the Himalaya as a blank slate for them to draw their plans on. The British East India Company makes an appearance, as do missionaries who saw monasteries and priestly orders and made partial though incomplete comparisons to Christianity. The locals had their own religion and were suspicious of outside motives. Some of these are mystics or quacks like Helena Blavatsky; others are caliper-wielding 'race scientists' who saw the Tibetan aristocracy as evidence of an Aryan race. The millions of people here are often misunderstood at best, or abused at worst.

Out of the cast of characters who come in to pay a visit, Douglas has a soft spot for the mountaineers. Seeing as he is one himself, and has visited the region many times, it is very understandable. And in the understanding the reverence of the task of climbing, and the cold persistent work of hauling yourself up and the brief and timeless moment at the summit.
Profile Image for Steven.
539 reviews23 followers
February 8, 2021
Whew! I knew I was cutting it close, but didn't realize how close. About 45 minutes after finishing it, I got a notice from my public library that my digital loan had ended.

I did ultimately enjoy this book, but it was a bit of a slog for me.

Things I liked - learning about some of the key characters involved in the political, religious, mountaineering and natural history of the Himalaya. The author, who has a mountaineering background, clearly loves this aspect of the regions, and really, his enthusiasm was infectious. I also liked some of the historical name-dropping (Lola Montez, anyone?) but since I was reading this on a tablet, it was far too easy to jump out of the book to find out more, and these many rabbit-holes bogged down my progress. That's not the author's problem -- it's a me problem.

Things I grew a bit weary of -- trying to keep up with all the names, especially Indian political figures, both British and Indian. It was a lot to keep up with and I confess I didn't do a great job of it. Also, I was annoyed that, while there were maps, there were many locations (rivers, valleys, monasteries, etc.) that didn't appear on them. I'd pore over them and stare and for the life of me couldn't find these places.

All in all, a great overview, I think, by someone who clearly has a passion for the geography, people and history of this region.

(One thing I wish publishers would do is disperse the photos and other media that appear in a section in the printed editions. In an ebook, is there any reason why the photo or painting being referred to in the text can't be displayed near it?)
Profile Image for Chris.
1,444 reviews31 followers
September 2, 2022
Muddled telling. No footnotes. Ironically the book itself might as well be similar to reading footnotes. An ordeal to get through. It took me six months. The author has a lot of passion for the region and its people but is all over the place and goes off on irrelevant tangents as well as bombarding the reader with lots of arcane terms, groups, and unfamiliar persons. Definitely not an introduction to the region although it tried to be one.
Profile Image for Cherry.
53 reviews2 followers
May 26, 2022
In the back of my mind, the Himalayan mountain range is always synonymous with Shangri-La, a fictional hidden utopia popularised by James Hilton in his novel The Lost Horizon. To think of Shangri-La itself is to make a connection with the Tibetan belief of Shambhala, a kind of spiritual kingdom in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. This is the hidden place where you can find endless wisdom about self, life, and humanity. This is the place to conquer oneself by attempting to climb the highest summit in the world, Everest. Because of my limited understanding of this region’s rich history, Himalaya-then became just another imagined mythical faraway place in the back of my mind. I think it’s time to broaden my knowledge and understanding of the Himalaya and all the civilizations that thrived under its shadow. This book is a welcome addition to the Himalayan history and I’m pleasantly surprised at how detailed and broad the scope of Ed Douglas' research is.

This book isn’t just a general history at all but also covered the Himalayas’ natural history as much as its political and cultural study. I absolutely enjoy reading this book. Easy to read while also sharing a lot of useful information, sometimes too detailed even and yet never felt like a dry read. Naturally, the book focused a great deal on Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, Sikkim, Ladakh, and British India. Himalaya are like giant magnets that attracted many interesting and peculiar personalities to explore their mountain ranges and hidden valleys, to follow their many rivers too. What happened then, was a clash of political, economic, and sometimes personal interests at the expense of the indigenous inhabitants of the Himalaya. Pilgrims, traders, craftsmen, missionaries, porters, pundits, spies, diplomats, military personnel, landscape surveyors, cartographers, mountaineers—all of these were eager enough to traverse the complex Himalayan terrain and brace the harsh climate just to satiate their curiosity, a curiosity that was well-rewarded once they reached either Lhasa, Kathmandu or the summit of Everest.

