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Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China [Kindle Edition]

Evan Osnos
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (181 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Pulitzer Prize in General Nonfiction finalist

Winner of the 2014 National Book Award in nonfiction.

An Economist Best Book of 2014.

A vibrant, colorful, and revelatory inner history of China during a moment of profound transformation

From abroad, we often see China as a caricature: a nation of pragmatic plutocrats and ruthlessly dedicated students destined to rule the global economy-or an addled Goliath, riddled with corruption and on the edge of stagnation. What we don't see is how both powerful and ordinary people are remaking their lives as their country dramatically changes.
As the Beijing correspondent for The New Yorker, Evan Osnos was on the ground in China for years, witness to profound political, economic, and cultural upheaval. In Age of Ambition, he describes the greatest collision taking place in that country: the clash between the rise of the individual and the Communist Party's struggle to retain control. He asks probing questions: Why does a government with more success lifting people from poverty than any civilization in history choose to put strict restraints on freedom of expression? Why do millions of young Chinese professionals-fluent in English and devoted to Western pop culture-consider themselves "angry youth," dedicated to resisting the West's influence? How are Chinese from all strata finding meaning after two decades of the relentless pursuit of wealth?
Writing with great narrative verve and a keen sense of irony, Osnos follows the moving stories of everyday people and reveals life in the new China to be a battleground between aspiration and authoritarianism, in which only one can prevail.

Editorial Reviews


In the pages of the New Yorker, Evan Osnos has portrayed, explained and poked fun at this new China better than any other writer from the West or the East. In Age of Ambition, Osnos takes his reporting a step further, illuminating what he calls China's Gilded Age, its appetites, challenges and dilemmas, in a way few have done. (John Pomfret, Washington Post)

Age of Ambition is… a riveting and troubling portrait of a people in a state of extreme anxiety about their identity, values and future, [and] a China rived by moral crisis and explosive frustration. (Judith Shapiro, New York Times)

For those new to China, Mr Osnos beautifully portrays the nation in all its craziness, providing a ringside seat for the greatest show on earth. (The Economist)

Beautifully written ... an absolute must-read. (Edward Steinfeld, Harvard Magazine)

China's Gilded Age has been every bit as fascinating, colorful and tragic as our own -- and [Osnos] offers an engrossing account of it… [He] understands the depths of the transformations, the complexity of the contradictions, and the fragility of the overall enterprise. (Chicago Tribune)

Evan Osnos ... has put his keen insight and intrepid research skills to use in his exploration of the internal intellectual and spiritual infrastructure of China's rise. (Dan Blumenthal, The National Interest)

[Osnos] adeptly chronicles… China's 35-year journey from poverty and collective dogmatism to a dynamic if cut-throat era of competition, self-promotion and materialism. (Julie Makinen, Los Angeles Times)

Age of Ambition [is] eloquent and comprehensive… (Jonathan Mirsky, New York Times Book Review)

Age of Ambition is a splendid and entertaining picture of 21st-century China… (Michael Fathers, Wall Street Journal)

Evan Osnos gives us twenty-first-century China the way the best American journalists gave us the Gilded Age--he introduces us to outsized characters, tells tales of aspiration, success, and defeat, rakes the muck of corruption and repression, and captures the tremendous energy, as well as the darker impulses, of a society in the throes of a historic transformation. (George Packer, author of The Assassins' Gate and The Unwinding)

The very hardest thing to convey about modern China is the combination of hope and despair, idealism and crassness, coordinated mass action and chaotic individual scheming, that you encounter each day. Evan Osnos has captured all parts of this disorienting 'reality,' but he has done so much more. Beautifully written, humane but critical-minded, funny on every page, Age of Ambition offers a better understanding of China's process of 'becoming' than most people could ever gain by living there. China veterans and amateurs alike will find it an illuminating and delightful read. (James Fallows, author of China Airborne)

How often have travelers asked: 'What is the one book about China that I should read before I depart?' Alas, for years I have had no good answer to this question. But now, Evan Osnos has provided a stellar candidate. Wonderfully engaging, readable and informative, this vivid tableau of actors from all walks of Chinese life goes a long way to helping us make sense out of the often confusing complexity that is today's China. (Orville Schell, coauthor of Wealth and Power: China's Long March to the Twenty-first Century)

