Country Driving: A Journey Through China from Farm to Factory
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Country Driving: A Journey Through China from Farm to Factory

4.16 of 5 stars 4.16  ·  rating details  ·  3,126 ratings  ·  418 reviews
From the bestselling author of Oracle Bones and River Town comes the final book in his award-winning trilogy, on the human side of the economic revolution in China. In the summer of 2001, Peter Hessler, the longtime Beijing correspondent for The New Yorker, acquired his Chinese driver's license. For the next seven years, he traveled the country, tracking how the automobile...more
Hardcover, 448 pages
Published February 9th 2010 by Harper (first published January 1st 2009)
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Ensiform
The author, a journalist and old China hand, describes life on the road in a rural China that is rapidly developing, with new roads and factories being built every year. At 420 pages, the book’s scope is much wider than the simple comedy of renting a car in a heavily bureaucratic society that nevertheless has a vibrant under-the-table economy, or the perils of driving in a country where most people behind the wheel have had very little training and eschew wipers and lights. Hessler rents a house...more
Amy
We read this for the August Book club - but we didn't get a chance to discuss it because of schedule conflicts. I liked the book overall. It had a bit more detail than the ususual expat book because it was outside of Shanghai and Beijing. The one thing I kept thinking of while I was reading it was whether it was already all out dated. The book was published in 2010, but much of it was based on his research and trips from the early 2000's. So much changes so fast in China - everything is another...more
Katherine
This book was my top read of the summer. I found myself laughing outloud, and searching for opportunties to read tid-bits to whoever was around to listen. Hessler has an engaging writing style, and an ability to effortlessly jump from an emotional, moving description that almost brings you to tears to a hilarious depiction so absurd you can't imagine it to be true. When he said he got on the new highway in China and couldn't get off for two hours because the on and off ramps hadn't been built, I...more
Emily
Dec 29, 2010 Emily rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2010
I picked up this book because I vividly remembered the author's 2007 New Yorker article about driving in China and about the Chinese becoming a society of drivers. This contains the same material but a lot more; it's roughly divided into three sections. The first is about exploring the Great Wall by car; the second is about a village north of Beijing, Sancha, where the author has a second home; the third is about a factory outside Wenzhou that makes bra rings (you know, the little rings on the s...more
Margaret
Author / journalist Peter Hessler is one of my Top Favorite authors: He writes very well, he notices and finds "the interesting" in just about everything (and then makes you interested in these things as well), he is clearly fascinated by China and human nature, and observes and writes about both enormously well, and, on top of it, he's just an all around decent guy with whom it's fun to spend a lot of reading time. "Country Driving" is his third book about China, written while living there, and...more
Sue
Country Driving is Peter Hessler’s third book about China, and it might be the best one to convey the sense of rapid change in the country he knows so well. The book is in three parts, each covering personal experiences that Hessler had over the course of several years.

In a series of road trips following the Great Wall across northern China, he visits villages barely hanging on as their residents depart for cities. Hessler has an eye for the contradictions and ironies that abound. I love the co...more
Gabriel
County Driving is really three books in one. The first, about Hessler's road trip along the Great Wall and about driving in China generally is entertaining, but ultimately the least interesting of the three. Although the episodes of his road trip are interesting, it fails to add up to anything more than shaggy-dog story.

In the second part about life in a small village outside Beijing that undergoes huge transformation in just a few years as it is discovered by road-tripping Beijingers, Hessler s...more
Joel
To learn more about the Asia-Pacific, I loaded my tablet with a weighty number of e-books about the region. Country Driving seemed like a friendly place to start, and it was exactly that. The text is prone to tangents, but that's how the author seems to experience the world, so this was actually part of the charm. Peter Hessler provides an interesting inside view of China that is less evident from the outside looking in. A mass migration from rural to urban life as people seek new opportunities...more
Anne Van
I'd give this book six stars! I've been a fan of Peter Hessler for some years now.....loved his first book, Rivertown, about being a Peace Corps english teacher in China in the mid-1990's, and many wonderful New Yorker pieces on China. This is the latest, China in dizzingly rapid transition in the last ten years, as told through three stories: a long drive along the Great Wall in Northern China, observations about life in Sancha, a small village where he rents a second house, and travels to a ne...more
John
I finally finished this book, from sheer willpower more than anything else! Others may find his stuff fascinating, but for me as a reader he fails to "connect" - with stories that should seem personal coming off as detached. Moreover, the narrative is often bogged down with details (such as those concerning Chinese bra parts manufacturing). The first third of the book, traveling by car through China in days when passenger cars were rare, held my interest the most.
Idiosyncratic
Feb 27, 2010 Idiosyncratic marked it as to-read
I love this from the review in The New York Times:

