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The Secret Lives of Alexandra David-Neel: A Biography of the Explorer of Tibet and its Forbidden Practices

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Alexandra David-Neel was the first European to explore Tibet at a time when foreigners were banned. Few people have led a life of adventure equal to hers, or made so much of it. This book presents a vividly detailed chronicle of David-Neel's quest to conquer her personal demons and of the outer journey that made her one of the most celebrated figures of her day. 26 photos. Alexandra David-Neel was the first European to explore Tibet at a time when foreigners were banned. Few people have led a life of adventure equal to hers, or made so much of it. This book presents a vividly detailed chronicle of David-Neel's quest to conquer her personal demons and of the outer journey that made her one of the most celebrated figures of her day. 26 photos. 2 maps.


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Alexandra David-Neel was the first European to explore Tibet at a time when foreigners were banned. Few people have led a life of adventure equal to hers, or made so much of it. This book presents a vividly detailed chronicle of David-Neel's quest to conquer her personal demons and of the outer journey that made her one of the most celebrated figures of her day. 26 photos. Alexandra David-Neel was the first European to explore Tibet at a time when foreigners were banned. Few people have led a life of adventure equal to hers, or made so much of it. This book presents a vividly detailed chronicle of David-Neel's quest to conquer her personal demons and of the outer journey that made her one of the most celebrated figures of her day. 26 photos. 2 maps.

30 review for The Secret Lives of Alexandra David-Neel: A Biography of the Explorer of Tibet and its Forbidden Practices

  1. 4 out of 5

    Kate

    Certainly Alexandra David-Neel was an amazing and interesting person, but this book doesn't do her much justice. In a nutshell, this plucky, well-educated French woman took it upon herself to travel to Tibet, particularly the capital Lhasa, and achieved that goal in 1924. She was an adept of many years study in Tibetan Buddhism, spent time as a disciple to powerful lamas, mastered many of the more esoteric practices of Buddhism, and managed to document many everyday rituals of the various tribes Certainly Alexandra David-Neel was an amazing and interesting person, but this book doesn't do her much justice. In a nutshell, this plucky, well-educated French woman took it upon herself to travel to Tibet, particularly the capital Lhasa, and achieved that goal in 1924. She was an adept of many years study in Tibetan Buddhism, spent time as a disciple to powerful lamas, mastered many of the more esoteric practices of Buddhism, and managed to document many everyday rituals of the various tribes in Tibet whose cultures are rapidly disappearing. The Fosters state at the outset that their purpose in writing this book is to countermand the works of some other authors, Jeanne Denys in particular, who claim that David-Neel never made it to Tibet and all of her later writings chronicling her 14 years in the Orient were entirely fictitious. Their writing style is plain, but the entire time you have the impression that they must prove that they have the definitive version of David-Neel's life. It's extremely off-putting, and they continually state that they lack access to her private papers, which led me to wonder how they became such experts. The story of a woman crossing the Himalayas, learning Tibetan, begging for food, and finally achieving a site never before seen by a Western woman is fantastic. However, in the hands of these authors, you begin to doubt the journey, or how they assert David-Neel felt about her journey. I will be looking to find some of David-Neel's own writings, and another biography in the future.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    i'm on page 13 and this book is going to be a challenge. it is loaded with interesting information, but is so poorly written that i find myself highly irritated on virtually every page. note to self: find another biographer. on page 65 now, and either i'm used to the writing, the facts matter more, or their editor finally got busy.... i'm on page 125 now. i can't tell anymore if the writing is good or not. the story is wonderful! now on page 283, and once again frustrated by the writing. i am wonde i'm on page 13 and this book is going to be a challenge. it is loaded with interesting information, but is so poorly written that i find myself highly irritated on virtually every page. note to self: find another biographer. on page 65 now, and either i'm used to the writing, the facts matter more, or their editor finally got busy.... i'm on page 125 now. i can't tell anymore if the writing is good or not. the story is wonderful! now on page 283, and once again frustrated by the writing. i am wondering how these authors divvied up the writing. also, once i read this sentence referring to Lama Yongden: YONGDEN LACKED THE PSYCHOLOGICAL RESOURCES TO CREATE THIS DOGGED FIGHTER WHO, DESPITE HIS LOWLY ORIGIN, EVENTUALLY ASCENDS TO A HIGHER SPIRITUAL PLANE, I became interested in HIS biography. he reminds me of the unsung sherpas who make heroes out of mountaineers. no wonder he turned to drink. a scathing review is forthcoming. an interesting, if at times a somewhat frustrating read. the authors could have used a better editor. that aside, no doubt about it, Alexandra David-Neel lived a remarkable life. Did she really make it to Lhasa? Maybe. Was she a tantric adept? Maybe. Did she travel and have adventures in a part of the world that interests me? Absolutely! Is my interest in Lama Yongden peaked? Absolutely. He carried her gear for heaven's sake, and was a tulku. My big question: did they practice tantric sex together? My hunch (altho the authors HUGELY sidestep their 40 year relationship) : a resounding yes.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Manda