The best book on China I've ever read. Witty, indispensable, and often moving. I look forward to stealing Evan Osnos's wisdom and passing it off as my own for years to come. (Gary Shteyngart, author of Little Failure and Super Sad True Love Story)

The rise of China is the biggest story of the past twenty-five years. Evan Osnos captures the country in all its striving, thunderous diversity, through a narrative that moves, provokes, and makes us laugh. Age of Ambition is a marvel of great reporting, careful thinking, and powerful writing. (Dexter Filkins, author of The Forever War)

For most of a decade, Evan Osnos has been one of the most energetic, skilled, and thoughtful observers of China. Whether he's accompanying Chinese tourists to the Best Western in Luxembourg or watching Ai Weiwei blur the lines between performance and protest, Osnos is always engaging. This is a wonderful book. (Peter Hessler, author of River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze and Country Driving: A Chinese Road Trip)

If you have time to read only one book about China today, read this one. Woven from vignettes of Chinese life at many different levels, it provides unerring insights into what makes the Chinese the people they are while wearing its learning so lightly that the narrative never flags. It should be in every tourist's baggage and every diplomat's library. (Philip Short, author of Mao: A Life)

About the Author

Evan Osnos is a staff writer at The New Yorker, where he served as the China correspondent from 2008 to 2013. He is the winner of two Overseas Press Club awards and the Asia Society's Osborn Elliott Prize for Excellence in Journalism on Asia. Previously, he worked at the Chicago Tribune, where he was part of a team that won the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting in 2008. He lives in Washington, D.C.

Product Details

  • File Size: 1540 KB
  • Print Length: 417 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (May 13, 2014)
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00GET185M
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #6,851 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
127 of 130 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A rare balance May 18, 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
China books seem especially tricky to write, because the writer has to please two very different types of American reader: the one who has a great deal of experience with China, and the one who does not. The first reader cringes if he has to read yet another description of how Shenzhen used to be a fishing village; but the second reader can't really understand Shenzhen unless you explain this fact. (As a strange hybrid of these two readers -- I lived in China but have no deep expertise in its history -- I often experience the worst of both worlds.)

This book strikes a rare balance. It's a very absorbing read, and its multiple story-lines are impressively woven together, without any of the stitches showing. The people Osnos writes about run the gamut from a public figure like Lin Yifu (the World Bank economist who defected to mainland China from Taiwan in 1979) to an obscure figure like Michael Zhang, a young energetic optimist whom Osnos first meets at a Crazy English conference and then follows for a few years. (Zhang turns into one of the most interesting characters in the book.)

Osnos tells all these individual stories against the backdrop of most of the major events in China of the last five years: the violence in Xinjiang, the Liu Xiaobo fiasco, the "Jasmine" events of 2011, Ai Weiwei's ordeal, the flight of Chen Guangcheng, the Bo Xilai scandal, the bullet train crash, and so on. You learn a great deal about all these events, but the book is anchored in its very humane profiles of individual Chinese who are trying to make their lives better.
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156 of 174 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a book for Americans May 28, 2014
By TracyF
I am a Chinese in the USA. An American friend recommended this Age of Ambition to me, saying it's amazing. But I found myself almost gave up when I read the first chapter on the Taiwan defector Lin Zhengyi. This is a story you can find on wikipedia, and lots of Chinese are very familiar with Lin Zhengyi too. I guess Americans will find it interesting, never mind. I decided to read on since I liked the writing style. The people and their stories in this book are nothing new to me. Even Ai Weiwei's part, I would just go to watch the movie Never Say Sorry again. The more I read, the more I think something is missing. Seems Mr. Even Osnos is keen on predicting the future of China. But the characters in his book are not representing the whole picture. I am not saying Hu Shuli, Lin Zhengyi or Han Han are passé, just the grass-root young strivers in the book are not those who are more likely to take over the throne. China is a elite society, even if you don't like the children of the officials, of the rich business men's, the truth is they are educated(some overseas) and have resources. They are more likely to govern the country in the future. I don't know why there is no voice from this group. If you are talking about ambitions, without input from that group, the picture of new China the author draws is just not completed. But again, for those who don't live in China, or never experience the culture, it's a good read.
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54 of 59 people found the following review helpful
If you've been following Osnos's New Yorker pieces, you know he has a gift for finding seemingly eccentric anecdotes and using them to explain a larger point. In this new book, he takes that a step further and illustrates the overwhelming social change that has taken place in China over the past fifty years through the experiences of individuals that have lived through it. It's a wonderfully readable blend of idiosyncratic stories and insightful analysis that brings any reader, whether new to the topic or an experienced China watcher, a greater understanding of this emerging force in world events.
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30 of 32 people found the following review helpful
By Jie Zou
Format:Kindle Edition
Huge congrats to Evan Osnos! Age of Ambition won this year's National Book Awards!