Reading this book feels like traversing and climbing the Himalaya itself. I considered each chapter similar to acclimatization in each camp, from the very base spot and upward to the highest camp. As I learnt from the very beginning how the mountain ranges of the Himalaya were formed and how the civilizations scattered around it started to flourish up to the present situation where Tibet lost its independent status and the tourism boom started to create human waste problems. Ed Douglas’ passion for mountaineering is evident and it’s clear that this book is a result of not just his passion but lifelong studies of the Himalaya and its people.

The most interesting insight is how the ancient trading networks flourished among the tiny and scattered small kingdoms across the Himalaya (Ladakh, Zanskar, Mustang, Sikkim, Spiti, and Lahaul). Trade is a necessity as without it, the many small kingdoms whose limited resources means that they have to depend on traveling merchants to fulfill their need would not be able to survive. These ancient trade routes were in turn would also be used by foreign travellers to cross the Himalaya to reach Lhasa and back again to the south side of the Himalaya. Not all of the travellers were traders and porters, some of them were spies or pundits tasked with their chief superior to survey the landscape and gather information.

“The mini-states of the Himalayan belt were not only constrained by geography, with hyper-local languages and cultures. They were also constrained economically. Indeed there were so many of these tiny kingdoms not because of political weakness but because of their limited economies. It was almost impossible for one of them to dominate another without becoming vulnerable themselves: there simply weren’t the resources available.” ~Chapter 6: The Rise of Gorkha, page 119-120.

City of Leh in Ladakh, India was a historic capital city of the Kingdom of Ladakh (one of the Tibetan kingdoms). For many centuries, Leh was an important stopover for traders because many trans-Himalayan trade routes converged on Leh.
City of Leh in Ladakh, India was a historic capital city of the Kingdom of Ladakh (one of the Tibetan kingdoms). For many centuries, Leh was an important stopover for traders because many trans-Himalayan trade routes converged on Leh.

Sadly, these ancient trading networks which gave such versatility to the people that lived in the Himalayas region were disrupted and most likely vanished because of the drawn-up border between China and India (this border agreement was enacted since the British Raj days). Mountaineering is clearly at the heart of Ed Douglas’ main study as every aspect of understanding these intertwined Tibetan, Nepali, and Bhutanese worlds was always involved with interesting individuals climbing, hiking, trekking, and making a long journey across and around the Himalaya with their own personal missions.

It's very difficult to put this book down because this is such an enlightening and delightful book to read!
Profile Image for Stephen King.
251 reviews9 followers
November 24, 2020
This is excellent in parts and sheds a welcome light on a much underserved region - its history, religion and culture and its geopolitical importance. However, unless you’re a devotee or student of Nepali history, it can be dense and turgid.
Profile Image for KB.
189 reviews7 followers
April 19, 2022
Based on reviews I had seen, I figured I was going to give this a shot and give up after a chapter or so. But I have to say, I really enjoyed this book. Although it's not perfect, I found it to be a fascinating account of an area of the world I know very little about.

Author Ed Douglas doesn't really insert himself much into this book, but his travelogue-like intro drew me in. There's an ease to Douglas' writing that I immediately connected with. I never felt like I had to labour through a chapter, or wade through useless academic jargon. And while he's covering a lot of territory - geographically and thematically - he seems to have a knack for choosing great stuff to fill out his account. Largely focusing on Tibet, Nepal and parts of India, Himalaya: A Human History brought the region to life for me - in a very grounded way. There's something almost mystical and mythical about the Himalaya as portrayed in popular culture, but Douglas cuts through all that.

We meet so many curious and intriguing people, and read through countless interesting events. And Douglas does a wonderful job giving these individuals real personality, even if we only learn about them briefly. We read, for example, about the 'beginnings' of botany and anthropology in the region. Many of the people who set out to explore never made it home due to the harsh climate and disease. One such individual is Reginald Farrer, noted British plant collector. Douglas writes of his death: "As though her son had fallen on the horticultural equivalent of the Western Front, Farrer's mother dedicated a small fountain to him in the gardens of Ingleborough Hall with the inscription: 'He died for love and duty, in search of rare plants.'" That's good stuff right there.

