The Himalayas: An Encyclopedia of Geography, History, and Culture. Edited by Andrew J. Hund and James A. Wren. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2018. 326 p. Acid-free $94 (ISBN 978-1-4408-3938-2). E-book Available (978-1-4408-3939-9), call for pricing.

In his preface to The Himalayas, coeditor James A. Wren writes that “our understanding of the region is flat. It remains ill-informed—without precision or sophistication—and wildly inaccurate.” (p. xiii). This impressive new work sets out to correct the situation by taking a multifaceted approach encompassing the region’s geography, flora and fauna, linguistic and ethnic complexity, long history, frequently vexed politics, and rich cultural and religious life.

A detailed eleven-page chronology opens The Himalayas, followed by three maps and nearly a dozen thematic essays, covering such subjects as “History of the Himalayas” and “Religious Syncretism” and concluding with suggestions for further reading. The next section is made up of 120 topical entries, ranging from the obvious—“The Great Game,” for instance, and “Mount Everest”—to such unexpected entries as “Fermented Beverages of the Himalayas” and “Himalayan Toad.” These include not only suggestions for further reading but see also references as well, and many are illustrated with black-and-white photographs. The essays and entries are the work of several dozen scholars, and while they reflect a deep knowledge of their subjects, they are clearly written.

The work’s third major section is a collection of ten primary documents, beginning with a short account of the formation of the Himalayas from the ancient Indian Mahābhārata and concluding with a text from a Chinese social media site lamenting the declining use of traditional rouge by young Tibetan women. A twenty-page selected bibliography and sixteen-page index conclude the volume.

One of the signal strengths of The Himalayas is its coverage of contemporary issues. Among the essays, four pages are devoted to “Climate Change in the Himalayas,” five pages to “Cultural Changes in the Himalayas,” two pages to “Migration in the Himalayas,” and three pages to “LGBTQ Communities and Issues.” An entry on “Hijra (‘Third Sex’)” receives four pages and eight suggestions for further reading.

Although there are any number of works on the individual countries lying in or near the Himalaya Mountains, no other work on the region with such a comprehensive approach has appeared within the last decade. The Himalayas is highly recommended for undergraduate and larger public library reference collections, as well as for any collection where interest warrants.—Grove Koger, Retired Reference Librarian, Independent Scholar, Boise, Idaho


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