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

Why am I passionate about this?

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. 

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The books I picked & why

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

David Zurick Why did I love 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.

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:…


Book cover of Himalaya

David Zurick Why did I love 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.

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.


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

David Zurick Why did I love 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.

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…


Book cover of Himalaya: A Human History

David Zurick Why did I love 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.

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…


Book cover of Arresting God in Kathmandu

David Zurick Why did I love 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.

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…


You might also like...

Who Is a Worthy Mother?: An Intimate History of Adoption

By Rebecca Wellington,

Book cover of Who Is a Worthy Mother?: An Intimate History of Adoption

Rebecca Wellington Author Of Who Is a Worthy Mother?: An Intimate History of Adoption

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I am adopted. For most of my life, I didn’t identify as adopted. I shoved that away because of the shame I felt about being adopted and not truly fitting into my family. But then two things happened: I had my own biological children, the only two people I know to date to whom I am biologically related, and then shortly after my second daughter was born, my older sister, also an adoptee, died of a drug overdose. These sequential births and death put my life on a new trajectory, and I started writing, out of grief, the history of adoption and motherhood in America. 

Rebecca's book list on straight up, real memoirs on motherhood and adoption

What is my book about?

I grew up thinking that being adopted didn’t matter. I was wrong. This book is my journey uncovering the significance and true history of adoption practices in America. Now, in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, the renewed debate over women’s reproductive rights places an even greater emphasis on adoption. As a mother, historian, and adoptee, I am uniquely qualified to uncover the policies and practices of adoption.

The history of adoption, reframed through the voices of adoptees like me, and mothers who have been forced to relinquish their babies, blows apart old narratives about adoption, exposing the fallacy that adoption is always good.

In this story, I reckon with the pain and unanswered questions of my own experience and explore broader issues surrounding adoption in the United States, including changing legal policies, sterilization, and compulsory relinquishment programs, forced assimilation of babies of color and Indigenous babies adopted into white families, and other liabilities affecting women, mothers, and children. Now is the moment we must all hear these stories.

Who Is a Worthy Mother?: An Intimate History of Adoption

By Rebecca Wellington,

What is this book about?

Nearly every person in the United States is affected by adoption. Adoption practices are woven into the fabric of American society and reflect how our nation values human beings, particularly mothers. In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v. Wade, the renewed debate over women's reproductive rights places an even greater emphasis on adoption. As a mother, historian, and adoptee, Rebecca C. Wellington is uniquely qualified to uncover the policies and practices of adoption. Wellington's timely-and deeply researched-account amplifies previously marginalized voices and exposes the social and racial biases embedded in the United States' adoption industry.…


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Interested in the Himalayas, explorers, and Kathmandu?

11,000+ 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.

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