This is an excellent modern scholar audiobook because it successfully tries to do something unusual: explain to a Western audience why many mainland Chinese are content with the continued rule of the Chinese Communist Party, and do not necessarily see their continued authoritarian rule as a bad thing. It emphasizes the practical needs and desires of most of the Chinese population, carefully explaining their perspective to a western audience. From the western perspective, this is crucial to explaining the elephant in the room when talking about China: why, two decades after Tianamen, the Chinese people (and especially their youth) do not appear to be much interested in democracy or political rights. Shepherd serves as a rare example of a strong effort to grapple with this question.
Nor does Shepherd avoid criticism. He highlights many of the social divisions and inequities that are a product of modern China (legal distinctions of citizens based on geography, growing economic disparity, practical problems caused by a lack of intellectual property rights, the CCP's powerlessness to prevent many negative phenomenon). These provide insight into the practical concerns that animate the CCP and policy types within China itself.
Shepherd's lecture style is a bit more laid back than, for instance, the indomitable Drout, but the audiobook is still very well put together overall.
Drout's frank yet light-hearted look at pre-Norman England -- something that I, even as a history major, knew very little about -- is excellent and well worth the time to listen to. He provides an excellent yet simple framework for understanding the period through a clever mnemonic trick, and his kicking off of each lecture with a sampling of Anglo-Saxon is a lot of fun to listen to.
Personally, I lean more towards social and political history than the literature that is Drout's specialty (re: Beowulf), but Drout does the latter well and gives an excellent broad-brushed synopsis of the former in the first several hours of the audiobook. A well put together product, although for me it really drove home the point that many of my ancestors really were a bunch of barbarians.
While Navarro raises a number of interesting points about China during the course of his lectures -- moreso in the last half, I should note -- he very deliberately bookends each of his lectures with hawkish, overly simplistic and pro-American rhetoric. Navarro frequently engages in rhetoric to the effect of "China is a bogeyman and threat to America" without making any real effort to provide context. Since Navarro actually does have a good facility for salient facts about China's situation and past -- usually buried in the middle of his lectures somewhere -- it is difficult to escape the sense that Navarro is deliberately hamming up the fear rhetoric in a ploy to make the book more salable to hawkish types in the United States. I have a background in international relations, and was disappointed by the overshadowing of a more balanced look at political and geostrategic issues by the bull-headed patriotism that Navarro often slips in to.
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