The best books about Tibet

5 authors have picked their favorite books about Tibet and why they recommend each book.

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Live to See Tomorrow

By Iris Johansen,

Book cover of Live to See Tomorrow: A Novel

Catherine Ling, the main character, is a CIA operative. Her strength and smarts enabled her to survive the streets of Hong Kong as a child until she was brought into the CIA at age fourteen. On top of having a woman as the main character who is tough and skilled—which I love—Iris Johansen weaves an exciting story of how Catherine must rescue an imprisoned woman journalist in Tibet. Two strong and brave women, exotic locations, and suspense that won’t quit…do I need to say more?


Who am I?

I am a writer and an internationally recognized communications expert who grew up poor, homeless, and oppressed by fear and violence. I am a woman who crashed through the glass ceiling and had an exciting career with the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the International Atomic Energy Agency where I became a leader on the international stage. During my troubled times growing up, I fantasized about being an elite operative who got the bad guys and traveled the world. That’s why I wrote about one. I know how hard it is to be a strong woman. That’s why I celebrate them. 


I wrote...

The Child Riddler

By Angela Greenman,

Book cover of The Child Riddler

What is my book about?

A riddle holds the code to unleash the most lethal weapon on earth—the first ever “invisibility” nanoweapon, a cloaking spider bot—and only one person knows it: a gifted nine-year-old girl. Top operative Zoe is sent to abduct the child but soon finds herself in a race to save the child she has grown to care about. 

But she must also save herself. Her drug addiction is threatening her engagement to the one person who brings her happiness, yet she needs the agency prescribed pills. They transform her into the icy killer she must be to survive. Can she still be ruthless without the chemicals that suppress her emotions?

The Life of Milarepa

By Lobsang P. Lhalungpa, Unknown,

Book cover of The Life of Milarepa: A New Translation from the Tibetan

For me personally, this book changed my life more than any other, opening me up to the inspiring possibility that a deeply imperfect person could become enlightened through sincere and mighty efforts. This work is one of the world's great stories. The name Milarepa has inspired people for a millenium throughout Central Asia, being almost synonymous with being a yogi and with redemption through heartfelt efforts. It includes Milarepa's life story and some of the many poems which he spontaneously composed to educate and enlighten others as he wandered through the Himalayas.


Who am I?

I'm a clinical psychologist who also writes about and teaches Buddhist philosophy, psychology, and meditation. I've had the great good fortune to be closely mentored by a number of elder Tibetan teachers who were educated in old Tibet.  Over the decades, when seeking wisdom and compassion in the midst of life's challenges, I've repeatedly found inspiration, education, solace, and guidance along my own path in the enlightened and enlightening life stories of a number of the great scholar/yogis of the Himalayan Buddhist traditions. 

I wrote...

The Lost Art of Compassion: Discovering the Practice of Happiness in the Meeting of Buddhism and Psychology

By Lorne Ladner,

Book cover of The Lost Art of Compassion: Discovering the Practice of Happiness in the Meeting of Buddhism and Psychology

What is my book about?

Compassion is often seen as a distant, altruistic ideal cultivated by saints, or as an unrealistic response of the naively kind-hearted. But by seeing compassion in this way, we lose out on experiencing the transformative potential of one of our most neglected inner resources.

Clinical psychologist and Tibetan Buddhist practitioner Dr. Lorne Ladner rescues compassion from this marginalized view, showing how its practical application in our life can be a powerful force in achieving happiness. Ladner provides a clear explanation of what healthy compassion is and why it is so essential to our lives. Combining the wisdom of Tibetan Buddhism and Western psychology, The Lost Art of Compassion presents clear, effective practices for cultivating compassion in daily living.

Enlightened Beings

By Jan Willis,

Book cover of Enlightened Beings: Life Stories from the Ganden Oral Tradition

This book does a remarkable job of exploring the nature of spiritual biography itself. It compares and contrasts Western hagiographical traditions with the unique ways that Tibetans (and other Central Asians) use outer, inner, and secret biographies not only to share the stories of great Buddhist masters but also to share history, inspiration, and implicit teachings to apply to one's own practice of the path. Willis explores these themes in complex ways and also provides translations of the life stories of 6 Tibetan lamas of the Ganden tradition who combined profound scholarly and deep yogic pursuits in unique ways.