    Poorly written account of a fascinating life. The authors didn't do their subject any justice. Poorly written account of a fascinating life. The authors didn't do their subject any justice.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Ann

    De belofte van de auteurs dat we meer te weten komen over het leven van deze fascinerende vrouw voor ze naar Tibet trok wordt niet echt ingelost. Ok, ze was blijkbaar een tijdje operazangeres en ze reisde toen al wat af maar daar wordt niet echt diep op ingegaan. Het grote probleem met dit boek is dat ze teveel context proberen te geven, blijkbaar omdat hen de toegang tot haar archief is geweigerd waardoor ze niet over bijster veel informatie beschikten behalve de reeds gepubliceerde. En dus wor De belofte van de auteurs dat we meer te weten komen over het leven van deze fascinerende vrouw voor ze naar Tibet trok wordt niet echt ingelost. Ok, ze was blijkbaar een tijdje operazangeres en ze reisde toen al wat af maar daar wordt niet echt diep op ingegaan. Het grote probleem met dit boek is dat ze teveel context proberen te geven, blijkbaar omdat hen de toegang tot haar archief is geweigerd waardoor ze niet over bijster veel informatie beschikten behalve de reeds gepubliceerde. En dus wordt het verhaal van haar reizen constant onderbroken door uitwijdingen over andere personen die niet eens altijd iets met haar verhaal te maken hadden. Wie meer wil weten over deze reizigster leest beter één van haar eigen boeken.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    This book was given to me by a friend to read. He thought the subject would be to my taste. I honestly had not heard of David-Neel before reading this book. She seems to have been a very interesting character. She traveled to the heart of Tibet at a time when Tibet was still a land of mysticism. The writing style of the book I am conflicted about. I appreciate the effort the authors made to give the text a conversational tone. However I found the commentary as a bit too familiar. Presumptuous per This book was given to me by a friend to read. He thought the subject would be to my taste. I honestly had not heard of David-Neel before reading this book. She seems to have been a very interesting character. She traveled to the heart of Tibet at a time when Tibet was still a land of mysticism. The writing style of the book I am conflicted about. I appreciate the effort the authors made to give the text a conversational tone. However I found the commentary as a bit too familiar. Presumptuous perhaps? If you are looking for an introduction into Buddhist mysticism, or perhaps just into early 20th century Asia, this may be an interesting way to start.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Dana Loo

    Una biografia affascinante e avventurosa, una donna temeraria e determinata, forse la più celebre viaggiatrice del Novecento, una vita intensa, romanzesca e la passione per il buddismo e altre filosofie orientali. La prima europea a raggiungere in incognito il Tibet, un viaggio alla scoperta di se stessa attraverso terre impervie e inospitali, tra mille pericoli e disagi e un unico sogno: Lhasa la città proibita...

  7. 4 out of 5

    David Iverson

    Fascinating, in depth biography of a mysterious woman who travelled throughout asia in the first decades of the 20th century, including the magical land of tibet...a traveller, a scholar, a seeker of knowledge...