“It’s hard to imagine another place where people take such joy in driving so badly,” Hessler writes. Beijingers drive the way they used to walk — in packs and without signaling. “They don’t mind if you tailgate, or pass on the right or drive on the sidewalk. You can back down a highway entrance ramp without anybody batting an eyelash. . . . People pass on hills; they pass on turns; they pass in tunnels.” I
Julka
Dziennikarz Peter Hessler podróżował po północnej części Chin. Odwiedzał wioski wzdłuż wielkiego Muru i małe, wyspecjalizowane przemysłowe miasteczka. Hessler bardzo dużo miejsca w swojej książce poświęca opisom dróg w Chinach. Ma to sens, ponieważ rozwój sieci dróg wiąże się oczywiście z gwałtownym rozwojem gospodarczym tego kraju. Jednak mnie przemysł motoryzacyjny średnio interesuje (a Hessler pisze nie tylko o autostradach, ale też o firmach motoryzacyjnych, wypożyczalniach samochodów, kursa...more
AC
I haven't finished (listening), but I *can* write a comment now. This is a wonderful book. Hessler is a wonderful and brilliant writer. He has a deep and serious understanding of culture (as such), as well as of Chinese culture in particular; he is intelligent, observant, has emotional range, a sense of humor -- and, most importantly, he is writing about something important. The emergence of China is a world-historical event, and this book -- much of which takes place in rural China in 2002-2006...more
Ken Bronsil
Peter Hessler served as a Beijing-based correspondent for New Yorker magazine for most of the past decade. Early in his stay in China, he received his Chinese driving license. Then he began traveling along the new system of modern roads built by the Chinese government in anticipation of a sharp increase in the number of Chinese citizens owning automobiles. At this point the roads were there but the cars weren’t: he would sometimes drive all day without seeing another car.

His first trip took him...more
Stephen Joyce
‘Country Driving, A Chinese Road Trip’ is a travelogue by Peter Hessler, a US journalist and writer who was based in Beijing from 2000 to 2007 as a staff writer for The New Yorker magazine.

The book is split into three distinct sections. ‘The Wall’ covers the author’s technically illegal 7000 mile trip from Inner Mongolia to Tibet, tracking the Great Wall (or, more accurately, Walls) of China through the less densely populated areas of the country. Hessler, fluent in Chinese, embarks upon his jou...more
Paige
3 1/2 stars. Hessler's writing is engaging and informative; he has interesting stories and made me laugh more than a few times. I definitely learned a lot about China and it was enjoyable to read. Then why only 3 1/2 stars? It's really hard to put my finger on (and also I think I've been getting pickier in my ratings over the last few months). One thing that got on my nerves was how he'd dedicate a sentence or two to describe a woman as being "pretty"--leaving aside my total disintrest in this d...more
Ralph Britton
Peter Hessler got his Chinese licence after years in Beijing as a journalist and used it to travel widely across China, relying not on permission (which would not have been given) but on the the fact that the Chinese authorities find it easier to excuse than to allow. This allowed him to meet many people who would normally be inaccessible to the West. He explored the Great Wall, followed the development of a new industrial centre and its workers and watched an area being cleared (fairly brusquel...more
M M
In 2001, Peter Hessler obtained his Chinese driving licence and began to drive around that great country. An American, he was already a skilled driver, and so he is shaken and shocked and stirred by the terrible abilities of China's drivers. By dint of sheer physical courage and intellectual curiosity, he tames his fears of the Chinese roads, and sets out to discover his adopted country. His latest book, Country Driving: A Chinese Road Trip is an account of the people he met who took him into th...more
Joe Fraser
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, and to be honest, my rating may be a bit inflated, be it that I read it not only while in Beijing but the week prior to the Great Wall (this latter fact completely by coincidence).

