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

Evan Osnos
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

May 13 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.


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Review

"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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Customer Reviews

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars China is growing at a remarkable rate June 30 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Age of Ambition is very well written so it is an easy read. It is very interesting how simple ideas have propelled average individuals into large wealth. The china system of decision making with respect to economic development and people management is working very well for now. As the level of people development progresses it will require their leaders to offer more and more which may not be possible. The book certainly makes the contrasts with the democratic world seem obviously flawed. I would have liked to see a description of a few individuals that may have only achieved lower middle class status, and their views. The book could have been longer, however I enjoyed it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Evan Osnos has written a very informative book about modern China. He explores the opportunities that have opened up in the past ten years, and how people have used them. He tells stories about individuals and their choices, breaking down our stereotypes about what is happening 'in China'. The mosaic of voices, paths and lives that he pieces together gives a very nuanced picture of the economic and political realities, the context in which choices must be made. His book appears incredibly well researched, and I particularly liked the extensive list of sources that he gives in the back.
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By Eleanor
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Excellent book, it was recommended on CNN, glad I read it and learned some interesting things about China!!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  84 reviews
69 of 72 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A rare balance May 18 2014
By Oracle of Adelphi - Published on Amazon.com
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.
62 of 68 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a book for Americans May 28 2014
By TracyF - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
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.
38 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great look at sociological shifts in modern China May 14 2014
By W. Sherer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
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.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Chasing Faith in a hurry.... June 18 2014
By CLOZIER Sandra - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition
Evan Osnos has worked hard and taken care in writing his book on contemporary China. As a China watcher (and worker) for 10 years, I was most impressed by the element of Faith. Chinese ask me what I think of their government and their desire for democracy, far more openly and freely than before. They invoke the fraud, corruption and “relationships” that surround their daily lives. My only reply is that the West has a culture based on Judaism and Christianity, that these religions have never been banned, and that today those values still preside even if actual practice of the religions is less strong. This does not say that the West has no corruption or fraud, but it can be investigated by journalists, by the different legal systems, and is widely published. Which Osnos explains is not the case in China, by telling different stories about many different people, in a very readable book. I would recommend for anyone who wants to know a bit more than we are generally told by Western media.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars lots of fascinating grass roots stories. May 21 2014
By Perry M. Smith - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This book is well worth your time since it gets down in the weeds and gives a feel the person on the street in various parts of China. Osnos's interest in China's youth is especially enlightening. China's youth of 25 years ago is much different and more diverse than China's youth today--many camps, some very chauvinistic, others highly critical of the government. A better title might have been Age of Aspiration or Age of Expectation.
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