  8. 5 out of 5

    Eli_Wittelsbach

    Alexandra’s life is no doubt amazing, but the book is terribly written. The authors don’t give sources, they add a lot of useless and boring details, they “cannot” quote Alexandra’s writings... her figure would definitely deserve better biographers.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Sunny

    Inspiring biography. Detailed and dispassionate view from the author.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Amber Ray

    A really fascinating book--oddly familiar until I realized the book Tulku by Peter Dickenson (which I read years ago)cribbed many notes from Alexandra's life! I am going to have to go back, read that and see if the author did base the character of Mrs. Jones (a fading actress/explorer on Madame David-Neel, a former opera star/explorer! While I found her drive and journey fascinating, I often felt the woman herself and her charater remained elusive to me. I read this because I came across a article A really fascinating book--oddly familiar until I realized the book Tulku by Peter Dickenson (which I read years ago)cribbed many notes from Alexandra's life! I am going to have to go back, read that and see if the author did base the character of Mrs. Jones (a fading actress/explorer on Madame David-Neel, a former opera star/explorer! While I found her drive and journey fascinating, I often felt the woman herself and her charater remained elusive to me. I read this because I came across a article that referred to her as a "dirtbag of the first order" for her "selfish" roamings across Tibet. While I think she may indeed have been quite self absorbed, I still found her more likeable than say, Livingston who had and abandoned several children. She did leave her husband, but the man continued to support her financially and emotionally, if from a distance. There must have been something in it for him on some level, but I'd have loved to know why he did support her even after 15 years abscence! I also really wanted to know more about her adopted son Yongden, why he stayed with her, did depression and drinking cause his early death, and what part of "her" work was really "their" work. He remains a shadowy presence in the book, and for his importance in her life, I think he deserved to have been fleshed out a bit more in this. I do wonder too how much the sickness of her late years was worsened by her attitude towards doctors and the dirty habits she seemed to have picked up in Tibet! I find it a bit funny she was so fastidious when she began exploring, but in old age was so uncaring about dust, dirt and mice in her home! (But I can certainly understand how those years must have changed her attitude towards hygiene!)

  11. 4 out of 5

    Letha Hadady

    This high adventure biography of the famous French Buddhist woman traveler to Tibet (1924) covers her childhood and marriage, travels, and romance (tantric sex with a Maharajah) in Asia especially in Tibet and Sikkim. It includes research from the secret files of the India office in London, information from private letters by David-Neel, interviews of top political officials and personal accounts of David-Neel's estate and collection of Tibetan relics. Great for arm-chair travelers or anyone int This high adventure biography of the famous French Buddhist woman traveler to Tibet (1924) covers her childhood and marriage, travels, and romance (tantric sex with a Maharajah) in Asia especially in Tibet and Sikkim. It includes research from the secret files of the India office in London, information from private letters by David-Neel, interviews of top political officials and personal accounts of David-Neel's estate and collection of Tibetan relics. Great for arm-chair travelers or anyone interested in esoteric Buddhism, magic and mystery.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Unspun

    Story of an incredible woman poorly written. The life of Alexandra David-Neel, the first white woman to enter Lhasa, Tibet, spiced by her knowledge of magic and mystery in Tibet is fascinating and the authors try to recreate it in this book, but lack of talent for biography mars the reading experience. Waiting for a good biography of her.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Mariana

    Alexandra David-Neel lead a wondrous life. She was the first European woman to go to Llasa and she was a Tibetan Buddhist scholar and wrote numerous books. I encountered her name in several books and I am glad to know more about her.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Ruta Sevo

    The subject is fascinating and the writing is great. A gripping story of an amazing adventurer who at age 55 walked out of China into Tibet over snow-covered passes, in order to penetrate Tibetan Buddhism at its source.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Louise Chambers

    Fabulous! The first woman into Lhasa Tibet. And she did it with the help of just one other person. A Buddhist Lama adept, a scholar, and a feminist.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Janice Toole

    Mysterious, fascinating, quite marvellous!

  17. 5 out of 5

    Julie

    Fascinating biography of a very unusual and amazing woman.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Kathy

  19. 5 out of 5

    Sophia

  20. 4 out of 5

    Ramona

  21. 4 out of 5

    Nico Casavecchia

  22. 5 out of 5

    Emily

  23. 4 out of 5

    Bonnie

  24. 5 out of 5

    Sumpuran Khalsa

  25. 4 out of 5

    renee

  26. 4 out of 5

    NicoleC

  27. 4 out of 5

    Julia

  28. 5 out of 5

    L. O'Neil

  29. 4 out of 5

    Rhonda

  30. 4 out of 5

    Dan Clore

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