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Strange Stones: Dispatches from East and West

4.11  ·  Rating Details ·  793 Ratings  ·  98 Reviews
An absorbing and ambitious work of reportage on history, politics, and culture from the acclaimed New Yorker correspondent.

Over the past decade, Peter Hessler has built a reputation as one of the finest journalists working today. The three books he's published in that time brilliantly explore the wonders, oddities, and paradoxes of life in modern China. In the pages of The
Paperback, 384 pages
Published May 7th 2013 by Harper Perennial (first published January 1st 2013)
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Apr 27, 2015 Sue rated it it was amazing
Peter Hessler’s fourth book is a compilation of eighteen essays, most of which appeared in some form in The New Yorker. Each week when my issue of that magazine arrives, I notice first the by-lines. There are certain author names I recognize right away, and I read them first, sometimes even before looking at the cartoons. Peter Hessler is one of those authors.

I became acquainted a dozen years ago with his first book, River Town, which is the story of his years in China as a member of the Peace C
Nov 01, 2014 Margaret rated it it was amazing
Shelves: essay
I've read all four of Peter Hessler's books, this being the most recent, and MAN is he a terrific observer and writer! His essays are brilliant; his first book, "River Town," about his Peace Corps volunteer experience in Fuling, China, is brilliant; everything he writes is brilliant. I love his observations, his humor, his deep and abiding respect and affection for his human subjects; his clear, beautiful, and accessible writing; everything! Much of his writing is about his 15-year residence in ...more
Bonnie E.
Jan 01, 2014 Bonnie E. rated it it was amazing
Loved this book. The author is an adventurous and thoughtful soul who is able to relate to all manner of people in different parts of the globe, and his experiences make for quite an extraordinary journey. The book is a compilation of eighteen exquisite essays which do not have to be read in any particular order but each and every one really should be read because they are that good. The vignettes are moving and funny and insightful, and offer glimpses into towns and cultures and everyday people ...more
Jun 16, 2013 Terzah rated it it was amazing
I'm biased, but I think Peter Hessler writes some of the best narrative non-fiction around. This book is a fantastic showcase of it. My favorite essays were "Chinese Barbizon" (I love the way Hessler brings home the ties between China and the U.S., ties that exist where you least expect them) "Wild Flavor" (just funny) and "Strange Stones" (Peace Corps, Hessler writes, "changed you, but not necessarily in the way you'd expect. It was a bad job for hard-core idealists, most of whom ended up ...more
Mar 22, 2015 Joel rated it really liked it
Shelves: travel, china
Hessler is one of my favorite non-fiction writers, with 3 previous books (my favorite one being Oracle Bones) about China and the years he spent living there. This book is a collection of stories he wrote for the New Yorker; most of them are about China, and some of them will be familiar to readers of his previous books, because the same stories appeared there. That's a bit disappointing. But there are also a few essays covering Colorado (where he moved when he left China), Japan, and Nepal. Tho ...more
Bill Pritchard
Dec 14, 2014 Bill Pritchard rated it it was amazing
This collection of dispatches cover a number of years of Peter Hessler's early writing years, covering rural China and small towns in Colorado. Peter Hessler is well known as a correspondent for the New Yorker, and I have admired his work for many years. His quiet way of writing suggests that of an excellent listener, and his "way of seeing" opens ones eyes to many wonders - especially of China. The first dispatch speaks of eating Rat in China, and the last closes with the only pharmacist within ...more
Aug 19, 2013 Alcibiades rated it it was amazing
Shelves: china
I remember I liked Peter Hessler's first three books very much. But the greatness i found out in this book made me think about to rearrange the ranking, then I realized its stupid to rank works, either from different authors or the same one.

Not like the previous works by Hessler, Strange Stones are made up by 18 short stories. While river town and oracle bones have memorable tones of consistency, strange stones stands out with its refinement by focusing on different subjects. The authors' maste
Jan 11, 2015 Chrisl rated it really liked it
In the title essay, Strange Stones, Hessler wrote "From the beginning, the Peace Corps had ... another goal ... to produce Americans with knowledge about the outside world. It was intended to influence national policy ... everybody I knew had been changed forever by the experience. But these changes were of the sort that generally made people less likely to work for the government ... The vast majority of former volunteers would have opposed the American adventure in Iraq ... But their opinions ...more
Jul 07, 2014 Huiling rated it liked it
The essays on China are a bit dated - I much prefer his earlier writings on China in the first three books. The writings about life in Colorado, though, are quite fascinating. The perspectives about the US from an American who have lived in China for more than a decade in his 20s and 30s is priceless.
Allison Tsai
Nov 07, 2016 Allison Tsai rated it it was amazing
In Strange Stones, the author Peter Hessler tells his stories about China, Japan, and the United States. The book is a collection of his best essays. Hessler was born in America, has lived in China for more than a decade, first volunteered to be a teacher in southwestern China, then went to Bejing as New Yorker’s journalist. He has a unique, accurate view of Asia culture and customs.

