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China Airborne

3.82  ·  Rating Details ·  455 Ratings  ·  76 Reviews
More than two-thirds of the new airports under construction today are being built in China. Chinese airlines expect to triple their fleet size over the next decade and will account for the fastest-growing market for Boeing and Airbus. But the Chinese are determined to be more than customers. In 2011, China announced its Twelfth Five-Year Plan, which included the commitment ...more
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published May 15th 2012 by Pantheon (first published January 1st 2012)
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Richard Burger
Jun 25, 2012 Richard Burger rated it it was amazing
Let me admit it up front: Few topics could bore me as much as avionics and the aerospace industry. I only want to know that my pilot can take off, get me to where I want to go and land the plane safely. I don't really know the difference between the words "avionics" and "aerospace." So I approached China Airborne with a touch of trepidation: How could I possibly enjoy a book about a topic I find dryer than dust?

Leave it to James Fallows to take a subject to which I am indifferent (if not downrig
Sep 21, 2012 John rated it liked it
My feelings about this book are pretty much connected to my feelings about The Atlantic Magazine, which is that it always appears that the articles in it are going to be more interesting than they ever prove to be. Sure, there are exceptions — more so that with Harpers, which I generally find unreadable. Fallows, of course, writes for The Atlantic, and has the strengths and, even more so, the weaknesses I find there. Essentially, it's the experience of being trapped next to some knowledgeable bu ...more
John Mensing
Aug 07, 2012 John Mensing rated it it was ok
Shelves: reviewed, china
Although it attempts to chronicle China’s budding aviation industry, James Fallows’ China Airborne worked better for me as an explanation of why America is falling apart. Fallows sets his tale about China’s burgeoning airplane manufacturing business within the context of these last several decades of economic triumphs, maintaining throughout the self-congratulatory voice of a seasoned foreign correspondent surveying an inscrutable landscape.
Fallows never fails to bore as he recounts a corporate
Jun 04, 2012 Aaron rated it liked it
Shelves: business, signed, culture
Nice, breezy book that wasn't quite what I was hoping for. Since I find myself in the aerospace industry, I was really looking for a hard-hitting deep-dive into China's prospects for becoming the next Boeing or Airbus. Instead, the book really looks at aviation in general, not just the apex airframers who get a lion's share of the profit and press.

From the regulations and infrastructure needed to create a recreational aviation culture, to the political/military component of airspace in China, th
China Airborne, but James M. Fallow, is a book about the growing aerospace business in China. China is a country, for reasons social, cultural, political and economically, which has a heavily underdeveloped aerospace infrastructure. Fallows book follows the rise of this industry as a person on the ground, working for an American airplane company looking to breach into this market.

One of the common tropes of China (and possibly a true one) is that it is a country with massive amounts of developme
Aaron Arnold
Jul 24, 2012 Aaron Arnold rated it it was amazing
China's meteoric ascent from the crippling poverty of the Mao era to its current status as a still-poor but fast-growing major power is one of the major success stories of human history. Aerospace is one industry that symbolizes China's aspirations towards first-world status as well as illuminates its shortcomings, and James Fallows, whose excellent 2010 essay collection Postcards From Tomorrow Square presented many fascinating details from China's "controlled, yet chaotic" headlong pursuit of g ...more
Dana Stabenow
Nov 10, 2013 Dana Stabenow rated it really liked it
Opportunity or threat? That's what this book boils down to, an examination of just what the government-driven and -financed economic boom in China means to the West. I warn you, there is no pat answer to the question by the end of the book, but your bewilderment will be much better informed.

Fallows writes for the Atlantic Monthly and spent six years in China "not" reporting on it (they wouldn't give him a journalist's visa so he just said he was there as a consultant). He's a private pilot and h
Sep 30, 2016 Andrew rated it liked it
Shelves: current-events
Through the lens of aviation, Fallows introduces the reader to the complexities and confusions of China's breakneck development, and the massive hurdles it faces in becoming a generator, rather than just a manufacturer, or technical innovation.
Catherine Woodman
Apr 29, 2014 Catherine Woodman rated it it was amazing

