Himalaya: A Human History

Norton. Jan. 2021. 592p. ISBN 9780393541991. $40. HIST
Instead of concentrating on a single country, the entire Himalaya region is covered in this latest work by award-winning writer Douglas, with a focus on Tibet and Nepal and secondarily, Bhutan. Most of the history is drawn from European sources and viewpoints, first from missionaries and traders, followed by East India Company and British officials, and expanding to include some local sources closer to present day. Nonetheless, a comprehensive outsiders’ view of tribal and royal intrigue is explored in detail, often to dizzying effect given the vast locations, time, and number of individuals involved. Nearly half the book covers history until the mid-1900s, with the current era, including the impact of mountaineering, rounding it out. Sections highlighting geography, botany, and natural history add further context. Douglas helpfully includes details of how Buddhism gained prominence in the region, the influence of trade routes, and how the tectonic forces that created the world’s tallest mountain shaped events as much as the two regional superpowers, China and India, with an invasive and oversized role played by the East India Company and Britain.
VERDICT For readers interested in a detailed, wide-ranging overview of the history and people of the Himalaya in relation to outside influences.
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