Books we like: “Tibet: A History”

As travelers in Tibet, we realized that we knew very little about Tibetan history. Or, in fact, we basically knew nothing at all. Without Sam van Schaik’s book, I would have had a lot of difficulties to understand what our guide told us about the buildings and statues we saw. If you do not know who Songtsen Gampo was, and why a Chinese princess is shown everywhere in Tibet, you might need this book (or at least some book about Tibetan history).

The book starts its narration in the 8th century and ends with the protests around the Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008. All the important persons we saw depicted in the monasteries and temples are mentioned in the book. At the same time, it also contains a lot of information about the damage inflicted on Tibet by the “Cultural Revolution” and helps to navigate today’s political debate about Tibet’s independence.

The book is not aimed at travelers or just anyone with a vague interest in Tibetan history or culture. Judging by the style of writing, it is an introduction for students of history or Tibetan culture. This means that it is not a very easy read. For a text-book however, it is surprisingly pleasant to follow. The narration roughly follows the historical order and the opening chapters are even kind of exciting.

A strong emphasis of the book is on how Tibetans have interacted with China, India and Nepal since centuries, engaging in trade, warfare and cultural exchange. Historical proofs and evidences are used to substantiate the conclusions of the book. While some sections may be a little dry, it is worth the effort for the better understanding of Tibetan history you will definitely get from this book.

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