I am still getting ready for my upcoming trip to China so bear with me a bit. The task of getting to know China seems daunting and I have a long ways to go to understand the nation that invented large seafaring ships and the technology to print in an economical way a thousand years before anyone else, and yet chose to remain isolated rather than capitalize on these monumental feats. That China is gone. Today's China is struggling to become the behemoth that it's early advances seemed to promise.
Jul 07, 2014 Aleks rated it it was amazing
James Fallows has long been my favorite world affairs writer, particularly about events in East Asia. It's hard to find so much important information, such measured and realistic evaluations, and such readable prose anywhere in media today. So although I know little and have never really cared to learn about civil aviation (one of Fallows' hobbies and frequent subjects,) I knew that I would learn a great deal more about the rise of modern China (another serial topic for Fallows, who lived there ...more
Pantheon Books
About China Airborne: More than two-thirds of the new airports under construction today are being built in China. Chinese airlines expect to triple their fleet size over the next decade and will account for the fastest-growing market for Boeing and Airbus. But the Chinese are determined to be more than customers. In 2011, China announced its Twelfth Five-Year Plan, which included the commitment to spend a quarter of a trillion dollars to jump-start its aerospace industry. Its goal is to produce ...more
Hella Comat
Jun 19, 2015 Hella Comat rated it it was amazing
This is a fantastic, insightful look into aviation in China. Although they are starting way behind, China has plans to spend 'a quarter of a trillion' dollars building new airports and expanding their fleet. To that end, they've acquired 2 American companies - Cirrus (the small but fast airplane with a parachute) and Continental (aircraft engines). With their incredible size - despite the physical size of China being approximately equal to the USA, the population of China is that of the USA plus ...more
Michael Greenwell
May 18, 2012 Michael Greenwell rated it liked it
Fallows pulls together anecdotes, data, and opinion in a disjoint but compelling narrative about the state of Chinese aviation, and, ultimately, the manner in which it both affects and is affected by China's international reputation, its instutions, and its political structure. Sprinkled throughout this narrative are vignettes of life in China, and conjecture as to how its seeming oddities are representative of larger forces, and in turn how these larger forces hinder and promote China's forays ...more
Grady McCallie
Feb 11, 2014 Grady McCallie rated it really liked it
Shelves: china
I'm not particularly interested in airplanes or air transportation, but this book is fascinating. Fallows uses all things airplane related - but especially the design and building of airplanes - as a window on China's economic development strategies and challenges. The book builds to the question, can China achieve mastery of technologically-advanced industries - not just production, but front-end innovation and design, and back end high-value branding - without significantly changing the cultur ...more
Jul 06, 2012 ba rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: technologists, aviation enthusiasts, those interested in commerce and issues of trade with China
Mr. Fallows has chosen a seemingly narrow subject, namely the rapid expansion of the aviation industry in China, but it soon becomes clear that larger issues are at the heart of his narrative: specifically China's present and future role in the international community. It is the author's contention that China can not "move up the value chain" from manufacturing and assembling components into the realm of designing high-value commodities and controlling branding without first puting in place syst ...more
Seth Kolloen
Dec 30, 2014 Seth Kolloen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
very readable intro to China

An erudite and readable writer creates a short and enjoyable look at modern China through the lens of its attempts to create a modern air travel system. After reading this I feel that my understanding of China has gone from 10th percentile to at least 50th. My main takeaways are that China is much more vast and subject to much more competing interests than I had thought before. At the economic level the government is not controlling things exactly, it really is allowi
Jun 17, 2013 Tirath rated it it was amazing
The title is subtly misleading.
Loved this book... it has been acclaimed by many and I can see why.

The author seems to speak about the potential of an aviation industry in China and how one day China may be able to make internationally acceptable commercial airliners; more than that, the author is sharply critical and questioning about the progress of China. He acknowledges all of its advances and how much the country has been able to achieve but he enlightens the reader with some of his views a
Jul 26, 2014 andrew rated it it was amazing
Shelves: china
This book looked dull as hell. There, I said it. I purposefully did not read it because of this fact, and you probably haven't (and likely won't) read it for that same reason. I am not into aviation at all, and am not totally into old white guys writing about China.
But, of course, much like his other book on the same subject...James Fallows is not just another old white guy pontificating about his year abroad. Not at all. This book ties everything together (China's development, aviation history
Jan 03, 2013 Peter rated it really liked it
James Fallows writes with the authority of someone who has been living his subject. China Airborne is a recounting of Fallows's experiences living, writing and flying in China, and an analysis of Chinese capabilities and intentions. He writes that aviation is an 'apex industry' in the sense that there are so many industrial, technological and regulatory pieces that all need to align in order for a country to succeed in aviation. The Chinese government is spending by some accounts a quarter of a ...more
Oct 04, 2012 Ben rated it liked it

