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Horse That Leaps Through Clouds, The [Hardcover]

Eric Tamm
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Sept. 4 2010

Two epic journeys along the Silk Road, past and present, offer a riveting and cautionary tale about the breathtaking rise of China.

On July 6, 1906, Baron Gustaf Mannerheim boarded the midnight train from St. Petersburg, charged by Czar Nicholas II to secretly collect intelligence on the Qing Dynasty's sweeping reforms that were radically transforming China. The last czarist agent in the so-called Great Game, Mannerheim, who would receive the name Horse that Leaps Through Clouds from the Chinese people he encountered, chronicled almost every facet of China's modernization, from education reform and foreign investment to Tibet's struggle for independence.

On July 6, 2006, writer Eric Enno Tamm boards that same train, intent on following in Mannerheim's footsteps. Initially banned from China, Tamm devises a cover and retraces Mannerheim's route across the Silk Road, discovering both eerie similarities and seismic differences between the Middle Kingdoms of today and a century ago.

Along the way, Tamm offers piercing insights into China's past that raise troubling questions about its future. Can the Communist Party truly open China to the outside world yet keep Western ideas such as democracy and freedom at bay, just as Qing officials mistakenly believed? What can reform during the late Qing Dynasty teach us about the spectacular transformation of China today? "Study the past if you would divine the future," wrote Confucius. Tamm's quest, told in The Horse that Leaps Through Clouds, turns out to be a cautionary tale.

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"A sophisticated journalist indeed, Mr. Tamm gathers observations like gemstones." (Diplomat & International Canada 2011-02-18)

"Tamm's account of his journey has tremendous scope and panache. He unearths what has happened to these regions in the intervening 100 years and his ghost companion, Mannerheim, proves useful as a baseline from which to gauge the changes. Tamm's themes are the vanishing of languages and ways of life, environmental depredation, China's colonization of the hinterlands and, finally, the prospects for its political development...The Horse That Leaps Through Clouds is a serious, generous and enlightening introduction to this huge and infrequently travelled part of the world." (Vancouver Sun 2010-10-02)

"[The Horse that Leaps Through Clouds] is a captivating ride in an area of the world that has gone largely unreported and Tamm is an engaging guide." (Ottawa Citizen 2010-09-29)

"Tamm writes superbly in describing his experiences and he is unafraid to recount conditions as they are, with a critical eye...It is part history, part geography, part anthropology and part cautionary tale." (Waterloo Region Record 2010-09-20)

“An intriguing volume, and…a stirring history.” (Winnipeg Free Press 2010-08-04)

"Following in the footsteps of Baron Carl Gustav Mannerheim, the last Tsarist spy in the so-called Great Game, Tamm has written a grand sweep of a narrative. It combines a long and arduous physical journey -- 9 months and 17,000 kilometers from St. Petersburg across the Tibetan Plateau and the Gobi desert to Beijing -- with the revelations of high stakes history -- espionage in virtually unknown territory in the early years of the twentieth century. At its core, this is a journey into the soul of the Middle Kingdom, and the roots of modern China. Full of wild characters, harsh geography, and historical surprise, Tamm's journey reveals him to be at once an intrepid adventurer, fine writer, and discerning historian. Altogether a wonderful book." (Wade Davis, author of "The Wayfinders" 2010-07-19)

"Overcoming all obstacles, enduring discomforts of deserts, mountains, and overcrowded buses, Tamm, with his historical and cultural perceptiveness, renders an exquisite portrait of continuities and contrasts in the regions Mannerheim and he traversed." (Booklist 2011-04-15)

About the Author

Eric Enno Tamm is an author, journalist and analyst with more than 15 years' experience in the media and non-profit sector. His first book, Beyond the Outer Shores: The Untold Story of Ed Ricketts, was a Kiriyama Prize Notable Book in 2005. He holds a master's degree in journalism from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles and a master's degree in European affairs from Lund University in Sweden. He currently lives and works in Ottawa, Ontario.

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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
By Aaron
The Horse that Leaps through Clouds manages to effectively blend an analysis of the rise of modern China while comparing and contrasting the differences between what Mannerheim saw with the China that Tamm saw by following the same route exactly a century later.

