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

4.25 of 5 stars 4.25  ·  rating details  ·  283 ratings  ·  53 reviews
Long-listed for the 2014 National Book Award in nonfiction.

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 o...more
Hardcover, 416 pages
Published May 13th 2014 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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(showing 1-30 of 1,452)
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Mark Hiew
This book, more so than any other I've read on China, best captures the country's current situation, challenges and contradictions. Osnos did a good job of weaving together the characters and themes that he explores--built around the triad of fortune, truth and faith--capturing the way that prosperity and development co-exist with political dissent and spiritual exploration.

I lived in China from 2007 to 2011 and, like many aspiring Western 'half-pats' in China, learned a great deal about my surr...more
Wei Liu
Disappointed. Except the chapter of the writer's riding along with a group of Chinese for a guided tour in Europe (which is fresh and insightful), the rest stories are either unoriginal or plainly wrong (like the story about Han Han). In comparison, Peter Hessler's River Town and Oracle Bones are much more fun to read and amazingly insightful about China and Chinese, even for native Chinese like me.
This is a great, accessible read, that offers a map for those interested in picking their way through the minefield of press reports on China, ranging from the "China threat" myth perpetuated by some of the Western press and the "China is the best thing since sliced bread" line served up by China's state media.

On my first read I felt a little uncomfortable with the same old rhetoric trotted out about China at the start of this book, which set out the argument that China is traditionally a "colle...more
This is the best book I've read so far on China. It helps you understand the odd dichotomy of big government and free market capitalism that exists there. Something that the vast majority of westerns including myself fail to really understand. That is not a simple topic to summarize but the author presented it - not as a rigid historical background - but as a mix of stories, biographies, of real fascinating people in China. Combining many of the articles the author has written for the New Yorker...more
"Outsiders often saw the Chinese as pragmatists with little time for faith, ... At one point, Beijing had more temples than any other city in Asia." (E.Osnos., p.280) -history
"There were now sixty to eighty million Christians, a community as large as the Communist Party" (E. Osnos., p.281) - hopeful for the new China
"Lao She became to Beijing what Victor Hugo was to Paris: the city's quintessential writer" (E. Osnos. P.290) - sacrifice of a sick society
"How can we possibly win respect and play t...more
Aug 01, 2014 Susan rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: china
With his love for the Chinese people and language it must have cost Osnos a great deal to report faithfully on the last several years of China's history. Following a few dozen people he tells recent stories like a novelist, providing enough statistical ballast but never losing the twin threads of suffering and optimism. Oddly, Osnos verifies what contemporary Chinese expat novelists say about corruption and savagery.
If you are going to be in China, and especially if you're going to work with students in China, read this book. It will give you a sense of the enormous variation about how to be Chinese after a century of near genocidal conflict, followed by thirty-five years of retreat from full on Maoism.

It can only scratch the surface, of course, but throughout the book I got the strong sense that Osnos was committed to listening and reporting, and while it's true he imposes his western narratives on what he...more
For those of us with an interest in China, but who will never live there, this book is a must read. In fact, on the dust jacket James Fallows writes that this book "offers a better understanding of China's process of 'becoming' than most people would ever get by living there." Osnos sets up a distinct yin and yang between China's aspirations and authoritarianism. By taking us through a series of encounters with Chinese citizens who Osnos knows, he does a superb job of illustrating this dichotomy...more
I learned a lot about China from this book myself, even though I am from China. It has been over 16 years since I left and so much has changed. China is such a big country and it is a daunting task to understand it, from inside or out. There are three points I think that made this book work. First, Mr. Osnos has an inquisitive and compassionate mind. As a foreign journalist he was able to interview many people who would never appear in press in China. Secondly, when one writes about China, it is...more
Robert Rifkin
Age of Ambition is like a super-charged new time machine. If you need to know what the state of modern China looks like, this is the vehicle that will take you where you want to go. Osnos has spent a lot of research time finding the core of what makes the modern Chinese economy tick and you will find just about everything you need to know about everything you need to know about the New China in its pages.

Osnos does not present his findings in the dry way, either. Age of Ambition reads like an es...more

The author presents a good overview of the recent high-profile events in China, plus interviews with regular people having dreams and aspirations in today's China. For me, it filled a lot of gaps in knowledge about the recent events, like the full stories of Chen Guangcheng and Ai Weiwei.

If you've read similar "life in China from a point of view of a foreign journalist"-themed books or paid attention to its development, you won't find too many revelations and it'll be a good overview. I wouldn't...more
A trenchant look into modern Chinese history, the small events which coalescence into a coherent narrative. China is full of contradictions, which Evan Osnos fully embraces:

"For now, I’ll mention only the fact that returns to me more often, perhaps, than any other: never in modern history has China been more prosperous and functional and connected with the world—and yet, it is the only country in the world with a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in prison." (
Brandon Forsyth
A great, propulsive read that takes readers through the slow and strange process that China has gone through over the last 35 years transforming into ... whatever it is now. Osnos does a great job of personalizing China's changes, finding memorable characters who personify the shifting cultural movements. The depth of Osnos' reporting is impressive - he's had conversations with big names like Ai Weiwei and Chen Guangcheng, but he has also lived with regular citizens and spoken with bloggers, tal...more
Dennis W
This was my book for the summer. Should have finished it sooner, but got distracted here and there and only recently got through to the end. In my line of work, there are a lot of China haters. Often, my coworkers focus on only the wildly negative, aggressiveness of the ruling Party in China, and often overlook the human aspects of life and struggle inside the world's most populated nation. Age of Ambition opened a window into China that I had not previously had the chance to see through. The au...more
Single best book on China that has come out thus far this decade. If you are an expat here or have just a vague interest from your home elsewhere, this is the book to read to understand China right now. This country changes incredibly quickly, and books like "The Last Days of Old Beijing" (my previous rec to 'get China') are soon out of date. This handily takes the crown and I cannot see it losing it any time soon.