Who am I?

I'm a clinical psychologist who also writes about and teaches Buddhist philosophy, psychology, and meditation. I've had the great good fortune to be closely mentored by a number of elder Tibetan teachers who were educated in old Tibet.  Over the decades, when seeking wisdom and compassion in the midst of life's challenges, I've repeatedly found inspiration, education, solace, and guidance along my own path in the enlightened and enlightening life stories of a number of the great scholar/yogis of the Himalayan Buddhist traditions. 

I wrote...

The Lost Art of Compassion: Discovering the Practice of Happiness in the Meeting of Buddhism and Psychology

By Lorne Ladner,

Book cover of The Lost Art of Compassion: Discovering the Practice of Happiness in the Meeting of Buddhism and Psychology

What is my book about?

Compassion is often seen as a distant, altruistic ideal cultivated by saints, or as an unrealistic response of the naively kind-hearted. But by seeing compassion in this way, we lose out on experiencing the transformative potential of one of our most neglected inner resources.

Clinical psychologist and Tibetan Buddhist practitioner Dr. Lorne Ladner rescues compassion from this marginalized view, showing how its practical application in our life can be a powerful force in achieving happiness. Ladner provides a clear explanation of what healthy compassion is and why it is so essential to our lives. Combining the wisdom of Tibetan Buddhism and Western psychology, The Lost Art of Compassion presents clear, effective practices for cultivating compassion in daily living.

Tibet in Agony

By Jianglin Li, Susan Wilf (translator),

Book cover of Tibet in Agony: Lhasa 1959

For years, the Dalai Lama was courted by Beijing in efforts to incorporate Tibet into the new Chinese Communist State. Drawing on official Chinese documents and memoirs and interviews with Tibetan emigres, Li pulls together a dramatic account of the maneuverings, miscalculations, and events during a critical period that culminated in an uprising in Lhasa that was violently crushed by the People’ Liberation Army, leading to the dramatic flight of the Dalai Lama to India. The account provides fresh new light on a dramatic failure of Chinese policy whose consequences are felt to the present day.


Who am I?

I took my first course about Chinese politics in 1973, when the country was still in the tumultuous last years of the Mao era. In a teaching career that began in 1982, I have spent long periods of research and teaching in China and Hong Kong. China’s shifting course has been a constant source of fascination, encouragement, and at times dismay. It is hard to imagine that the impoverished and unstable country of the 1970s would rise to become such a major economic power, one that despite its impressive expansion still faces intractable barriers to its future advancement.


I wrote...

China Under Mao: A Revolution Derailed

By Andrew G. Walder,

Book cover of China Under Mao: A Revolution Derailed

What is my book about?

China’s Communist Party seized power in 1949 after a long period of guerrilla insurgency followed by full-scale war, but the Chinese revolution was just beginning. China Under Mao narrates the rise and fall of the Maoist revolutionary state from 1949 to 1976—an epoch of startling accomplishments and disastrous failures, steered by many forces but dominated above all by Mao Zedong.

Mao’s China was shaped by a Party apparatus that exercised firm (sometimes harsh) discipline over its members; and a socialist economy modeled after the Soviet Union. Although a large national bureaucracy oversaw his authoritarian system, Mao intervened strongly at every turn. The doctrines and practices that produced Mao’s greatest achievements—victory in the civil war, the creation of China’s first unified modern state, a historic transformation of urban and rural life—also generated his worst failures: the industrial depression and rural famine of the Great Leap Forward and the violent destruction and stagnation of the Cultural Revolution. This book explains how and why the achievements and disasters had a single cause, frustrating Mao’s aspirations and forcing his successors to choose a radically different path.

