This edition, we’re off to the heady heights of the Himalaya with a selection from Ultimate Library that celebrates the fascinating cultures, diverse flora and fauna and storied history of this spectacular mountain region. From Peter Mathieson’s classic treatise on the elusive and endangered snow leopard to the classic Black Narcissus – about nuns living in a Himalayan Palace to a biography of mountaineering legend Maurice Wilson – these are the perfect picks for those with a taste for adventures in the high country.
1. The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen
‘A masterpiece that exceeds the boundaries of the travel genre and envelops you with its incredible prose.’ (Wall Street Journal). In 1973 author Peter Matthiessen made the 250-mile trek to Dolpo, as part of an expedition to study wild blue sheep. It was an arduous, sometimes dangerous, physical endeavour, but it was also a ‘journey of the heart’. Amongst the beauty and indifference of the mountains Matthiessen was searching for solace and for a glimpse of a snow leopard, a creature so rarely spotted as to be almost mythical.
2. The Moth and the Mountain by Ed Caesar
This is the untold story of Britain’s most mysterious mountaineering legend, Maurice Wilson, and his heroic attempt to climb Everest alone. Maurice Wilson is a man written out of the history books, dismissed as an eccentric and a charlatan by many, but held in the highest regard by world class mountaineers such as Reinhold Messner. Shortlisted for the Costa Biography Award in 2021 and described as, ‘a small classic of the biographer’s art’ by James McConnachie in The Sunday Times, this book restores Wilson to his rightful place in the annals of Everest and in doing so attempts to answer that perennial question – why do we climb mountains?
3. Himalaya: Exploring the Roof of the World by John Keay
‘Dazzlingly wide-ranging, brilliantly researched and elegantly told’ (Ranulph Fiennes). History has not been kind to Himalaya. Empires have collided here, cultures have clashed. From every direction there are countries laying claim to its snow-capped peaks, hunters have decimated its wildlife and now machinery gouges minerals out of its rock. This is the story of one of the last great wildernesses, from the people that call it home to the way it has shaped trade and geopolitics. Author John Keay draws on a lifetime of exploration to delight with the lively biography of a region in crisis.
4. Black Narcissus by Rumer Godden
‘A remarkable novel. One in a thousand’ (Observer). When Anglican nuns arrive at a Himalayan palace to establish a mission, they confront intense spiritual and emotional forces. With exquisite prose and vivid characters, author Rumer Godden weaves a mesmerizing tale of love, betrayal, and self-discovery. It is a timeless masterpiece of literary fiction that explores the emptiness and isolation of the mountain.
5. High: A Journey Across the Himalayas Through Pakistan, India, Bhutan, Nepal, and China by Erika Fatland
‘A hauntingly lyrical meditation to the contingencies of history.’ (Wall Street Journal) Through stunning descriptions of the Himalayan landscapes and close encounters with the diverse peoples who call the region home, author Erika Fatland explores the complex intersection of modernity and tradition and delves into little-known histories and the volatile conflicts of today. A Financial Times Travel Book of the Year 2022, this fascinating exploration of one of the world’s most captivating places is not to be missed.