Introduced by Alex Matthiessen
Photography by George Schaller
An iconic Tibetan travelogue that inspired a generation of trekkers and nature lovers. This edition includes previously unpublished expedition photographs and is introduced by the author’s son Alex.
‘Peter Matthiessen firmly anchored the mysterious snow leopard and its mountain habitat in the minds and hearts of readers.’
Among the best travel books ever written, The Snow Leopard gained a reverential following among trekkers and natural history enthusiasts, and its powerful environmental messages are perhaps even more relevant today than when it was first published.
The book charts naturalist and writer Peter Matthiessen’s journey through the Himalayas to the Crystal Mountain on the Tibetan Plateau in 1973. He was invited to accompany field biologist George Schaller on a research expedition to track the rare Himalayan blue sheep, following a route that crossed the territory of the snow leopard. Long fascinated by the endangered and rarely sighted big cats, Matthiessen was drawn to the possibility of being one of the few westerners to see them in their natural habitat.
‘The biggest sins, so the Sherpas say, are to pick wild flowers and to threaten children.’
Matthiessen’s extraordinary journey through snowfields and high plateau crosses one of the last great wildernesses on earth. His engagement with the landscape and wildlife – wolves and black bear, ‘fire-coloured dragonflies’, flocks of rose finches and the lammergeier vulture, ‘a nine-foot blade sweeping down out of the north’, is thrilling. However, it is his encounters with the Tibetan people – monks, lamas in their mountaintop monasteries and his often belligerent Sherpas – that affect him most deeply: their unity with the natural world and ‘deep trust in life’ turned his Western mind upside down.
This edition features an exclusive introduction written by Peter Matthiessen’s son Alex. The candid essay reveals a great deal about Matthiessen’s personality and motivations. Having retraced his father’s route with George Schaller in 2016, Alex Matthiessen also highlights fascinating analogies between the physical and emotional journeys undertaken by father and son.
Twenty previously unpublished full-colour images from the original expedition illustrate the text. George Schaller’s arresting photographs introduce us to the trekking party, provide a cultural snapshot of the Dolpo region, and reveal the epic scale of the landscape and the monumental task that the team set itself.
Printed-map endpapers show the topography and route of the journey, and the ethereal spot-UV binding illustration has been designed by award-winning artists Kai & Sunny, who have beautifully encapsulated the twin elements of exploration and spiritualism.
Peter Matthiessen (1927–2014) was a novelist, naturalist and wilderness writer. He was born in New York, left home to serve in the U.S. Navy as a teenager, but returned to study English at Yale. After graduation, he lived in Paris for several years where he associated with other expatriate writers such as William Styron and James Baldwin, and whilst there, cofounded and edited the literary magazine The Paris Review.
Throughout his career, Matthiessen’s interests ranged far and wide, leading to works of fiction and non-fiction. His first novel, Race Rock, was published in 1954. His study of the destruction of wildlife in North America, Wildlife in America (1959), led to an open brief from The New Yorker to travel and report on the world’s wild places. Other non-fiction works included The Tree Where Man Was Born (1972), In the Spirit of Crazy Horse (1983) about the federal government’s treatment of Native Americans, Birds of Heaven (2001), an account of a journey across several continents in search of cranes, and Tigers in the Snow (2002) which chronicled the plight of Siberian tigers. The Snow Leopard (1978) won both the National Book Award and the American Book Award. He won the National Book Award again in 2008 for his novel Shadow Country, earning him the distinction of being the only writer to have won the award for both fiction and non-fiction. Earlier novels include At Play in the Fields of the Lord (1965), Far Tortuga (1975), On the River Styx (1989) and In Paradise (2014).
George Schaller is a zoologist, conservationist, author and photographer. One of the world’s pre-eminent field biologists, he has spent most of his working life in the field in South America, Africa and Asia, and many years on the Tibetan Plateau, studying its wildlife, including the wild yak, Tibetan antelope and snow leopard. Schaller has also been instrumental in the creation of large protected areas, including the vast Chang Tang National Nature Reserve on the northern Tibetan Plateau.
Among his many awards are the 1997 Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement, the National Geographic’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006 and the World Wildlife Fund’s Gold Medal for ‘contributions to the understanding and conservation of endangered species’. He is also the author of numerous books on wildlife: The Year of the Gorilla (1964) and The Last Panda (1993). His most recent publication is Tibet Wild: A Naturalist’s Journeys on the Roof of the World (2012).
Alex Matthiessen is an environmentalist who specializes in issue advocacy campaigns. As Rainforest Action Network’s grassroots organizer, he helped stop Mitsubishi’s destruction of tropical rainforests. At Riverkeeper, a clean water group where he was CEO and president for ten years, he oversaw campaigns that succeeded in forcing General Electric to clean up PCBs from the Hudson River, ExxonMobil to remove oil from Newtown Creek in New York City, and the accident-prone Indian Point nuclear facility, located just north of the city, to retire early. As a political appointee at the U.S. Department of the Interior, he received a Presidential award from the Clinton Administration for establishing ‘Green Energy Parks,’ a program whereby National Parks are used as a laboratory and model for demonstrating clean energy use for park visitors. Currently, as founder and president of Blue Marble Project, an environmental consulting firm, he is leading a campaign to bring London styled ‘congestion pricing’ to New York City, where he lives, as well as launching a new campaign, the Paul Revere Project, to wake Americans to the urgency of climate change. He is the son of Peter Matthiessen.
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