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Country Driving: A Journey Through China from Farm to Factory

(China trilogy #3)

4.23  ·  Rating details ·  6,732 ratings  ·  674 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 2009)
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Vlad Kovsky It is an interesting turn of phrase. The author plays with the meaning of the word 'forecast' - an estimate of future events. Here the estimate comes …moreIt is an interesting turn of phrase. The author plays with the meaning of the word 'forecast' - an estimate of future events. Here the estimate comes in the form of the snow frozen on top of the oncoming vehicles. You can clearly see what weather lies ahead. I like this 'frozen forecast'!(less)

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Jun 22, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: china, travel, non-fiction
It took me a while to finish this one as I could not read more than a few pages at the time. The information was interesting but many times too much detail was given. There were also some funny bits that I enjoyed.

One thing is for sure. I will forever bee afraid of Chinese tax-drivers from now on. Not that I did not find them incompetent already.

A more in detail review might come...or not.
Mikey B.
This is superlative! The author is engaging and gives us wonderful and sometimes heart-rending insights of the people in China; and at other times he is hilarious in describing the odd situations that pop-up now and again in a country that is vastly different from Western society. But this country, at the same time, is producing a wide variety of the goods used by Western society.

Page 294 (my book)

There was nothing more terrifying than a drive through the city’s coastal suburbs. Fifteen years ag
Feb 16, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, china, travel
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
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
Vlad Kovsky
Jul 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, reviewed
There are many books written about China's economic miracle. There are many studies published every year for the last thirty years predicting impending collapse of China. Don't read those books, ignore these studies, read Peter Hessler instead.

The books attempting to capture 'the big picture' of the economic transformation of China invariably miss out on the role played by individual choices that drive this transformation. Hessler starts from a very different position. He travels, he talks to p
Aug 10, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Teresa Kennedy
Jul 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Peter Hessler’s writing never ceases to amaze me. I am blown away by how much detail and nuance he is able to include in his characters and settings. I suppose it comes from being hyper-observant, but to embed such details smoothly into a narrative that covers an extremely transient and complex place takes an unusual amount of talent. The level his Mandarin must be at to understand such detail makes what he does all the more amazing.
Apr 25, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
A slow start, but ultimately a fascinating, human-centered insight on economic growth and urbanization in early 2000s China. Hessler nestles his way into the lives of rural Chinese as they navigate making better lives for themselves and their families in a country that's experienced repeated political and economic overhauls in the recent past. It was interesting to compare cultural similarities and differences between rural Chinese and rural Rwandans, as well as map Chinese influence in Africa i ...more
Dec 29, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Aug 11, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: china, audible
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
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.
May 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Peter Hessler is a master of explaining national trends through the lens of everyday, normal people. What struck me most about the book was the depth of friendship Hessler built with members of the communities he visited, a testament to his grasp of Chinese and willingness to enter into their lives. I got the sense they became genuine friends, and were not just characters to be researched for a book. Would love to sit down with him and hear more stories from his life in China.
The Nerdwriter
Nov 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
Not sure why, but I got the urge to learn more about modern China. After researching a bunch of books about The Party, about Xi Jinping and geopolitics, I came across some glowing reviews for Peter Hessler's Country Driving, which presents China in the opposite way: from the bottom-up. Despite the boring title, this book was a great introduction to the Chinese people's perspective on their country, through the eyes of a subtle observer and writer.

The book is broken up into three parts: in the f
Oct 04, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Fascinating, but long, account of the author's life in China for about 10 years, where he worked as a reporter for The New Yorker. In three parts, it includes a drive across China at the Great Wall, life in a small village, and investigation of the expanding industrial zone in the south. The theme of the entire book is the ever-changing nature of this country, where there is a massive migration from the rural areas into urban areas to work in what is China's exploding industrial revolution.

I sta
Seamus Ronan
Jun 22, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: d-a
"In any case, a foreigner often feels most foreign while witnessing the early education of another culture. It's truly the foundation--everything begins in places like Shayu Elementary school. The classroom reflects the way people behave in the streets, the way village governments function, even the way the Communist Party structures its power."

I learned a lot from Hessler about places that I did not know much about. It gives me trepidation about the future of China--it seems like an unsustain
Alex Kudera
Oct 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
For Peter Hessler, if you aren't familiar with his writing from China, I suggest beginning with a couple pieces you can find online at The New Yorker: "The Middleman" or "Walking the Wall." If you're ready for an entire book, I'd try River Town first.
Kuang Ting
Dec 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book concludes Peter Hessler's China trilogy. The first book is about his initial encounter with China. Second centers on cultural and historical areas. The third one is mainly the economic evolution. China has undergone substantial changes in every aspect since the economic reform in 1979. Hessler was the New Yorker correspondent in China during 2000s. He got a driving license and started his journey driving across China. This is his journal on the road.

There are three parts in this book.
Feb 18, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Jun 25, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: hf-china, non-fiction
I took a fair while to get through this - partly due to having read the China trilogy all in one go. And as with all things, there comes a stage when oft repeated observations come off as tedious.

Jan 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Mickey Hoffman
Mar 02, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Anne Van
Jul 21, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Adam Crossley
Jan 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
China is a land of mind bending and almost unfathomable contrasts.

In Country Driving, Peter Hessler captures this in eloquent prose that is a joy to read. He covers rural China as he drives along the Great Wall and eventually lives in its shadow. Perhaps the best part of the book is when he moves to into a developing factory zone. His words embody the grit, money and chaos with a humanistic touch that brings it down to the commoners experience.

I recommend this book for anyone who wants to learn
Feb 27, 2010 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
Jul 01, 2015 rated it really liked it
Excellent. The first section reads like a chapter out of my own life, made better by the fact that I read it while I was enjoying rural Chinese transport.
Jun 09, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Drifted off in the last third but I very much enjoyed the first part.
Jan 07, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I give it 3.5 stars. I enjoyed Peter Hessler’s Country Driving, but not quite as much as Oracle Bones. Country Driving is a book in three parts: driving along the Great Wall, spending time in the village of Sancha outside of Beijing, and taking in factory life in Lishui. I most enjoyed the first section, which reminded me the most of Oracle Bones, where he would use something he experienced as an excuse to give more background information on a topic. The other two sections had more narrative and ...more
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Beijing CS Book Club: Country Driving, by Peter Hessler 4 22 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.

Other books in the series

China trilogy (3 books)
  • River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze
  • Oracle Bones: A Journey Between China's Past and Present

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