The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying

By Sogyal Rinpoche,

Book cover of The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying

A lot of people I spoke to in Britain and the US regarded thanatophobiathe fear of dyingas the right, proper, and ordinary human state. So it’s very comforting to read about our death culture through the eyes of someone who wasn’t raised that way. In TTBOLAD, the ‘western’ view of death is held up and examined as very much one of many ways to respond to itand while it’s certainly not healthy to ignore it until you’re dealing with grief or you’re dying yourself (ie. when you’re at your highest moment of trauma), with this book it becomes very clear, very quickly that it’s not the only option.


Who am I?

I’m Erica Buist, a writer, journalist, lecturer, and playwright based in London. I became interested in death anxiety when I realised mine was out of control after my partner and I found his father dead. Reading up on death anxiety, it struck me that some cultures seem to deal with it by throwing festivals for the dead, which seemed to be the very opposite of our policy of not talking about it unless absolutely necessary. I thought I’d better go and see how they managed that—so I did. Six years, eight countries and about a million espressos later, my book was published.


I wrote...

This Party's Dead: Grief, Joy and Spilled Rum at the World's Death Festivals

By Erica Buist,

Book cover of This Party's Dead: Grief, Joy and Spilled Rum at the World's Death Festivals

What is my book about?

By the time Erica Buist's father-in-law Chris was discovered, upstairs in his bed, his book resting on his chest, he had been dead for over a week. She searched for answers (the artery-clogging cheeses in his fridge?) and tried to reason with herself (does daughter-in-law even feature in the grief hierarchy?) and eventually landed on an inevitable, uncomfortable truth: everybody dies.

With Mexico's Day of the Dead festivities as a starting point, Erica decided to confront death head-on by visiting seven death festivals around the world—one for every day they didn't find Chris. From Mexico to Nepal, Sicily, Thailand, Madagascar, Japan, and finally Indonesia—with a stopover in New Orleans, where the dead outnumber the living ten to one—Erica searched for the answers to questions around death anxiety.

Tea Horse Road

By Michael Freeman, Selena Ahmed,

Book cover of Tea Horse Road: China's Ancient Trade Road to Tibet

This hefty tome is a dream book for anyone fascinated, as I am, by the ancient trade road, dating back to the 7th century AD and stretching over 1000 miles, along which tea was carried on the backs of pack animals from southwest China up to Lhasa, where it was traded for Tibetan ponies. Freeman’s wonderful photographs and Ahmad’s text capture and explain the life of the villagers in the famous tea mountains of southern Yunnan, where tea trees live up to 3,000 years; the rituals of the Buddhist priests in their temples; the different ethnic peoples that live in the remote regions along the road; the ceremonies that take place to honour the ancient tea trees, and views of the landscape where rivers wind, yaks graze, and life revolves around tea.


Who am I?

I fell into the world of tea by chance in the 1980s when I gave up a career in higher education to open a 1930s style tearoom in southwest London. I grew up in the 1950s in a typical British family that drank tea throughout the day but little did I know, as I baked endless supplies of scones and cakes for the tearoom at 4 am every day, that I would end up writing books and magazine articles, editing a tea magazine for the UK Tea Council, speaking at world tea conferences, training staff in hotels, travelling to almost every major tea producing country, and eventually working today as Director of Studies at the UK Tea Academy.


I wrote...

Jane Pettigrew's World of Tea: Discovering Producing Regions and Their Teas

By Jane Pettigrew,

Book cover of Jane Pettigrew's World of Tea: Discovering Producing Regions and Their Teas

What is my book about?

Teas are produced today in more than 65 countries, including the UK, Europe, Oceania, and North America, as well as better known regions such as India, China, Japan, Sri Lanka and East Africa. However, few people ever get to taste the high quality teas from any of those countries but stick instead to cheaper poorer quality teabag blends.

