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Strange Stones: Dispatches from East and West

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  1,053 Ratings  ·  127 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 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
Aug 19, 2014 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
David Quinn
Nov 20, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4 stars or more if this is the first Peter Hessler book you've read. 3.5 stars if you've read any of his China trilogy books previously. The rating discrepancy is due to some overlap here with his prior books and the tidy endings in the essays to make them fit within a magazine (the New Yorker) that are (thankfully) absent in a full length book.

While reading this book I thought back to the Seinfeld episode where Jerry cannot be unfunny (I think it was that Jerry cannot not be funny). This is the
Bonnie E.
Jun 23, 2013 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 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 frust ...more
Dec 31, 2014 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
Dec 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
Peter Hessler is an American writer who spent years living abroad in China.  His memoir of teaching in a village called Fuling, River Town, is one of my favorites.  Strange Stones compiles various observations from his time in China, but also upon his return to the United States, where he lives in a small town in the Rocky Mountains.

If you've never had a chance to read anything by Hessler, I highly recommend doing so.  His work is very readable, and touches on everything from food, family, relat
Feb 09, 2014 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
Nov 30, 2014 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
Oct 23, 2013 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
Jonathan Mckay
Jul 27, 2015 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
Aug 19, 2013 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
Nov 01, 2015 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
Ming Jiu Li
Mar 13, 2017 rated it liked it
As with my other experiences reading Hessler his voice is excellent, I really enjoyed stories like "Chinese Barbizon" in which he draws astute observations of people and their lives that are both generous and refreshing. "Go West" is probably my favorite, I had read it before on New Yorker, and rereading it am still a fan of its lighthearted tone, and its central message of traversing between cultures.
Dec 21, 2013 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.
I was all set to give this 3 stars. I’m a huge Hessler fan and have read several of his works. But this one just didn’t connect with me as well. And I was thinking that maybe it had to do with George Backman’s narration, which was very good but... You know when you have an image of a person in your head and then hear them speak and their voice is something so utterly unexpected that you have a hard time focusing on anything else. That’s Backman for me. His voice is so low and gravelly and older ...more
Kuang Ting
Feb 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is the latest book by Peter Hessler. It was published in 2013. It's a collection of his essays in publications. There are 18 stories in total. Most of the stories still took place in China, but he also shared his observations from Cairo, America, and even Japan. Each essay is independent. Readers can start from whatever appeals to you first. As usual, Hessler's story-telling is superb. He knows how to see things into details. I feel immersed into the time and space of each story.

It's intere
Jun 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
I have now read all four books by Peter Hessler, so you can tell I enjoy his writing. This one wasn't quite as interesting as the others because a lot of the material had been covered a bit - or a lot - in his previous books so I did not learn as much.

If you want to know what China is like from the viewpoint of an American who speaks Chinese (Mandarin, I assume) and lived there for, I think, about 14 years, read them in the order they were published. Mr. Hessler started out as a Peace Corp volun
Amber Dunten
An interesting and engaging little book of essays that's primarily about an American immigrant's life in China. Hessler spent ten years living in China, and covers life as a Peace Corps volunteer, what it's like to live in a small alley in old town Beijing, Chinese driving habits, the impact of more liberal economic policies on the common people, what having the Beijing Olympics was like for ordinary Chinese in the area... and also throws in a few essays about his other life in rural southwester ...more
May 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I had the good fortune of reading Hessler's River Town during a trip to China in college, and it's colored my hunting down his work since then.

Strange Stones is a collection of essays from Hessler's years of travel- some about China, some about his experiences after returning to the United States. In both cases, he writes with a clear affection for the places, a respect for the people, and yet an honest presentation of the absurdity of both. The characters are larger than life in some cases, bu
Jill Blevins
Aug 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
After reading "Country Driving" I couldn't wait to read this collection of similar stories based on the narrator's experiences in China, mainly. I was not disappointed. In fact, I read it again recently which is something I never, ever do but I was taking a travel writing class and wanted to see if this writing was as good as I remembered. And it was. Just delicious. And, although "Country Driving" is probably one of the best travel writing narratives written about a crazy country going through ...more
Vincent O'Neil
Jan 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This was a very enjoyable read. Peter Hessler combines personal experience with vivid writing and honed storytelling to describe his experiences living in China and then returning to the United States. From eating rat in Macao and helping a family move their belongings as the Three Gorges Dam claims their house, to following a school friend reporting on crime in Tokyo and finally relocating to a remote-but-captivating part of Colorado, every one of these stories is highly entertaining. I strongl ...more
May 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is just the right book for these times. Peter wanders and befriends people in America, China, other places. the people he finds in the Colorado small towns are as remarkable as those in China. His heart must be open to find such people and tell such stories. These stories were originally published in the New Yorker I believe.
Paul Antes
Feb 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Makes me remember growing up in a much smaller world

There were several times when I felt rather disappointed that I was reading recycled stories. However at the end there was much freshly insightful and moving to an old country boy from a very small place who eventually found himself in a much larger world. If any of the previous work had resonance, read this also and enjoy.
Ray Smith
Jul 13, 2018 rated it liked it
Mildly interesting. Some of the stories of the kept my interest; others were very boring. Hessler is a competent but rather mediocre, humorless writer. He just doesn't seem a very interesting person himself and all his observations about China are pedestrian. Paul Theroux's Riding the Iron Rooster, though 30+ years out of date, is infinitely more intriguing.
Jan 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Everything Peter Hessler writes is just great. Excellent collection of his essays. Bits and pieces appear in his other books, but most is new if you haven't read his New Yorker articles already. I'm sad I ran out of his books to read.
Carol Wakefield
Mar 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I liked some of the articles in this collection better than others but enjoy the author so much that I readily give him 5 stars. His China stories are marvelous but then the chapter on the town of Nucla in Colorado met the interest of his China endeavors. Keep writing Mr Hessler.
Sep 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
Chad Olson
Mar 10, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-in-2018
The essays I had read before I enjoyed. Nothing new really stood out. Nostalgia read almost.
Raymond Kim
Mar 12, 2018 rated it did not like it
>The New Yorker
You can judge this book by its cover.
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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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