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Country Driving: A Chinese Road Trip Paperback – February 8, 2011

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Editorial Reviews Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, February 2010: There is, as everyone knows, no place in the world changing as fast, and at such scale, as China. Accounts of the upheaval can be breathless and even alarming, but Peter Hessler is the calmest and most companionable of correspondents. In his reporting for the New Yorker and in his books River Town, Oracle Bones, and now the superb Country Driving, he's observed the past 15 years of change with the patience and perspective--and necessary good humor--of an outsider who expects to be there for a while. In Country Driving, Hessler takes to the roads, as so many Chinese are doing now for the first time, driving on dirt tracks to the desert edges of the ancient empire and on brand-new highways to the mushrooming factory towns of the globalized boom. He's modest but intrepid--having taken to heart the national philosophy that it's better to ask for forgiveness than permission--and an utterly enjoyable guide, with a humane and empathetic eye for the ambitions, the failures, and the comedy of a country in which everybody, it seems, is on the move, and no one is quite sure of the rules. --Tom Nissley --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In his latest feat of penetrating social reportage, New Yorker writer Hessler (Oracle Bones) again proves himself America's keenest observer of the New China. Hessler investigates the country's lurch into modernity through three engrossing narratives. In an epic road trip following the Great Wall across northern China, he surveys dilapidated frontier outposts from the imperial past while barely surviving the advent of the nation's uniquely terrifying car culture. He probes the transformation of village life through the saga of a family of peasants trying to remake themselves as middle-class entrepreneurs. Finally, he explores China's frantic industrialization, embodied by the managers and workers at a fly-by-night bra-parts factory in a Special Economic Zone. Hessler has a sharp eye for contradictions, from the absurdities of Chinese drivers' education courses—low-speed obstacle courses are mandatory, while seat belts and turn signals are deemed optional—to the leveling of an entire mountain to make way for the Renli Environmental Protection Company. Better yet, he has a knack for finding the human-scale stories that make China's vast upheavals both comprehensible and moving. The result is a fascinating portrait of a society tearing off into the future with only the sketchiest of maps. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; 1St Edition edition (February 8, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 006180410X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061804106
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (179 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #75,908 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Peter Hessler is a staff writer at The New Yorker, where he served as Beijing correspondent from 2000-2007, and is also a contributing writer for National Geographic. He is the author of RIVER TOWN, which won the Kiriyama Book Prize, and ORACLE BONES, which was a finalist for the National Book Award. He won the 2008 National Magazine Award for excellence in reporting.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

130 of 138 people found the following review helpful By Thom Mitchell VINE VOICE on February 16, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Mr. Hessler's 3rd book on China continues his tradition of excellent writing and reporting. His tales of his travels driving through China are illuminating, as are his village and factory narratives. He truly provides insight into a time, people and place in China that most of us will never meet, see or experience. His previous books, River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze (P.S.) and Oracle Bones: A Journey Through Time in China (P.S.), have become must-reads for anyone who wants to learn about modern China and this book might be his best yet.

His humor, insight and empathy are as extraordinary as his ability to pack so much information into such a compelling narrative. I pre-ordered the book and once it arrived I couldn't put it down until I finished it. If you are trying to understand China for work, study, travel or just personal interest - this should be right at the top of your reading list. You won't be disappointed.
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31 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Lazy Tom on May 10, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I don't remember ever giving a book five stars but this was such a pleasure to read that I could not resist. The book is divided into three parts. First, he drives a route along the Great Wall travelling into some remote parts of the north west. His account is funny and informative in places and always written in an easy, engaging style. However, this was the weakest and least interesting part of the book. It lacked the people contact which made the rest of the book so interesting. The second part takes place in a rural village outside of Beijing. The main focus is a single family - husband, wife, and five year old son. There is lots happening in their lives - opportunities to better their lives come and go, village politics, Party politics, schooling of the son, problems of economic success as the family businesses grow. The author rented a house in the village for at least a couple of years and visited afterward so the story covers about five years. The author speaks fluent mandarin and becomes very close to the family. A great story, well written. The third part takes place in a development zone and describes building, staffing, and operation of a new factory. Once again the author manages to insert himself into their world and he tells a gentle and humorous story of growth and development in China. I think he captures the character and nuances of the new China really well.

I think that this book appealed to me, in part, because I know little about China. I was not looking for something focused on economics, politics, or history. I bought it because I was told that it was well written, a pleasure to read, and told some good stories of China in the new millenium.

Complaints? I would have loved it if he had better maps.
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35 of 40 people found the following review helpful By J. Attwood on February 15, 2010
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Well written observation of the impact of the Chinese Economic boom on the nation's citizens. This book is three stories - it is not just a travelogue of driving around the country.

Mr. Hessler's writing is tight and descriptive. He takes a non-judgmental attitude throughout the narratives and allows the reader a clear look at the country's current zeitgeist. The book held my interest and I'd happily purchase further writings from this author on the subject matter.
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44 of 53 people found the following review helpful By George Bush HALL OF FAME on February 16, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Country Driving" consists of three narratives intended to convey how China is changing with the building of new roads. While the book accomplishes little in that regard, it does help readers understand Chinese culture, how that culture is developed at school, and the idiosyncrasies of life in China. The book begins with Hessler acquiring a Chinese driver's license in 2001 after living and touring in China for five years teaching English, serving as a free-lance reporter, and learning to read and speak Chinese.

Obtaining a driver's license is no mean feat for Chinese citizens - requirements include a medical checkup, passing a written exam, and completing a driving course and extensive driving test. (These requirements are greatly lessened for those already licensed in other nations.) Unfortunately, the driving courses and regulations have little connection to safety - seat belts, turn signals, and children's car seats are not required, and despite having only one-fifth the number of vehicles for about the same geographic area as the U.S., China has twice the number of traffic fatalities. A lesser problem is that maps do not label most roads, lack a marked scale or distances between towns, and the indicated roads sometimes turn into creek beds. Nonetheless, almost 1,000 new drivers register each day in Beijing alone. Hessler always rented the vehicles he used, probably because autos owned by foreigners have a distinctive license plate that would reveal when he was traveling outside his residence area - guaranteeing special police attention.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By David Gaston on May 3, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Hessler's excellent China travel journal was really fun. His clear, warmhearted writing serves as serious social commentary, but it also carries an understated sense of irony and dry wit. Starting with the title, "Country Driving," the American past-time takes on an entirely different meaning in Hessler's rural China. He captures a string of insightful and respectful conversations with a wide range of rural and urban Chinese men and women. The informal exchanges help illuminate the very different Eastern and Western cultures and class distinctions. I hope Hessler keeps traveling and writing.
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