My book explores every single one of the world’s tea producing regions, giving details of each country’s tea history, the area planted with tea, the terrain, altitudes, producing seasons, tea types, and flavour profiles. With colourful maps highlighting the important tea areas, and beautiful colour photographs of the places, people, and tea rituals of the world, the book takes the reader on a fascinating journey and opens their eyes to the magic of tea and opportunities for amazing taste experiences for anyone who dares to try something different.

Foundations of Tibetan Mysticism

By Lama Anagarika Govinda,

Book cover of Foundations of Tibetan Mysticism

In the preface, Govinda explains: Anticipating the future, Tomo Geshe Rinpoche, one of the greatest spiritual teachers of modern Tibet and a real master of inner vision, left his remote mountain hermitage ... and proclaimed that the time had come to open to the world the spiritual treasures which had been hidden and preserved in Tibet for more than a thousand years. Because humanity stands at the crossroads of great decisions: before it lies the Path of Power ... leading to enslavement and self-destruction – and the Path of Enlightenment ... leading to liberation and self-realization.

This deeply spiritual book takes the reader through the Tibetan mantra: Om Mani Padme Hum in a way that gives true meaning to what it really is to be human.


Who am I?

I have always seen my life as a journey, with lessons to be learnt along the way. Adventures on land and sea have drawn me into contact with many races and traditions and brought me close to nature in its many moods. When a physical journey ends, an inner journey takes me in directions I had never looked at before. Early spiritual questioning led me to eastern philosophies and made me aware of the underlying links between all cultures. In relying on my own experiences rather than what others have written, I believe my writing brings a freshness and individuality to the age-old questions of who we are and where we are going.


I wrote...

The Magic of Tao in The Tarot

By Sarita Armstrong,

Book cover of The Magic of Tao in The Tarot

What is my book about?

The Tao in the Tarot correlates the archetypes of the Major Arcana of the Tarot and hexagrams of The I-Ching, which Taoism underpins. After placing the 22 Major Arcana cards in a circle, like a Wheel of Life, I came to appreciate the oriental aspect concealed within it. Each tarot archetype is yin or yang in its attributes and a combined yin/yang card joins each pair of opposites. They formed a trail of triangles which reminded me of a string of DNA.

The basic numbers inherent in the Major Arcana and the I-Ching connect these two divinatory methods. The grail legend, antique deities, music, and dance are no less a part of the narrative.

Magic and Mystery in Tibet

By Madame Alexandra David-Neel,

Book cover of Magic and Mystery in Tibet

Looking around me as a young man I found a grey world that had been stripped of all its glory and fabulousness by the exploitation and utilitarianism of human beings. 

Alexandra David-Neel was an amazing explorer. She was the first European woman to meet the Dalai Lama and in 1924 became the first to enter the forbidden Tibetan capital, Lhasa. She had already spent a decade travelling through China, living in a cave on the Tibetan border, where she learned about Buddhism from hermits, mystics, and bandits. 

She describes in this book how these people learnt such seemingly impossible skills such as telepathy, defying gravity, running for days without food or drink or sleep, and surviving with hardly any clothes in the subzero Himalayan blizzards. 

This magical world vanished when the Chinese invaded in 1947. 

To think that this miraculous way of life existed in the same century as me…


Who am I?

I love books that boggle my mind. Take me away from mundane reality. That’s the kind of book I like to write.


I wrote...

Hybrids

By David Thorpe,

Book cover of Hybrids

What is my book about?

Are you… A slave to your computer? Welded to your mobile phone? Joined at the hip to your iPod? Maybe one day you will be…Hybrids is a YA novel also enjoyed by adults. Britain is under quarantine. A virus is spreading that mainly affects teenagers. It causes them to merge with frequently-used technology like mobile phones and computers to become… Hybrids.