But like I said, this book is not perfect. There were definitely times that a certain story seemed unnecessary, or a tangent went on too long. Sometimes I found myself wondering what I was reading really had to do with the chapter it was in at all. Alternatively, at times Douglas would bring up a topic and sort of skim through it, leaving me wanting more. Coming in at 525 pages of text, that doesn't seem unreasonable given the scope of the book, but I think parts here and there could've been trimmed down. And yet perhaps some thematic topics could've been expanded.

This book is also quite heavy on foreigners and foreign accounts. Because of British meddling in the region, we meet many, many Brits. Douglas does focus on a lot of notable local political and religious figures, but the voice of your average Tibetan or Nepali is lacking. And it kind of goes without saying that with books of this scale and scope, you're learning a lot - but you're never going to remember all of it. It really is a lot to take in, even if the reading journey is enjoyable. And because we're not dealing with a single country, but rather a large geographic area of several countries, there can be no precise, linear timeline; you're jumping back and forth a bit to cover the same time period in these different countries.

It took me two months to get through Himalaya, but I loved the time I spent in the book. I was almost sad to finish it.

Edit: Screw it, 5 stars.
Profile Image for Alasdair.
77 reviews
August 11, 2022
I liked it!

For the most part it avoids being a history of some European dudes in the Himalaya, but especially as we get towards the 1800s it increasingly becomes a history of the Himalaya through the eyes of some European dudes (and some European women!). Not a huge surprise, and certainly a step in the right direction, but a bit of a shame given the early chapters make use of quite a lot of local archaeological and literary evidence to to build their narratives. Why do we have to lose so much of this as soon as the British turn up?

Structurally Himalaya is quite thematic, with each of the 20 chapters covering a different strand of history in broadly chronological order. This is definitely the more interesting way to go about it, focussing on a series of narratives rather than marching us through an interminable chronological slog. But while these stories are pretty consistently engaging, it was often unclear where exactly each narrative was going. Every time there was a jump backward or forward in time within a chapter I could never be certain whether this was to contextualise what I'd just been reading, or whether we were only now moving on to the main thrust of the narrative. In structuring the book this way it also occasionally suffers from lack of context ('are we skipping over [historical event] because a later chapter is going to focus on it, or are we just skimming over it entirely?' Was a question I had on numerous occasions), and I could imagine a reader struggling if they didn't have at least a general knowledge of the major powers on the Himalayan periphery (East India Company/Mughals/Qing China etc.).

The title also led to a bit of a let-down, though I won't bang on about it too much given it might not have been entirely up to the writer. For a book subtitled A Human History I could have done with a bit more social history. With a few exceptions you don't get much of a sense of what life was like for folks whose names didn't get into the historical record. Ultimately it's predominantly a political history (nothing wrong with that!), a history of some humans rather than a human history.

But despite my reservations I still had a good time with it - one to read chapter by chapter for the narratives rather than to get a synthesis of thousands of years of Himalayan history.
Profile Image for Dawn.
1,150 reviews44 followers
August 11, 2020
The rating I have given this book should in no way diminish the writing (5 stars) or the (obviously) huge amount of research that the author has done to provide readers with an incredible history. My problem (and, yes, it is MY problem) is that the scope is just too big. There is just so much information that the over-all feeling from this book is one of being overwhelmed. Sorry.

