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China Airborne

3.78 of 5 stars 3.78  ·  rating details  ·  344 ratings  ·  70 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
ebook, 288 pages
Published May 15th 2012 by Vintage (first published January 1st 2012)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 786)
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Richard Burger
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
...more
John
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
Aaron
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
...more
John Mensing
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
...more
Seth Kolloen
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
...more
Aleks
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
Catherine Woodman


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.
...more
andrew
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
...more
Dana Stabenow
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
...more
Michael Greenwell
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
Aaron Arnold
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
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
ba
Jul 11, 2012 ba rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
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
Tirath
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
...more
Peter
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
Bill
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
Upom
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
Ben

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
...more
Russ Mathers
Interesting read to learn the scope of the growth China is going through and the size of the cities....by 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
Mof
Kinda superficial look at recent change in China. I had hoped it was a travel blog of his trip across China in a small private plane. Turns out he only made one short trip. That tells you a lot about recent change in China.
Venky
An unbiased, informed and educated view of the economic, social and cultural potentials and perils that stare in the face of a nation housing a quarter of mankind.
Erik
An eye opening story on the Chinese mentality of free enterprise, entrepreneurship, and the future of the airline/airport/air travel industry.
Grandma Sue
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
Brady
The book doesn't have the right title in my opinion, since it started with some reflections and eye opening information about the aerospace industry in China, but then branched out into more mainline Chinese topics. Other than the more broad scope of the book, I definitely learned a lot and felt its style was easy to read.
Domenic Boscariol
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
...more
Ramie Jacobson
couldn't finish cuz kinda boring but lots of info about chinese airlines development
Kyle
The author gave a solid introduction to the budding Chinese civil aviation industry and the opportunities and challenges it faces, paralleled with the entrance of China itself onto the world stage. However, much of the book seemed too focused on introducing the reader to the subject of Chinese globalization, which the reader would presumably be familiar with based on the specializied book subject.
Evan Thomas
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
Peter Kilkelly
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
Helen Gao
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
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