Hybrids is a terrifyingly realistic and contemporary novel … an absolute must read.” Verity Newman, Waterstone’s, “A stunningly clever novel” – The Times, “Powerful and compelling” – Red House Books

Eat the Buddha

By Barbara Demick,

Book cover of Eat the Buddha: Life and Death in a Tibetan Town

Demick is a master at showcasing the true drama of ordinary people living ordinary lives. In this saga of Tibetan royalty, resistance, and renaissance, she knits these personal stories into a sweeping epic covering the last 60 years of Tibetan history. The characters may at first glance seem innocuous: a long-lost daughter; a shopkeeper; a monk. But together, their stories paint a frightening and vivid picture of the everyday repression and fear under the largest and most sophisticated authoritarian regime on the planet. Throughout, Demick’s narrative displays a profound sense of place, plopping the reader onto the frigid Tibetan plateau, making us feel present to the resistance movement on the rooftop of the world. 


Who am I?

As an author, humanitarian, and diplomat, I’ve seen firsthand how the everyday brutality of civil wars and ethnic conflicts is often overlooked in favor of statistics: 100,000 displaced; 500 arrested; 7 villages torched. In places like Myanmar, Ethiopia, Congo, Nigeria, and Bangladesh, I have tried to use human-centered reporting to bring a magnifying glass to the effect of these tragedies on everyday people. By focusing on the stories that most of the world would rather turn away from, I think we have a better chance to understand, and ultimately prevent, these violent political and social upheavals. 


I wrote...

Until the World Shatters: Truth, Lies, and the Looting of Myanmar

By Daniel Combs,

Book cover of Until the World Shatters: Truth, Lies, and the Looting of Myanmar

What is my book about?

Bum Tsit has a problem. In Myanmar’s far north, he is caught between the insurgent army his family supports and the business and military leaders his career depends on. Soon, he must choose a side. Phoe Wa lives in a very different Myanmar. He is a young migrant who has come to Yangon to pursue his dream of being a photojournalist. At a time when the government is jailing reporters and nationalist voices are on the rise, he believes that he has a responsibility to educate the public about his country’s problems. 

Until the World Shatters interweaves Phoe Wa and Bum Tsit’s stories to present a definitive portrait of Myanmar’s politics and people, taking readers deeper into its world of secret-keepers and truth-tellers than ever before. 

Prisoners of Shangri-La

By Donald S. Lopez Jr,

Book cover of Prisoners of Shangri-La: Tibetan Buddhism and the West

When my grandparents died they left small presents for their grandchildren, and in a way that many Buddhists would recognise I bought a book about Buddhism – a funny and sad one. Lopez’s book tells the story of how Western fantasies talk over actual Tibetans and their struggles, from what we think we know about the “Tibetan Book of the Dead” to Lobsang Rampa’s spurious The Third Eye, passing through how we talk about Tibetan art and what we say about the mantra “Om mani padme hum”. This is a deeply humane book about how Tibetans are trapped not only by superpower politics and colonialism but also by how they are represented to the West. 


Who am I?

I’ve been a street musician, set up kindergartens, worked in special needs education, and run wood-fired showers in a field for meditation retreats. I’m also associate professor of sociology at the National University of Ireland Maynooth. I became a Buddhist partly out of interest in a very different culture and started wondering how Buddhism got from Asia to the West. I think about this through my own experience of teaching meditation, being an activist for 35 years, living in five countries, and learning ten languages: what do you have to do to make an idea come alive in a different culture? 


I wrote...

The Irish Buddhist: The Forgotten Monk Who Faced Down the British Empire

By Alicia Turner, Laurence Cox, Brian Bocking

Book cover of The Irish Buddhist: The Forgotten Monk Who Faced Down the British Empire

What is my book about?

This book tells the story of an Irish emigrant who became a sailor, hoboed his way across the US, and became a Buddhist monk and anti-colonial activist in Asia, active in today’s Burma, Thailand, Sri Lanka, India, Malaysia, Singapore, Japan, China, and Australia. U Dhammaloka (born Laurence Carroll, 1856-1914) defied the British Empire and missionary Christianity in defence of local culture. He had 5 different aliases, was tried for sedition, put under police and intelligence surveillance, faked his own death, and ultimately disappeared. Brian Bocking, Alicia Turner, and I spent ten years piecing together this dramatic and mysterious life, which rewrites the story of how Buddhism became a modern global religion.

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