From the best-selling 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 and improved roads were transforming China. Hessler writes movingly of the average people - farmers, migrant workers, entrepreneurs - who have reshaped the nation during one of the most critical periods in its modern history.
Country Driving begins with Hessler's 7,000-mile trip across northern China, following the Great Wall, from the East China Sea to the Tibetan plateau. He investigates a historically important rural region being abandoned, as young people migrate to jobs in the southeast.
Next, Hessler spends six years in Sancha, a small farming village in the mountains north of Beijing, which changes dramatically after the local road is paved and the capital's auto boom brings new tourism.
Finally, he turns his attention to urban China, researching development over a period of more than two years in Lishui, a small southeastern city where officials hope that a new government-built expressway will transform a farm region into a major industrial center.
Peter Hessler, whom The Wall Street Journal calls "one of the Western world's most thoughtful writers on modern China", deftly illuminates the vast, shifting landscape of a traditionally rural nation that, having once built walls against foreigners, is now building roads and factory towns that look to the outside world.
©2010 Peter Hessler (P)2010 Audible, Inc.
"The best yet from Peter Hessler, whose two earlier books, River Town and Oracle Bones, were exemplary forays into the genre. . . . Told with his characteristic blend of empathy, insight, and self-deprecating humor." (Time)
"[A]n utterly enjoyable guide, with a humane and empathetic eye for the ambitions, the failures, and the comedy of a country in which everybody, it seems, is on the move, and no one is quite sure of the rules." (Amazon.com review)
"Peter Hessler is a fine tour guide for the new China, a writer who is capable of tossing aside the country’s (deplorable) maps and admitting: 'In China, it’s not such a terrible thing to be lost, because nobody else knows exactly where they’re going, either.'....It’s not merely that Mr. Hessler convinces us that the Chinese, being new to driving, are simply awful at it. He makes the additional, and delightful, case that perhaps no other people 'take such joy in driving badly.'" (The New York Times)
This is a well-written, very entertaining book about how everyday people in China are moving from a rural economy to a modern one. It's amazing to me how Hessler was able to gain the confidence of so many people in order to learn how they really feel about the things going on around them. We learn some of the cultural differences between us and people in China, but I came away thinking that we're not really that different. I give this audiobook four stars and would note to potential buyers that the mediocre overall rating so far owes much to the 1-star rating of the previous reviewer who supposedly liked the book but not the narrator. Hit the sample button to see if you like the narration. I thought the reader was very good at voice characterization, and there are a lot of different voices to perform here - from very young children to older men and women.
Just wanted to say how much I've enjoyed this audio book, along with Oracle Bones, also by Peter Hessler and narrated by Peter Berkrot. True, the narrator's pronunciation of Chinese words is not native-like, but overall I would rate the narration very high, and would hate to think that someone might pass up this book just because of that! The Chinese words are quite comprehensible, and Mr. Berkrot's engaging style of narration helped to make the 18-ish hour audio book a real pleasure!
I would have given this book 5 stars if not for the narrator. The material is extremely interesting, and a real page-turner, which is not common in non-fiction writing. The choice of voice actor however is inappropriate, and took a lot of determination for me to get over and keep going with the book anyway. I really had to grit my teeth for this one - impersonal, sounds like he's giving a generic sales pitch, not reading a personal and engrossing sociological account. I now want to read all of Peter Hessler's books, but the narrator holds me back.
I had read reviews about the reader and was anticipating some badly pronounced Chinese and weird accents. I have studied Chinese so I didn't know how I would like this. While it was true that the author didn't seem to even have the least bit of preparation in pinyin, it wasn't as bad as it could have been. Also, while all the Chinese characters have accents, some of the accents are not so noticeable. For the most part, while the reader is speaking English, he is very entertaining and great charisma.
As far as the content, I think that this is a great introduction about China and I've learned a lot about things that I probably wouldn't have been able to learn anywhere else. For example, I've learned weird details about geography, about rural village life, laws, and a lot about the transportation system and the auto industry. I don't feel as much of a pull to listen as for a novel, but that is how nonfiction tends to be. After finishing this book, I think that I'd like to listen to his other books about China as well.
This is a charming account of modern day Chinese life, warts and all. Great reading for young and old. This should be required in schools. You can't go wrong with this one for yourself or as a gift.