I have been a loyal reader of Evan's articles in New Yorker and his blog. When I learned he planned to bundle these articles and some blogs together as a non-fiction book, I knew that it would be one of the best books about the NOWADAY China.

However, I want to start with shortcomings of this book. I am not so satisfied with the treatment of Justin Lin (the defector from Army of Taiwan, the powerful economist and professor in Beijing Univ., the former chief economist of World Bank). I would try not to spoil too much. Evan used him to set the fundamental tone of the whole book, which is "Ambition", as the title suggested. Why did Justin Lin, a political star in Taiwan Army, risk his life to swim over the sea to come to Mainland China? Evan hinted that it was because of Ambition. Sure, ambition is important for Justin Lin. But I think Evan missed another very important factor - the social responsibility of a traditional Chinese intellectual (a 'Shi4' in Chinese). This becomes obvious in Lin's letter to his cousin in Japan. Evan actually cited many sentences from that letter in the book. But I don't know why Evan did not cite the most important paragraph, in which Justin Lin described how excited he was when he visited Dujiang Great Dam. Dujiang Great Dam was built two thousands years ago and still serves the millions of people in the basin. The chief engineer Li Bin and his son were still remembered and admired today. In the letter, Justin continued to say (forgive my awkward translation): "standing by the river, listening to the roaring waves, I cannot help thinking that if I couldn't devote myself into building happy lives for our future generations, I will regret when I am old.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Lots of information, but not well organized or entertaining
I worked in China for one summer in college and I've traveled there three times since. I was hoping for a book that would entertain me and explain the rapid changes in China I've... Read more
Published 10 days ago by Cole wirpel
4.0 out of 5 stars As good a read on Modern day China as there is. But far from perfect
I always enjoyed Evan Osnos’s articles on China when he was the Beijing based correspondent for the New Yorker. Read more
Published 10 days ago by dr johnson
4.0 out of 5 stars More about the enigma that is modern China
Superb capture of the trade offs of modern China and modern Chinese. Both an overarching view but lots of gritty details about a number of people. Read more
Published 11 days ago by William J. Hecht
5.0 out of 5 stars A Must Read!
This is an engaging and delightful book about a subject that can be overwhelming! Evan Osnos writes in a way that captures your attention and pulls you into a depth of... Read more
Published 13 days ago by Blyth N.
4.0 out of 5 stars Great read for great learning
Age of Ambition was easy to read and although it's nonfiction, it read more like a novel. The book took a deep dive into societal and cultural issues in modern China, of which I... Read more
Published 18 days ago by E.C. Johnston
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 19 days ago by Wayne Sherwood
4.0 out of 5 stars great way to understand the personal view of China's evolution
GreaT read with just enough history blended in with personal stories to understand how China evolved
Published 19 days ago by Kathleen H. Witsil
4.0 out of 5 stars Evan Osnos takes you inside the China you wish you could see.
Age of Ambition is a composite of Osnos eight years in the Middle Kingdom as a journalist, first for the Chicago Tribune then for The New Yorker, enriched with the insightful input... Read more
Published 1 month ago by wsmrer
5.0 out of 5 stars Has China Changed in the Last 20 Year?
I lived in China for about three month a year in 1988, 1990 and 1991. I also traveled rather widely during those periods including living on a State Farm. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Dogg
5.0 out of 5 stars A panoramic snapshot of the every day life of this generation of...
The author's curiosity and writing skills led to this extraordinary book about a full range of interesting yet typical contemporary PRC people living, sometimes leading, on the... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Bochun Qiu
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More About the Author

Evan Osnos is a staff writer at The New Yorker, where he served as the China correspondent from 2008 to 2013. He is the winner of two Overseas Press Club awards and the Asia Society's Osborn Elliott Prize for Excellence in Journalism on Asia. Previously, he worked at the Chicago Tribune, where he was part of a team that won the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting in 2008. He lives in Washington, D.C.

Amazon Author Rankbeta 

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#95 in Books > History
#95 in Books > History

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