The best books about the Himalaya for people who don’t climb mountains

David Zurick Author Of Illustrated Atlas of the Himalaya
By David Zurick

Who am I?

I embarked as a teenager on an overland journey from Europe to Nepal, and have made a career out of returning to the Himalaya as often as possible. My research and photographic expeditions to the mountains over the many decades have led me into some of the most exquisite landscapes and cultures on the planet. In all cases, I seek to combine the physical experiences with aesthetic and spiritual ones, and the books I tend to read about the region also move me in those directions.


I wrote...

Illustrated Atlas of the Himalaya

By David Zurick, Julsun Pacheco,

Book cover of Illustrated Atlas of the Himalaya

What is my book about?

The Himalaya are world-renowned for their exquisite mountain scenery, ancient traditions, and diverse ethnic groups that tenaciously inhabit this harsh yet sublime landscape. Home to the world's highest peaks, including Mount Everest, and some of its deepest gorges, the region is a trove of biological and cultural diversity. Providing a panoramic overview of contemporary land and life in the Earth's highest mountains, the Illustrated Atlas of the Himalaya is the first full-color, comprehensive atlas of the geography, economics, politics, and culture of this spectacular area. Drawing from the author's twenty-five years of scholarship and field experience in the region, the volume contains a stunning and unique collection of maps utilizing state-of-the-art cartography, exquisite photography, and engagingly-written text to give accurate coverage of the Himalaya. 

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is reader supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our website. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

The Vast Unknown: America's First Ascent of Everest

By Broughton Coburn,

Book cover of The Vast Unknown: America's First Ascent of Everest

Why this book?

I’ve read a slew of books about climbing the big Himalayan summits and this is one of the best. It chronicles the first ascent of Mount Everest by an American team and in doing so provides a thrilling account of the climb itself, of the natural majesty of the mountain, and of the eccentric personalities of the team’s members.

The Vast Unknown: America's First Ascent of Everest

By Broughton Coburn,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Vast Unknown as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the midst of the Cold War, against the backdrop of the Bay of Pigs fiasco, the space race with the Soviet Union, and the Vietnam War, a band of iconoclastic American mountaineers set off for Mount Everest, aiming to restore America's confidence and optimism. Their objective was to reach the summit while conducting scientific research, but which route would they take? Might the Chinese have reached the top ahead of them? And what about another American team, led by the grandson of a President, that nearly bagged the peak in a bootleg attempt a year earlier?

THE VAST UNKNOWN:…


Himalaya

By Eric Valli, Anne de Sales,

Book cover of Himalaya

Why this book?

If you are looking for more than the usual travel images and want to buy only one photography book about the Himalaya, then this is your book. The author is a world-acclaimed photographer and the imagery in this book is absolutely stunning. It’s a very large book, with the photographs presented in two-page spreads that beautifully capture the detail and atmosphere of the scenes.

Himalaya

By Eric Valli, Anne de Sales,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Himalaya as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This stunning collection of Valli's most beautiful photographs from his time in the Himalaya presents the region's spectacular scenery: steep and narrow pathways, lonely high valleys, dramatic passes at 16,000 feet above sea level, and remote villages seemingly untouched by modernity.


The Heart of the World: A Journey to Tibet's Lost Paradise

By Ian Baker,

Book cover of The Heart of the World: A Journey to Tibet's Lost Paradise

Why this book?

My interest in the Himalaya has always extended from its physical presence to its significance for human spirituality. The author of this book simultaneously takes the reader on a harrowing adventure into both realms. His personal quest to discover the legendary falls of the Tsangpo River—thought to be one of Tibet’s mystical sanctuaries, leads him into one of the most remote places on the planet.

The Heart of the World: A Journey to Tibet's Lost Paradise

By Ian Baker,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Heart of the World as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The myth of Shangri-la originates in Tibetan Buddhist beliefs in beyul, or hidden lands, sacred sanctuaries that reveal themselves to devout pilgrims and in times of crisis. The more remote and inaccessible the beyul, the vaster its reputed qualities. Ancient Tibetan prophecies declare that the greatest of all hidden lands lies at the heart of the forbidding Tsangpo Gorge, deep in the Himalayas and veiled by a colossal waterfall. Nineteenth-century accounts of this fabled waterfall inspired a series of ill-fated European expeditions that ended prematurely in 1925 when the intrepid British plant collector Frank Kingdon-Ward penetrated all but a five-mile…


Himalaya: A Human History

By Ed Douglas,

Book cover of Himalaya: A Human History

Why this book?

Sometimes I’m looking for a book that contains it all—history, geology, nature, culture, and adventure, and this one comes very close to succeeding. It’s a dense book, filled with facts, but readable nonetheless. It also does what many accounts fail to do, which is to personalize the historical events by bringing to life the characters involved. It works as both a sit-down narrative and a reference volume for the library.

Himalaya: A Human History

By Ed Douglas,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Himalaya as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

SHORTLISTED FOR THE DUFF COOPER PRIZE 2021 / BANFF MOUNTAIN BOOK AWARDS SPECIAL JURY MENTION 2020
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…


Arresting God in Kathmandu

By Samrat Upadhyay,

Book cover of Arresting God in Kathmandu

Why this book?

Most of the books written about the Himalaya region are nonfiction. The author of this volume, a writer of Nepalese origin living in the USA, holds the gold-standard for fiction. His book is a collection of short stories set in contemporary Kathmandu that explores the tensions of modern life in a caste-bound traditional society. These are intimate, carefully-wrought, explorations into family, relationships, and the messy business of being an ordinary person in an extraordinary kind of place.

Arresting God in Kathmandu

By Samrat Upadhyay,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Arresting God in Kathmandu as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From “a major new talent” come short stories set in modern Nepal, about arranged marriages, forbidden desires, and the universal yearning for human connection (Amitav Ghosh).
 
Set in a city where gods are omnipresent, privacy is elusive, and family defines identity, these are stories of men and women caught between their own needs and the demands of their society and culture. Psychologically rich and astonishingly acute, with “a masterful narrative style” (Ian MacMillan), Arresting God in Kathmandu introduces a potent new voice in contemporary fiction.
 
“Upadhyay brings to readers the flavor of Nepal and its culture in this impressive collection…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the Himalayas, explorers, and Kathmandu?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the Himalayas, explorers, and Kathmandu.

The Himalayas Explore 27 books about the Himalayas
Explorers Explore 71 books about explorers
Kathmandu Explore 5 books about Kathmandu

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Fallen Giants, Everest, and Lost Horizon if you like this list.