Himalaya: A Human History

Ed Douglas. Norton, $40 (576p) ISBN 978-0-393-54199-1
Extreme landscapes, vibrant cultures, and tumultuous politics animate this sweeping history of the Himalayan region. Journalist Douglas (Tenzing: Hero of Everest) surveys the dazzling geology and ecology of the world’s highest mountain range and the unique civilizations it fostered, which produced a flowering of Buddhist philosophy, art, and architecture during Tibet’s medieval glory days. He also probes the tectonic geopolitical forces that molded Tibet and Nepal as they confronted powerful neighbors in China and British India and then diverged in the post-WWII era, with Tibet succumbing to Chinese colonization while Nepal struggled through monarchical dictatorships and Maoist insurgency to become a democracy and tourist mecca. It’s a colorful story, full of bloody palace intrigues in Kathmandu and Lhasa and nervy exploits by the many foreign (primarily British) outsiders drawn to the region—merchants, missionaries, cartographers, and, above all, mountaineers, whose conquests of Himalayan peaks Douglas recounts in vivid detail. Providing a corrective to romantic Western stereotypes of the region as the homeland of spiritual purity, Douglas notes the allure of Himalayan cultures but is clear-eyed about the prosaic economic motives that shape life there. Written in elegant prose with sharply etched profiles of historical figures, this engrossing account offers a fresh, revealing portrait of a much-mythologized place. Photos. (Jan.)
Reviewed on : 10/15/2020
Release date: 01/05/2021
Genre: Nonfiction
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