Michael Cormack of Agenda Beijing (a consistently good read, BTW) just did an article, entitled, “What China Books” [link no longer exists] on the China books Cormack finds “most interesting.” Cormack was spurred to write his article after reading Kaiser Kuo’s list of tips to expats seeking to “acclimatise into life in China,” which included reading books on modern Chinese history.
Cormack’s China book list consists of the following:
- China: Fragile Superpower, by Susan Shirk. This book examines “the tensions on the fault-lines of China’s national security structure.” I have not read this book so I cannot comment.
- Designated Drivers: How China Plans to Dominate the Global Auto Industry, by G.E. Anderson. According to Cormack, “this book is a marvelous introduction into Chinese economic policy and the numerous actors – and just because several are state actors does not mean that they are homogenous – behind the scenes, through the prism of the car industry.” I have not read this book either, but I have read a lot of G.E. Anderson and I have many friends who know him well. From my readings and from my friends, I have absolutely no doubt that this is a superb book. Anderson clearly knows China and he clearly knows its auto industry.
- When China Rules The World, by Martin Jacques. I have read this book and it is okay. Jacques makes some excellent points and has some deep insights into China. In particular, this book is a great way to see China from a perspective different from that usually presented by the Western media. But in the end, this book is too much a leftist paean to a China that does not exist and will never exist.
- The China Twist, by Wen-Szu Lin. Amazon describes the China Twist as “the firsthand story of two Wharton MBAs who brought a beloved U.S. food franchise to China and encountered outrageous obstacles that will make anyone in business laugh, cringe, and think twice about doing business in Asia.” Cormack says that “Every single entrepreneur or businessperson thinking about entering the Chinese market should first read this.” I also have not read this book, but I plan to do so. A couple people have read it to me and it is just the sort of book I tend to like.
- The Party: The Secret World of China’s Communist Rulers, by Richard McGregor. If you want to better understand China’s government, this is the book.
- On China, by Henry Kissinger. I hate to admit that I have not read this book, though I have read many excerpts. Not surprisingly, Cormack thinks it an important tome on US-Sino relations.
- Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, by Richard Burger. According to Cormack, Burger “takes the reader through a whirlwind tour of attitudes and practices, from the permissive Tang to the ludicrously repressive Maoist epochs, and divides subsequent chapters into useful sections, like The Family”, “Homosexuality”, “Dating and Marriage”, “The Sex Trade” and does so without ever being prurient. Burger is a friend of mine and one of the best China bloggers ever, writing masterpieces at Peking Duck since 2002! I plan to read this book because I am certain it is excellent.
Cormack then lists out the following books he has not read as possibly “useful”:
- When A Billion Chinese Jump, by Jonathan Watts. Definitely a worthwhile read.
- China’s Urban Billion: The Story Behind the Biggest Migration in Human History, by Tom Miller. I have heard good things too, but not read it.
- China Airborne, by James Fallows. I consider Fallows to be one of the best writers on China in our era and I also recommend his other book, Postcards from Tomorrow Square: Reports from China
- The Great Rebalancing: Trade, Conflict, and the Perilous Road Ahead for the World Economy, by Michael Pettis. I have not read this book but I am a Pettis fan as he is one of the few real economists out there covering China 24/7 and writing about it.
- What Chinese Want: Culture, Communism and the Modern Chinese Consumer, Tom Doctoroff. This is one of the best books I have read on the Chinese consumer. I reviewed this book last year, in a post entitled, “What The Chinese Consumer Wants. Hint: They Were Not “Born In The U.S.A.“
I also recommend the following books and apologize in advance because I know that I will be leaving out other must reads in doing so:
- The Fragile Bridge: Conflict Management in Chinese Business, by Andrew Hupert. G.E. Anderson (see above) goes so far as to say that if you are serious about doing business in China, you need this book. Only if you think it important to know China business tactics/psychology.
- China in the 21st Century, by Jeffrey Wasserstrom. This is the best China beginner book I have read. It is accurately subtitled “What Everyone Needs to Know” and it consists of a blissfully short and easy 192 pages. It is meant to be basic and it is, but it is not in any way simplistic.
- Out of Mao’s Shadow: The Struggle for the Soul of a New China, by Phillip Pan. I like books that help me to better understand what influences present day China. This book accomplishes that in spades and it is beautifully written to boot.
- If you have not read a Peter Hessler book, you absolutely should/must. Hessler is a great writer and reading his books is both a pleasure and a learning experience. Pick from Oracle Bones: A Journey Through Time in China, River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze, or Country Driving: A Journey Through China from Farm to Factory.
- Chinese Lessons: Five Classmates and the Story of the New China, by John Pomfret. My comments about Out of Mao’s Shadow hold true with equal force regarding this book.
- Though somewhat dated, I still also highly recommend James McGregor’s One Billion Customers: Lessons from the Front Lines of Doing Business in China or Tim Clissold’s Mr. China: A Memoir for those looking for China business books.
Cormack ended his article by asking for additional recommended books and I will do the same. What other books should people new to China be reading?