I found this book in travel category in a bookstore. The stories are more about social science than traveling. It
Nov 09, 2016 Mia rated it really liked it
Very much liked the writing and many of the essay's subjects. China feels more foreign to me than ever after having read this collection. Just so much difference to wrap one's head around.
Oct 31, 2016 Louise marked it as castaways-i-give-up  ·  review of another edition
Not horrible - just a bit meh - so a DNF for me after 1.5 hours of listening
Nov 10, 2013 Diane rated it it was amazing

Peter Hessler is one of my favorite writers and this collection of essays was a treat. My favorite pieces are those set in China, plus two pieces - Uranium Widows and Dr. Don -set in southwest Colorado. Uranium Widows is an excellent piece about public health in uranium workers. I was impressed with his open-mindedness and with the medical research he quoted. Dr. Don encapsulates what is best about living in a small town.

The Preface was fascinating. Hessler talks about trying to find the balanc
Jun 10, 2015 Apsalz08 rated it it was amazing
To be clear, I'd enjoy Peter Hessler if he wrote about what he ate for breakfast in the morning, so your mileage may vary.

Anyway, this is a collection of some previously published stories, expanded with new material, as well as some unpublished stories. Anything of his time in China is always a highlight for me. He captures the people and the country and its amazingness and contradictions and oddities so well. He makes a short story about competing rat restaurants interesting, and not completely
Jonathan Mckay
Aug 13, 2015 Jonathan Mckay rated it really liked it

Picked up this book on a recommendation from Jason (Blocked on Weibo: What Gets Suppressed on China's Version of Twitter), and I was not disappointed. The combination of stories from Americans and Chinese locales was jarring at first, but I think in the end made this book much more powerful. I didn't feel like there was any theme to the book, but there was the ability to see the world through the author's eyes, and get insight into village life on either side of the pacific. Unlike m
Jim Davis
Feb 23, 2015 Jim Davis rated it liked it
Shelves: travel, reportage
What a delightful piece of reportage. Peter Hessler's book is a lovely compilation of articles and biographies of everyday people and places in China. He describes his motivation for this book best, "Out in the great wide world, foreign reporting can be depressingly narrow, especially in the post-9/11 climate. Sometimes it seems as if there are only two subjects for stories: people we should fear, and people we should pity. But those aren't the individuals I met while living abroad."
His portrait
Oct 08, 2016 Linda rated it liked it
In Hessler’s preface to this book, he describes how his father taught him to observe people and ask himself questions about them. These lessons have stood Peter Hessler in good stead, for his descriptions of people he has met and places he has been are fascinating. Although he spent many years in China, some of the pieces in this book originate elsewhere. The first story in the book is about how he took a dare to eat rats in two different restaurants in China and compare them. One chapter is on ...more
Betty Ho
Jun 16, 2013 Betty Ho rated it it was amazing
Shelves: china
I have been waiting for Peter Hessler's new books for years, longing to learn about his new adventures in the Middle East. "Strange Stones" came as a disappointment as it's a collection of short articles that were published in the New Yorker before. Many stories look familiar as they have already been included in "River Town" , "Country Driving" and "Oracle Bones" .

After finished reading it, I'd say this is a real gem that worth 5 stars. Peter is wizard who can make his stories' characters
Dec 22, 2015 Mona rated it really liked it
Recommended to Mona by: Y.S. Lee
4.5 stars. This was excellent and I highly recommend it. Honestly, Hessler has to be one of the best narrative nonfiction writers I've ever read. He is a great storyteller, and he conveys his observations about both larger-than-life personalities and ordinary individuals in a thoughtful and intelligent manner.

My favorite pieces are:

"Walking the Wall" - about the Great Wall of China, yes, but also its mythology and the wall enthusiasts, in particular, David Spindler

