For the month of March, I chose to read Jeffrey Wasserstrom’s China in the 21st Century, thinking it would be a quick read at 192 pages and that I could then fit in two books—but because of the Q&A format of the entire book, you can’t exactly get deeply engaged in it enough to keep yourself going, especially given that history generally can be dry, even if it is China’s.
The book offers shortened Wikipedia-type answers to valid questions that we may have about China’s history, spanning from the ancient dynasties to Mao’s influence on China today. As it was published six years ago in 2010, some of the more recent answers—on the one-child policy, for example—are naturally outdated. As a result of condensed nature of his answers, the book can only be used as a quick intro to China and will require anyone wishing to dive deeper to follow his recommended further readings he provides at the end of the book—and, well, continue reading other materials.
I found myself re-reading the answers often, whether or not it’s due to a habit developed from college to try to retain what I just read. The book could serve as a useful study guide for an exam, so that probably explains why I felt the need to read carefully the answers, knowing that skimming would mean all those facts would never stick.
Nevertheless, Wasserstrom is well-known in the China academic circles, and this book definitely supports that. I look forward to reading more of his work this year.
EDIT: Here’s the author talking about the book in 2010.