Anyways, for anyone interested in China for all of the obvious reasons yet doesn't know much, if anything, about it nor where to start, this book should serve as your launching point. Certainly, you will find more academic and comprehensive analysis of China's history, economics...more
Diane
I love Peter Hessler's writing and thoroughly enjoyed reading his new book. Hessler lived in China for many years and speaks fluent Chinese. Country Driving is in three parts and each part could be read separately. All of the stories take place over the period of time he lived in China - probably mostly in the early to mid 2000s. In the first he drives along the northern border of China, exploring remote villages and talking with hitchhikers, villagers and truckers. The second part is the most p...more
Sarah Spy
I picked up this book after hearing an interview with the Author on Fresh Air. As someone who is anti-car and interested in urban planning, I was primarily interested in the cultural transformations brought about by the automobile. By the end of page one I was awed by my total ignorance of China, both culturally and geographically. After reading this book I feel like the people of China exist further away than the other side of the planet, they dwell in another dimension of the mind, yet we shar...more
Mickey Hoffman
I thought this book was hilarious but then, I've been to China several times and speak the language. What one instantly realizes as a visitor is that you cross the streets at your own peril, never mind the driving part. Riding in a taxi can be enough of a thrill if you like being scared out of your mind. We had a ride on a winding mountainous dirt road in Yunnan province that I never thought I'd live to see the end of. The city driving isn't any better.
But the book's not all about drivers and d...more
Punit Soni
Jul 17, 2012 Punit Soni rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Punit by: Jason
Shelves: travelogue
When I started this book, I realized I had read very little about modern China (or ancient for that matter). In fact, my knowledge of China was limited to random articles read in random newspapers. Country Driving is broken down into three parts, one is a road trip in the remote west, another based in a village which becomes a suburb of Beijing, and the final one which deals with the wild west industry of South (pun intended).
I admit this felt like I was taking a primer in China, a college cours...more
Pam
Country Driving is more than just a travel journey, it is a candid look into a way of life. The history and culture the author weaves flawlessly into the story altered and expanded my perception of China's people, culture, and land. The book is divided into three sections that mostly highlight the differences between rural and city people/living/culture. Hessler begins with a cross country drive following the Great Wall and its history. In the middle section, he takes a second home in a rural (a...more
Constance
Thank you to SRL and JJS (and their bookclub) for recommending this book to me and telling me that it isn't as awful and New-York-Times-y as it might appear from the description. Also, really, it's high time that I admit the obvious: I have much, much more in common with a white guy who writes for the New Yorker and lives in Colorado than with any Chinese national.

I thought this book was excellent and really did a great job of both presenting the author's reporter/anthropologist/personal point o...more
Emily Novak
Fascinating view into the history of the Great Wall and it's past and current presence in China, rural village life, and rural factory life. Peter Hessler does a fantastic job of portraying the everyday realities of peasant-life of the people he meets along his journey, and the friendships he makes are endearing. I could clearly picture the village life and people he meets and describes. The cultural customs of business, politics, and family life is interesting. You'll learn about the concept an...more
Thomas
Another installment in the Peter Hessler "Isn't China Crazy/Kind Of Exciting?" oeuvre. What's not to like? Fascinating subject matter, related with humor and easily digested "New Yorker" style. Hessler is especially good at meeting random people and (re)discovering the staggering diversity that exists in Chinese society.
Mary
Country Driving" consists of three narratives intended to convey how China is changing with the building of new roads. While the book accomplishes little in that regard, it does help readers understand Chinese culture, how that culture is developed at school, and the idiosyncrasies of life in China. The book begins with Hessler acquiring a Chinese driver's license in 2001 after living and touring in China for five years teaching English, serving as a free-lance reporter, and learning to read and...more
Apsalz08
Love Hessler's books. This is the third one I've read, and I have another on deck for later this year. He has a knack for for describing China and getting people to open up to him, which is not easy. This book has three distinct sections: his trip driving westward along the Great Wall, his stay in a rural residence outside Beijing that transformed as Beijing driving culture grew, and his visits to an economic development zone in Zhejiang that existed solely because a new highway was built. The c...more
UChicagoLaw
An impressive, sometimes touching, sometimes hilarious journey through China, from the spouse of Leslie Chang, who wrote Factory Girls. - Adam Samaha
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Beijing CS Book Club: Country Driving, by Peter Hessler 4 16 Jan 27, 2012 08:02AM  
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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.
More about Peter Hessler...
River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze (P.S.) Oracle Bones: A Journey Between China's Past and Present Strange Stones: Dispatches from East and West Chinese Characters: Profiles of Fast-Changing Lives in a Fast-Changing Land Unsavory Elements: Stories of Foreigners on the Loose in China

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