"The Dirty Game" - about the U
Grady McCallie
Jul 23, 2016 Grady McCallie rated it really liked it
Shelves: china
This collects a number of essays originally published in the New Yorker. Somehow, knowing that Hessler had moved from Beijing to Cairo, I thought the 'west' in the title would include essays from Egypt, but it doesn't - instead it refers to three essays about rural Colorado. Unlike Hessler's previous books, which wove previously published material and new material into complex tapestries, there's no effort to thread the essays in this collection into a common fabric. Favorites for me in this ...more
Yang Chu
May 21, 2016 Yang Chu rated it really liked it
Peter Hessler has the perfect voice for Hu-era China, the quirky curious China that no longer exists. This is a great book to reminisce if returning to the United States after Xi pulled the rug of your life out from under you, Peter will soothe all your sorrows by putting the immensity of your China experience into the simplest of words: "I never received an award for that race. It was all in the spirit of Peter Chang--he walked away from prizes and free money, and he also knew, like any ...more
Jul 17, 2013 Larry rated it really liked it
Peter Hessler's essays in the New Yorhker are always captivating, and this book reprints a number of them. Most of the essays are about China ("Walking the Wall," about the reality of the Great Wall, and "Hone and Away,' about Yao Ming's NBA career) are quite good, but the best is the last. "Dr. Don is about Don Colcord, who He is the friendliest person within 4,000 square miles around Nucla, CO. He is a hometown boy from a town with a strange history, having begun as a cooperative socialist ...more
Xiwen Wang
Jul 30, 2016 Xiwen Wang rated it really liked it
Finally, I finished reading Peter Hessler's works. Among his four books, the ranking in my mind is this: 1. River Town; 2. Country Driving; 3. Strange Stones; 4. Oracle Bones. As a Chinese, these books, River Town in particular, can be used as a mirror to reflect our thinking and way of living, which is beneficial for us to see the problems and correct accordingly. Also there were so many glimpses mirroring what an American way of living and thinking are like. It's so interesting when you read ...more
Andrea Aldrich
Oct 17, 2013 Andrea Aldrich rated it liked it
This book is a collection of short essays and stories that are sometimes a bit redundant of his earlier work. If you have read his other three books, especially Country Driving, many of the China stories will be familiar to you so you may be disappointed.

That being said, if you haven't read them, this book is a great way to become familiar with Hessler's work. It's easy to read it a story at a time, so it's great if you don't have a lot of time for free reading. Even if you have read Hessler's
Sep 04, 2016 不想落下 rated it it was amazing
I love this book so much.Actually,i cried a few timas. i can find some people who are similar to the characters in my own life,however they are's hard to imagine a foreigner who can put our pain and struggle to write so deep.Some things once again in this summer,just like chinese women's volleyball team won the US volleyball team,we showed the crazy.Maybe only Yuanhui Fu is different,enjoy herself.i'm sorry for my Chinese English,i wish to express my true meaning.peter,thank you.
May 10, 2016 Rob rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2015
This is a beautiful and witty collection of essays, mostly to do with the author's experiences living in Beijing while China was going through such vast change... Hessler pulls off a fine balancing act of exposing both sides of the China coin: that which repulses and that which endears, the moronic and the wise, the lies and the truth... The essay about eating rat is a classic and had me laughing out loud, and the final essays where Hessler has moved back to America are superb meditations... The ...more
May 31, 2013 Min rated it liked it
Page 301
“ I couldn't imagine how people created a coherent worldview out of such strange and scattered contacts with the outside. But I was coming from the other direction, and the gaps impressed me more than the glimpses."

The interesting things is that human beings are always able to construct a coherent story if they are motivated to do so. And seeing the world as coherent in itself is one of our basic motives.

A recurring theme of Hessler's narration is the insider/outsider perspectives. And
Wei Liu
Nov 10, 2014 Wei Liu rated it it was amazing
Highly recommended. Must read for those who are curious about contemporary Chinese society.

I'd read most of the stories in this book already where they first appeared in the New Yorker, but still enjoyed reading them tremendously the second time. Peter Hessler is one of my favorite non-fiction writers, not only because the subjects he wrote were mostly China/Chinese-related, but also because he has such a keen eye for details, an incredible knack for telling original stories out of ordinary peo
Aug 26, 2013 Qmmayer rated it really liked it
First some clarifications. The subtitle is a bit misleading: the essays here are primarily East (China) rather than West (mainly Colorado). Of 18 stories, perhaps three are unrelated to China. And although the book is composed of essays – with one exception -- that have previously appeared in the New Yorker, Hessler states in the introduction that a number have been significantly revised. In any case, it is rewarding to have them collected all in one place. They make for a compelling ...more
Jan 07, 2014 Laura rated it really liked it
Through this whole book, I planned to give it only 3 stars, which distressed me, because I really love Peter Hessler. Unfortunately, this book contains many essays that are very familiar - I recognized several stories that I have read before in his other books. This was a collection of his articles he wrote for The New Yorker, so I'm sure that the essays were not exact copies of chapters from his other books, but they were familiar enough that I knew what was coming next, which was ...more
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Peter Hessler is a staff writer at The New Yorker, where he served as Beijing correspondent from 2000-2007, and is also a contributing writer for National Geographic. He is the author of River Town, which won the Kiriyama Book Prize, and Oracle Bones, which was a finalist for the National Book Award. He won the 2008 National Magazine Award for excellence in reporting.
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“mental institutions, rural health clinics. Once, he met” 0 likes
“The joy of nonfiction is searching for balance between storytelling and reporting, finding a way to be both loquacious and observant.” 0 likes
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