Business Physicist and Astronomer
First, I am staunchly anti Communist China. I don't like doing business China. I don't like supporting a military that will one day dominate us. I refuse to help a Chinese business in my work as a business consultant and will retire long before the day that will be necessary to make a living.
Get it? I do not like China.
But, I liked this book so much, it changed me.
The book softened me on my feelings about the people of China who want and care about many of the same things we do---we are just competing for limited resources.
I'm still very anti China but I have a lot more empathy for the people as a result of this book.
Of all the books about modern China, this one gives a totally different look than any of the others. It's not political. It's just a really nice look at what life is like in China.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who likes culture and wants to understand the world.
it might even change you!
Chris Reich, TeachU
Retired Marine combat officer now enjoying life in Southwestern Wisconsin. With my wife, Crystal, we own and operate a portrait studio, True Lives Studio, in Bloomington, WI
I really like Peter Hessler's writing and find it a true reflection of my experiences in China an a accurate account of Chinese attitudes. River Town was a great book and I enjoyed it..however, Country Driving, although a well written book is narrated by Peter Berkrot. He does zero justice to the work..remember the Public Service films about crawling under your desk for a nuclear attack....this guy has the same voice, inflection and makes it just about as exciting...pick it up at the library or bookstore but skip this version..
Peter Hessler combines lucid and candid writing with the warmth and dedication of someone who wants to tell a human story based on his own contacts and research.
He has spent much time (measured in years) in gathering the material for this book and has based it on his own first-hand experiences in China.
He is a keen observer of human nature and the environment and conditions that characterize a China undergoing a remarkable economic transformation. There is much to learn and to enjoy from this book. I recommend it highly.
I don't speak Chinese and my travel in China is very superficial as I can not get into the homes and minds of Chinese people. Walking around Beijing it was great to listen to Peter Hessler's book and to hear more about the life and values of the people portrayed.
Hessler's book is full of fascinating information about China today and its history. I would give the audiobook five stars if I liked Peter Berkrot's reading, but I don't. He has a strange inflection that is a sort of throwback to radio announcers' voices before 1960, and his interpretation of a Chinese person speaking English is downright embarrassing. Hessler's writing of dialogue is, of course, translation of conversations he had that were carried out in Chinese, for the most part. Why Berkrot feels he has to read those parts in an ersatz Chinese accent is beyond me. I listened to the whole thing and really enjoyed the text, but the reading had me gritting my teeth far too much of the time.
"Best overview of life in modern China"
An essential read/listen for anyone who wants to understand modern China, how and why things are the way they are in the new millennium. Hessler has a great ability to explain cultural differences between East and West. Anyone who has lived in China recently can relate to Hessler's automobile anecdotes and understand how rapidly the country is changing. Shame that P Berkrot, the reader, did not get good tips on Chinese pronunciation!
"Over-long but with many highlights"
I have to confess that I've yet to make it to the end of this audiobook.
The first part is the only section that really focuses on driving and to be honest, it's not that interesting. Anecdotes about the Chinese driving test and the people he hires his cars from are hilarious and kept me listening, but there's a whole lot of nothing outside Beijing and that's where he went.
Part two deals with the relationships that the author forms while living in a village outside Beijing and for me this is the most interesting part of the book. It is a time of great change for the locals as the new roads bring visitors and money to the area encouraging growth and development. The insight that the author brings to this process is unique.
Then part three moves on to examine how business is established in new development zones and I didn't think that this was particularly interesting. I got lost with the endless strings of names and there were fewer characters and stories to be told. This is where my interest faded, maybe 3/4 into the whole book.
There's much to enjoy here, and I certainly wouldn't have got as far as I did had I been reading the book. To my totally untrained ear, the narrator (American) seems to have a good grasp of Chinese pronunciation and this helps tremendously. I just felt that the book was a little overlong and journalistic where I was expecting a more personal tale.
"Ture China!--- in view of a ture Chinese"
As a Beijingness living in UK for past 10 years, this book bring me back home. the book is fun to listen and tell you a true China without prejudice. with years experence living in China, he is indeed have deeper and better understanding of China’s progress over the past decade. his book not only covered culture but also the economic, political, and social systems. the best book so far about telling you a ture China and how Chinese life changed for past 10 years.
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