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Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China Paperback – May 5, 2015
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“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.
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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.
The developement of China has obviously impacted a lot of people in different ways. Instead of broad strokes generalizations, Age of Ambition follows the lives of economists, artists, bloggers, journalists and reform minded civilians in general. It is split into 3 parts of which the first is titled Fortune. The book is somewhat chronological and starts with the life of a taiwanese captain who defected to the mainland ( specific identity of this character is given later) when economic developement was in its infancy. The author weaves in the starting point of the end of the cultural revolution and the regime change to Deng to give the unfamiliar reader a sense of the history. The author then jumps into the story of an online dating entrepreneur and Li Yang a famous large audience English instructor. This section really details the beginnings of the careers of the first generation of entrepreneurs and discusses the starts of their businesses and how they looked to make their fortune and how that impacted some of their followers and people around them.
The author then moves onto the section labled Truth. The author goes through his experiences during times like the olympics and the growth of the internet. One is introduced to a host of new characters some young, some old. The author has been in touch with so much of celebrity society in China through the last decade it is remarkable; both artists, political dissidents and popular bloggers have all detailed parts of their perspectives to the author who weaves them together expertly. In Truth, part of the facade of uniform growth peels away. The way in which growth as a sole priority affected people is explored- unrest in Tibet and how people domestically viewed it as well as their views on foreign perspectives. One is given the narrative of intelligent nationalists as well as disillusioned civilians at the growing corruption (not opposite perspectives but not uniform in perspective on what China's priorities should be). The author walks through many of the important moments for the clash of old political economy and the new desires of the people that come with the growth. Included are things like the failure of the high speed rail, the earthquake in Sichuan the networth of the families of China's political families and Bo Xi Lai's scandal.
The book ends with a section titled Faith. The author tries to weave together the differing perspectives of the population about the change and what it means for them and how they view the future. As with everything there are lots of differing perspectives but a lot of overlap as well. People see the same things but have differing priorities as well as means of dealing with their stresses. The growth of China has reignited religion and reflections on past philosophy namely Confusianism. The trouble that Ai Wei Wei faced is gone through in detail, as well as Chen Guangcheng. The author does a great job reinforcing that the issues faced by some of the typical people who are in news headlines are not the only Chinese experience but a repurcussion of the battles that are fought by highly individual people in a system that is only just coming to terms with allowing for individual expression.
Age of Ambition was really enjoyable to read. It gives both personal reflection as well as great diversity of experiences in the same book making it extremely well rounded. I think it really helps one understand how China's growth is affecting people and how their perspectives on the change is a function of their individual characters more than some overarching societal reasons. There is no question that China's growth has brought about a lot of positive and negative things but at the same time people all dont tow the party line and have widely differing views. Similarly dissidents in China dont all want the same thing but all respond to differing experiences and beliefs. One becomes slightly more familiar with how life in China has changed through reading Age of Ambition.
Twenty years ago, the extraordinary husband-and-wife reporting team of Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn published China Wakes: The Struggle for the Soul of a Rising Power. Based on five years of work in China — they won the Pulitzer for their reporting on the Tiananmen Square massacre — China Wakes introduced American readers to the dynamism and the clashing contradictions unleashed a decade and a half earlier by the economic reforms of Deng Xiaoping. Now, two decades further on, Evan Osnos ably updates the story with Age of Ambition.
Osnos brings to bear the insight that comes only with extended experience and facility with the language in an alien culture, the sort of understanding that no reader can glean from the daily news, no matter how deeply reported. “The Party had always prided itself on articulating the ‘central melody’ of Chinese life,” Osnos writes, in a perfect example of this insight, “but as the years passed, the Party’s rendition of that melody seemed increasingly out of tune with the cacophony and improvisation striking up all around it. It was impossible to know what ‘most Chinese’ believed because the state media and the political system were designed not to amplify public opinion but to impose a shape on it. Nationalism, like any other note in the melody, might surge to the surface at one moment and fade into the background at another, but was it the mainstream view? The nationalists didn’t think so.”
Osnos focuses his penetrating repertorial eye on ten or a dozen central figures whose stories resume from time to time through the pages of this brilliant survey of contemporary China. A heroic young captain in the Taiwanese Army who defects to the Mainland and later — much later — becomes one of the country’s most celebrated economists, garnering the job of chief economist at the World Bank. A self-promoting English teacher who builds a nationwide adult education empire based on urging his students to shout English at the top of their lungs. A Ph.D. candidate in philosophy at a leading university who spearheads an ultranationalist campaign online. The sad story of the driven railroad man who rises to preside over one of the most corrupt ministries in a country of legendary corruption, building China’s network of high-speed trains along the way — and is nearly executed for his achievements. These and so many other fascinating characters bring the reality of present-day China to life in ways that episodic journalistic reports so rarely can. Evan Osnos knows his subjects, and he follows them for years. Read Age of Ambition, and you’ll get to know them, too.
Still shy of 40, Evan Osnos reported from China for The New Yorker from 2008 to 2013. Earlier, as a correspondent for the Chicago Tribune, he was part of a team that won the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. Age of Ambition is his first book.
Most recent customer reviews
This book is good, with wonderful stories and insight into China. However, China in Ten Words is a much pithier, better read.Read more
There are people in China struggling mildly for basic human rights that the communist regime brutally suppresses and...Read more