My thanks to the author, publisher, and NetGalley for an advance copy to review. This review is entirely my own, unbiased, opinion.
Profile Image for Peter.
34 reviews
June 4, 2021
An in depth political and historical study of the Himalaya region. The book contains lots of detail yet remains vrry readable
Profile Image for Bill Amatneek.
Author 6 books4 followers
March 26, 2021
An epic history of the Himalaya, a monumental work. THANK YOU, Ed Douglas.
Profile Image for Subin.
158 reviews1 follower
May 30, 2021
Himalaya: A human history is among the few good books about the people of Himalaya. Most English books about the region are about Mountaineering and trekking. Ed Douglas has done a brilliant job researching the history of the region: Nepal, Tibet, Bhutan, and northern India. This book is a bit complicated as it discusses several historical figures, rulers, diplomats; regional wars, and other events that nevertheless had a big impact; and mentions several obscure places. It was hard for me to grasp those chapters that dealt with the history of Tibet. I also mostly skimped through the chapters about mountaineering. The chapters on the history of Nepal are the ones that I enjoyed the most. It was a nice revision of my school history lesson and other stories I heard growing up in Nepal, but with a new and neutral perspective; the history I learned during our school year was written to glorify the Monarchy and the kingdom. This is also the first book I read that acknowledge the role Gurkha's from Nepal has contributed in the expansion and maintenance of the British empire, particularly in Asia, which is a matter of pride for some and shame for others -- Bhupi Sherchan's poem at the beginning of the book is thus very relevant as he was one of the prominent critics of Gurkha's contribution to British imperialism.
28 reviews
July 8, 2021
500+ page book which is a messy assortment of stories and people from the long history of the Himalayan region. The Himalaya region - Tibet, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan etc is clearly a fascinating and unique place. They have a long history of being connected economically and culturally to all the surrounding regions of Asia. The author clearly has a deep love for this place.
But sometimes the details are just so overwhelming. Names and dates come at you fast. It seems that he has collected all kinds of stories of the Himalayas and is trying hard to squeeze all of them into one book. Chapters veer from one person to another without only the a minimal attempt to connecting these into a common thread. It got tiring after a bit.
But a good read about a place that deserves more attention.
86 reviews
March 10, 2022
I wanted to love this book, but it was not meant to be. Much of the content is interesting, but overburdened with unnecessary detail. As an example, the parts that dealt with the East India company and the Raj offer background detail about what private school each person attended. Who cares and how is that at all relevant to the story? I also felt like something was missing. The focus was on India, Nepal, Tibet, and China, with only passing mention of the Himalayan kingdoms of Bhutan, Sikkim, and Ladakh. The Mustang area has a really interesting history, but the only mention is about the Tibetan resistance based there in modern times. Anyway, I don’t think I can recommend this book even though it had its good points.
Profile Image for Peter.
90 reviews
February 21, 2021
An incoherent history

A disappointing read about a fascinating topic. The author skips from a a bird’s eye view to anecdotes about individuals with dizzying and disorienting speed. He talks of the importance of Buddhism with little or no explanation of its meaning or how it has influenced the history of the region beyond the mere assertion that it has. He is best in his history of mountaineering which is clearly his passion - a book focussed just on that subject would have been a far better subject for this author. History is a “story” not just a string of facts and, alas, there is no real story of the Himalaya here.
Profile Image for Abhishek Kona.
238 reviews6 followers
May 27, 2021
I appreciate that the author wrote a book about the Himalayas that is not about discovering yourself in the Himalayas. Instead the author is curious and wants to learn about the people and their history of the mountains.

I found there is no central thesis to the book, it jumps from culture to culture and across time period. Its gives you an overview of the different people there but was too boring for me.

Profile Image for Igor Zurimendi.
82 reviews
December 22, 2022
The book is about a rigorous history of the Himalaya, but more a succession of events the author finds interesting to write about: plenty of mountaineering detail, but no detail on Buddhist theology. Unfortunately I don't share the author's interests.
1,310 reviews15 followers
October 11, 2021
This was overbroad. It tried to cover too much material and thus seemed to jump between topics and areas. On top of that, some of the topics were more superficially covered. It would have been more effective if this was broken into separate works.
18 reviews
September 21, 2021
Halfway through. I really wanted to like this book but it's incredibly dry. Even something as fascinating as Nepalese history is really convoluted and hard to follow. I'm trying Jennifer.
15 reviews
May 16, 2021
Really a history of Western exploration (and exploitation) of the region, as derived from Western sources.
Profile Image for Lachinchon.
117 reviews1 follower
December 17, 2021
DNF. I can't fault the scholarship, but the text is so dense it is unreadable. Like the literary equivalent of a black hole, it contains such a prodigious amount of data that none of it can escape.
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