A reasonable, if superficial, overview of the reasons for China's economic success, and the challenges it faces in the future. The book accurately describes how China became an export-led economic giant, but why it may struggle in the future as it attempts to re-balance. The book shined in its discussion of the airline industry, and how hard it is to develop and build a 747, and why China will not be able to do so for many decades. But this section ended abruptly, and you were left with broad di
A nuanced look at China through the eyes of the development of its aerospace industry. ALthough ostensibly the book is about China's attempt at developing the Chinese versions of Boeing and Lockheed Martin, it is more about the Chinese political economy, and how its system both enhances and hinders the advance of its people and country. Although from outside China seems an unstoppable juggernaut, there are many problems it still struggles with, including a high dependence on infrastructure devel ...more
Dec 06, 2012 Bill rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Having not read too much about life in China, other than what occasionally makes it into the news, I found this to be a thought-provoking, if somewhat repetitive, analysis of the aerospace industry in China. I had not given enough thought to how a Communist country even went about trying to foster a high-tech industry that seems to thrive on competition and innovation. The answer, as seen in this book, is that it cannot. As long as the government sets the parameters for growth and success, its v ...more
Apr 07, 2014 Claire rated it it was ok
My father would enjoy this book more than I did - not to say I did not appreciate Fallows' writing! I see why I did not select this to describe for my Modern Chinese History book presentation, even if it is a valid text. Flying just does not take my imagination the same way as it does many around me.

So, in filial piety I like this book, knowing my immediate ancestor adores single-engine plane flight. (I have heard he wants to fly planes across beaches with advertisement banners!) And I also like
Russ Mathers
Feb 06, 2013 Russ Mathers rated it really liked it
Interesting read to learn the scope of the growth China is going through and the size of the 2025 China will have 221 cities of 1M+ people. All of Europe will have 35 that big and US will have 9. China will have 15 mega cities of 25M+ people, and we won't have any...we'd have to combine everyone from San Diego to San Francisco or Boston to Washington DC to equal one mega city. Good to see how Boeing has helped them grow their air transport system to develop the market, and how even ...more
Grandma Sue
Aug 17, 2012 Grandma Sue rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This read is of narrow interest, but I found some big picture topics worth sharing. China's air space is controlled by the military. To grow a modern domestic transportation system will necessitate the Chinese leadership choose the international commercial model over the military. Once this happens, the ripple effect will be felt worldwide. It'll be huge for companies like Boeing. Hundreds of thousands of new pilots will be needed. The need for a new fuel with fewer emission issues will be criti ...more
Peter Kilkelly
May 27, 2013 Peter Kilkelly rated it it was amazing
For anyone who wants to get a sense of the past 30 years of China and the near future, this book is an excellent read. Fallows uses the aviation industry as a template for the changes China has made, going back to the days of Kissinger's secret trip in '73, through today's efforts at opening up the interior of China to air travel. Even as someone who has little interest in flying or aviation, this was an excellent choice and really gave a sense of the amazing progress China has made and the prom ...more
Domenic Boscariol
Aug 11, 2012 Domenic Boscariol rated it liked it
Overall I found this book a bit disappointing. While it does convey a good sense of what China would like to do and some elements of where its going, I don't think the author has researched sufficiently in depth to convey what it takes to become a viable aircraft manufacturer and how that applies in China's case.

Further, the emphasis on Boeing's activities (informative as it is) glosses over the activities of other major airframers (Cirrus notwithstanding) .

I suppose I was left wanting more, as
Evan Thomas
Oct 07, 2012 Evan Thomas rated it really liked it
Fallows efficiently makes the argument that because it represents the aggregation of technical, manufacturing, financial, and research processes, civil aviation is the best marker of a nation's ability to compete in the 21st century. From this premise, Fallows deftly argues that China is failing this crucial test. This is great book for China doubters who all too well remember the 1980s when Japan was going to irreversibly overtake America. At the same time Fallows presents challenges for the US ...more
Helen Gao
Dec 07, 2012 Helen Gao rated it really liked it
Great insight into the mode of development of China in the past decade, and the pitfalls and perils embedded in such as system. The discussion at the end regarding the multifaceted meaning of the term China Dream is especially relevant to China at this moment as it coincides with the new ideological theme promoted by the new leadership. In answering the question "What is the China Dream(s)?," Fallows highlights the ultimate challenges faced by the Chinese government in leading their country forw ...more
Nov 17, 2012 Anne rated it really liked it
Well written account of the rise of aerospace in China from an author who has lived there and who loves flying. You can extrapolate, as you wish, on the future of Chinese industry in general. Interesting tidbits about the control of airspace (and how wasteful this is of fuel, as plane are routed through narrow corridors - all airspace is under military control). It will be fascinating to see how this evolves.
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