Himalaya is one of the world's most extraordinary geophysical, historical, environmental and social regions.
More rugged and elevated than any other zone on earth, it embraces all of Tibet, six of the world's eight major mountain ranges and nearly all its highest peaks. It contains around 50,000 glaciers and the most extensive permafrost outside the polar regions. Over an area nearly as big as Europe, the population is scattered, often nomadic and always sparse. Many languages are spoken, some are written and few are related.
Religious and political affiliations are equally diverse. Borders are disputed, while jealous neighbours shy away from a common strategy for protecting an environment in which desert meets rainforest and temperatures can fluctuate between 30 and -30°C in the course of a single day.
For centuries, Himalaya has captivated an illustrious succession of admirers, from explorers, surveyors and sportsmen, to botanists and zoologists, ethnologists and geologists, missionaries and mountaineers. Now historian John Keay introduces us to the myriad mysteries of this vast, confounding and utterly fascinating corner of the planet, and makes the case that it is one of our most essential – and endangered – wonders.
John Keay's involvement with Himalaya dates back to the 1960s when he was a foreign correspondent in Kashmir. In the 1970s he published two standard works on the exploration of the Western Himalayas and in the 1980s he wrote and presented a seven-part BBC Radio 3 documentary series on the Himalayan kingdoms. He has continued to specialise in Asian affairs, his books including 5000-year histories of both India and China. Himalaya is the summation of a lifetime's study. John Keay is married, has four children, lives in the West Highlands of Scotland and travels whenever when he can.
"Wonderful [...] In prose that feels as effortless as it is entertaining, Keay paints a quite fascinating picture of this magical region, covering everything from geology, glaciers, tectonic plates and botany to the spiritual and religious evolutions of humans"
– C P W Gammell, Literary Review
"There cannot be any current anglophone writer more knowledgeable about the region."
– Jonathan Buckley, Times Literary Supplement
"Adds the human element to the hard rock. And what a rich vein it is"
– Michael Palin
– Michael Dirda, The Washington Post
"John Keay is the master storyteller and historian. This grand narrative of Himalaya is as epic as the mountains and peoples he describes"
– Dan Snow
"From palaeontology to mysticism, from the East India Company to mountaineers, this is dazzlingly wide-ranging, brilliantly researched and elegantly told"
– Ranulph Fiennes
"The guru of modern writers on Himalaya. Here, after a lifetime's travel and reflection, is the story of the most important region on earth"
– Michael Wood
"A dazzling collision of storytelling and scholarship, and the culmination of a lifetime's research and experience, this is surely John Keay's masterwork. He tackles the epic subject of the entire Himalayan region, through human history, and brings to it his own distinctive style – at once authoritative and colourful, stirring and droll, ambitious yet humble. A compelling portrait of a uniquely vulnerable region"
– James McConnachie
"Let John Keay be your guide: he has decades of first-hand experience in the region, he wears his extensive learning lightly and he is a magnificent storyteller"
– Chris Bonington
"John Keay's stunning book is meticulously researched and a gripping read. It lays out the long-standing allure of Himalaya, from the geographical and environmental to the archaeological and cultural."
– Kavita Puri
"A compendium of centuries of outsiders' quests for scientific understanding of every aspect of the Himalayas – from its geology, topography and natural history to questions of anthropology and social history. No potential angle is left unexplored"
– Amy Kazmin, Financial Times
"The term 'tour de force' doesn't do Keay's Himalaya justice. A beautiful work by one of the world's foremost historians, the book is meticulously researched and written with Keay's particular flair. Comparable in its page-turning addiction to a fictional thriller, this will go down as a seminal work on the Himalaya."
– Kenton Cool
"Poetically written [...] A wonderfully digressive read, with rich portraits and stories of those who made their careers and fame from Himalaya"
– Maximillian Morch, Asian Review of Books
"A wonderful book about an extraordinary place [...] Keay's undertaking in print is as vast in its scope as the area it seeks to enclose between the covers of this single, handsomely illustrated volume [...] Truly a place of wonder, wonderfully caught"
– Peter Stanford, Church Times
"A book that is meant to be savoured, not to be conquered. Enjoy the ride"
– Mandira Nayar, The Week, India
"The appropriate crown for John Keay's writing on Asia. His study of the Himalaya marks the grand finale to his prodigious twin histories of India and China. Roll over Edward Gibbon. The powerful reimagining of the Himalaya from the structural perspective adds to the mountaineering and mythological lore, while the magisterial style is lightened by marvellous one liners. One of the best and easily the most informed books on the Himalaya"
– Bill Aitken, author of Seven Sacred Rivers