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.
  • 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”:

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:

  • 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.

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?