Osnos is expat royalty, everyone is about three degrees separated from him (I use...more
Zoe Xiuha
This is hands down one of the best books I've read about modern China, and definitely the best by am expat author. Osnos is refreshingly uncondescending, and shows a genuine understanding of Chinese culture and principles. His deeply personal case studies never make the mistake of stretching into overarching generalizations about the nature of all Chinese people, and he carefully navigates the space between legitimate criticism and western preaching. Definitely a book I'd recommend to friends tr...more
Linda Books
Fair disclosure: I know the author as a friend of my China-living son. I have read many nonfiction books on China "today" that I've plowed through, or slogged through. But Evan's framing of his points re: fortune, truth, and faith through personal stories makes this book very readable and comprehensible. Plus, he's a really evocative writer!
This was one of the most thoughtful and nuanced books I've read about China. He's very open about the political oppression/lack of freedom of speech citizens face, but also about the ways in which that doesn't matter to many people because of the tremendous economic gains they've experienced in recent years. At the same time, he details how the rampant government corruption and inequality of opportunity has created a sense of moral vacuum and a search for meaning beyond economic advancement.
Alesa Hu
China, the paradox, the contradiction, the unique, the miracle. As Charles Dickens put it, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” We, the Chinese uses it to describe the current situation in order to remind ourselves the best has never come. Recommended this book to all people who want to know truly China.
Eric Magnuson
Learned so much from this nearly up-to-the-moment narrative. I only wish this book's release would have pre-dated my own brief research trip three years ago to China. Osnos offers a thoughtful take on the rapidly evolving nation we all surely must come to know better than we currently do. I wanted to withhold a star for the somewhat meandering narrative in the "Truth" midsection...but the overall scope is too impressive for such distracting criticism. More important are the really valuable insig...more
Peter Vietze
Started reading it. Loved it, gave it to Chinese friends in Shanghai. Buying another to finish and give to my wife. Clear down to earth. Reflects my experience in China exactly but Osnos had so much more. Heard Bob Edwards interview him and bought it the same day.
Explains how the "New China" arose and how their weird mixture of communism and capitalism works (or rather, how some people make vast fortunes and others can't even afford to go to the doctor.)Interesting interviews with artists and regular people.
An enjoyable read about the rise of China and the successes and failures of entrepreneurs who are taking advantage of the opportunities. The author does a great job of detailing the struggles of individuals trying to make it at the top, including bribery and corruption at the highest level.
Well-written summary of major issues in China during the time the author, former Beijing correspondent for the New Yorker, lived there. Behind-the-scenes perspective on dissenters, entrepreneurs, and other ordinary people.
Carol Ascher
This is a fascinating book about contemporary China, including about how the internet has expanded people's access to information. Osnos has a wonderful eye, is obviously fairly fluent in Chinese, and reports with wit.
in the past 25 years China has gone from steam train to bullet train. tracing what China is today in 350 pages is impossible - but better that than the 3500 pages it would probably take. this book felt like homework: valuable - but not all that fun.
I was really absorbed in this. Written by an American New Yorker journalist who spent 8 years living in China, it's good to read something beyond the Western media stereotypes of China
Adam McNamara
The news images of Beijing, with smog as thick as smoke, stuck in my head as a booked my first flight to China. I expected to find manufacturing juggernaut buckling under pollution and overpopulation. What I found instead is unparalleled in the history of the world: "a transformation one hundred times the scale, and ten times the speed, of the first Industrial Revolution, which created modern Britain.

Age of Ambition helped me to under China's history, the modern China I saw in Shanghai, and its...more
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China's slow turn to smart growth strategies. 1 3 May 16, 2014 07:31AM  
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Evan Osnos joined The New Yorker as a staff writer in 2008. He is a correspondent in Washington, D.C. who writes about politics and foreign affairs. He is the author of "Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China" (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, May 2014). Based on eight years of living in Beijing, the book traces the rise of the individual in China, and the clash between as...more
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Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth and Faith in the New China

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“To survive in China you must reveal nothing to others. Or it could be used against you … That’s why I’ve come to think the deepest part of the self is best left unclear. Like mist and clouds in a Chinese landscape painting, hide the private part behind your social persona. Let your public self be like rice in a dinner: bland and inconspicuous, taking on the flavors of its surroundings while giving off no flavor of its own.” 1 likes
“The commander of a mighty army can be captured, but the aspiration of an ordinary man can never be seized. —Confucius” 0 likes
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