I really like the other Simon Winchester books I have read including Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded: August 27, 1883 and A Crack in the Edge of the World: America and the Great California Earthquake of 1906, so I had high hopes for this book. I wasn't completely let down, but it certainly wasn't his best.
One reason for this is probably the slightly less earth-shattering subject. When you compare this book, a biography of Joseph Needham, to oe of the biggest volcanic eruptions in recent history or to one of the biggest earthquakes in recent history, it does seem to pale. However, Joseph Needham was an interesting individual. This book is about a man that was a Cambridge embryologist turned China-advocate turned China historian. He was also a womanizer, a leftist, and vocally pro-communism from the 1930's to the 1990's.
For some reason, this book simply didn't catch the excitement I thought I would get hearing about a man that found out China was responsible for many , if not most, of the things the western world thought were developed in the west. It is actually amazing to think about, but the presentment just didn't do it for me. I did, for some reason, get a little misty when I read about his death.
Maybe what I wanted was more details about Needham's discoveries about China. Of course, that would have been a completely different book. I did enjoy hearing about Cave 17, the way China was 50 years ago, the Silk Road, the pre-Mao days. China is an example of an extremely drastically changed country - from almost primitive lifestyles to the cutting edge technologies we see today. Makes me want to read more about China.