Tamm has used his superb writing skills to provide the reader with an exciting tale of his adventures through the varying cultures, climates and political systems while giving a very good basic history of China and its political and cultural changes in the previous century. It is very evident that Tamm has thoroughly researched the subject and made some very insightful and educated analyses of China past and present while letting the reader draw conclusions on where China is going in the near future.

This book crosses several genres of writing: travelogue, sociocultural studies, politics and history - while actually doing a good job at each. I would highly recommend this book to anyone that has an interest in these subjects.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent writing, excellent book April 2 2011
Tamm has tackled I'd say a long forgotten story of Mannerheim and his journey to China. You'd either have to be a fan of Scandinavian history to know anything about Mannerheim, or you are one of many who really can't live without China. Just look around... how many things are there in your home stating: Made in China. But how much do you really know about this country? There must be countless books about China but Tamm's approach is certainly unique. It's almost as if he's traveling with Mannerheim himself. Tamm has his journals and his photos with him. The only difference... one hundred years in between. How much has really changed or has it at all... I love how Tamm threads Mannerheim's experiences and thoughts of the same places to his own story. I admire Tamm's courage to undertake this journey alone. But at the same time he manages to find friends and good people who are willing to help a complete stranger. Which shows that people in the developing countries or with the different religion aren't really always as evil or dangerous as media too often portrays them.

Tamm travels to China through many former Soviet countries. Coming from one of those it was really interesting to read how they've managed to go on with their lives, how the Soviet times have influenced their current situation. And it's a bit ironic how he was denied a visa to China when he applied as a Canadian. He had to rely on his Estonian passport that he has thanks to his Estonian-born father.

If you love a good travel story with some historical facts, this book is certainly for you.
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7 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Long Title, Narrow Perspective Aug. 10 2010
Tamm is to be commended for discovering a new lens through which to view modern day China. Retracing the Finnish legend Mannerheim's route over a hundred years ago in order to compare early 20th century China to early 21st century China is an entertaining narrative concept, mostly for Finns. Tamm did his homework well in advance of his solo journey, gaining access to many of Mannerheim's primary writings and meeting with experts on the subject. This is perhaps his greatest achievement in writing the book. It's difficult, however, to decide if this manuscript is a serious scholarly study or a travelogue in the style of Paul Theroux. His notes and references from history are very copious and well laid out throughout the book but at times he sidesteps his focus and makes the reader feel as if the narrator is listening to a good pub tale. For example, at one point in Western China he ventures alone into a gay bar for obscure reasons and describes it in quite some detail, attempting to make some connection between his motivations and the observations that Mannerheim made of transvestites during his journey. The link is weak as so many of Tamm's side trips appear to be. The author also has an unhidden contempt for Christian missionaries in the country, comparing them to modern day Marxists who are substituting religion for opium, the narcotic that brought China to its knees during the 19th century. He does, reluctantly, mention that many of these missionaries are involved in establishing hospitals, schools and businesses that are helpful to the society at large but he suggests that they are only doing so as a front in order to spread the gospel. Read more ›
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2 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I CAN'T WAIT July 28 2010
I can't wait for my copy to come in the mail. I'm so eager for T.H.T.L.T.C. I may very well have to order 2...
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 5.0 out of 5 stars  1 review
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Journey I wish I could have made... Sept. 21 2010
By Michael Hemp - Published on
For those of us in the old days of Sino-Soviet studies (mine at Cal Berkeley with proffs like Chalmers Johnson), retracing Baron Mannerheim's 1906 trek from the Caspian to Peking would be a journey of a lifetime. It's a journey I wish I could have made, that Eric Tamm actually did. A masterful book of comparative historical, cultural, political and economic contrast. This is a close as you can come to being there. I cannot recommend it too highly--especially for us old timers who never saw China coming. Not like described in person on this Silk Road redux. Through Tamm's eyes, the coming consequences of Chinese empire are clearly unavoidable and the minority cultures of Central Asia's unhappy fate equally inescapable. The Horse That Leaps Through Clouds is a brilliant read.

Michael K. Hemp
The History Company
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