"In Bed" with Peter Hessler

February, 2010
Peter Hessler Like many college graduates, Peter Hessler left school in search of adventure. After completing his Rhodes Scholarship at Oxford in 1994, Hessler boarded a trans-Siberian train in Moscow, arrived in Beijing—and never left. Carving out a travel writing career about modern China through the lens of a foreigner, Hessler is now a staff writer for The New Yorker, a contributor to National Geographic, and the author of two books about his passion, River Town and Oracle Bones. His newest endeavor, Country Driving: A Journey Through China from Farm to Factory, follows Hessler as he obtains his Chinese driver's license and sets off on the ultimate road trip, spending seven years exploring the chaotic streets of China's metropolises and the remotest corners of this vast and evolving country. Hessler shares his favorite books about China, ranging from the Ming Dynasty to present day.

The Last Days of Old Beijing by Michael Meyer
"I like travel books that focus on a place the author knows well, and for years Meyer lived in a Beijing hutong, one of the city's traditional alley-and-courtyard neighborhoods. This book gives an excellent portrait of the capital's history, and it describes how locals cope with the overwhelming pace of development."


The Private Life of Chairman Mao by Li Zhi-Sui
"Dr. Li was Mao Zedong's doctor for 22 years, which gave him an amazing perspective on critical periods like the Cultural Revolution. This book reveals so much about the psychology of leaders—in many ways it's much more useful than a standard history. And Dr. Li is a remarkable figure, complicit in many ways, but never without dignity."


1587: A Year of No Significance by Ray Huang
"I wish there were more history books like this one. Huang focuses on a year when supposedly nothing important happened. But the book tells a much larger story, explaining how things functioned in imperial China and giving a powerful sense of the decline of the Ming, the dynasty that built the Great Wall."


Red Azalea by Anchee Min
"There are a number of excellent memoirs by Chinese women about the Cultural Revolution, and I particularly like the way this one is written. There's something hypnotic about the rhythm—very simple sentences that initially might feel awkward, but over time the writing gains a real power."


Six Records of a Floating Life by Shen Fu
"Written during the Qing dynasty, this book is a quirky, evocative, and surprisingly intimate glimpse of the mind of a highly literate gentleman of the early 1800s. The book is also an antidote to the heaviness that often permeates our view of Chinese history, because Shen Fu has such a love of life—his first chapter is entitled 'The Joys of the Wedding Chamber.'"



Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

dateDown_arrow    newest »

message 1: by Juha (new)

Juha Thanks for this list. Books about China abound and it's often difficult to choose which are worth reading (I've read yours and found them rewarding). I also like more academic works by Vaclav Smil, Elizabeth Economy, Judith Shapiro, Hong Jiang et al.


message 2: by Lit Bug (last edited Dec 30, 2012 11:02PM) (new)

Lit Bug 'Smoke and Mirrors' by Pallavi Aiyar is wonderful, detailing her five year stay in Beijing during the post-2000 AD Olympics... Includes comparisons of history, politics and culture of China and India, and a broad humanist outlook in general....


message 3: by April (new)

April This list appeared on the side of my "Explore Genres" page at exactly the right time! I'm going to be teaching in China soon and trying to find good books to read to better prepare myself is quite tough! Thank you so much!


back to top

Good Minds Suggest
Goodreads Voice