Sunday, April 10, 2016

Staff Review: The Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China by Evan Osnos

Age of Ambition by Evan Osnos, the 2014 National Book Award winner for nonfiction, is Carnegie-Stout's adult book-discussion selection for June. The discussion will take place June 14th at 7 PM and there's a lot to discuss! Osnos presents everyday life in the new economically-booming China. His focus is on the years 2005 - 2013, which he spent in China as correspondent for The Chicago Tribune and The New Yorker magazine.

I wanted to read this book because China has dominated the news for so many years now, yet I had no real sense of what it's like to live there. We hear what sounds like good news: greater prosperity, rising standards of living, economic development, increased openness, but we also hear the bad: staggering levels of corruption, pollution, shoddy construction, economic inequality, censorship. So, what is it really like to live in China today?

Osnos is a good writer and a faultlessly objective journalist. I could detect no political ideology on his part, and he pays the same respect and attention to pro-democracy individuals that he pays to those who are strongly one-party nationalistic. He presents China more anecdotally than statistically, having conducted his research by talking to hundreds of people: interviewing individuals with a wide variety of outlooks, occupations, and incomes; building long-term relationships; traveling broadly; tracking people and issues over time. Living in the polarized political environment that constitutes the United States today, I was almost taken aback by his ability to report without bias. His narrative is fascinating, comprehensive, and human.

That said, I found the picture he paints of life in China today to be grim. A sense of oppression settled over me as I read and didn't lift until close to the end of the book, when Osnos speaks to the growing demand by the Chinese people for governmental transparency, truthful news, freedoms of information and expression, cleaner air, ethical codes of business, the right to spiritual or religious lives, and on and on. There's no doubt he is right about that growing demand, but the most recently selected governing body of the Chinese Communist Party, which he describes in the book's final chapters, gives little sign of acquiescing in any way (and, in fact, quite the opposite), and as with all authoritarian regimes, they oversee and censor all media outlets, including the Internet, and control the military, police, and weaponry. The coming years should be very interesting.

~Ann, Adult Services

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