157. Age of Ambition by Evan Osnos

There are times when I spend hours researching for my next big read, passing over titles that have less than 4 stars on Goodreads (a dishonest thing to do, as those ratings are subjective and isn’t necessarily an accurate rating of the book). But then some days, I can find a book in less than 10 seconds, that can change my world for decades to come.

“To survive in China you must reveal nothing to others. Or it could be used against you … That’s why I’ve come to think the deepest part of the self is best left unclear… Let your public self be like rice in a dinner: bland and inconspicuous, taking on the flavors of its surroundings while giving off no flavor of its own.”

Age of ambition by Evan Osnos is the best non-fiction read of the year for me. I may retract this statement but for now I am sticking to it.

The book is condensed history of China, along with conversations with Chinese people about their views on where the Country is heading, the Party control, Censorship, Human Rights, and making a living in a country of more than a billion people.

“The longer I lived in China, the more I sensed that the Chinese people have outpaced the political system that nurtured their rise. The Party has unleashed the greatest expansion of human potential in world history—and spawned, perhaps, the greatest threat to its own survival.”

The author; Evan Osnos, lived in China from 2008-2013 as the China correspondent for The New York times, and the book consists of a lot of conversations he had with the people mentioned, stories he went after, and the history of many Chinese events he learnt through unofficial and official means.

There is no denying that China will become a superpower in the coming years, and I don’t think there isn’t a person on earth who hasn’t used a product made by china in today’s world.

“Americans tend to see themselves in control of their fate, while Chinese see fate as something external,” Lam, the professor, said. “To alter fate, the Chinese feel they need to do things to acquire more luck.”

With that said, there wasn’t much that I knew about its history, despite the many snippets I learnt through people around me. In a way this book can be viewed as the most unbiased, biased account from a Western journalist that tries to make sense of the world’s most populous country.

“One-sixth of the world’s population speaks Chinese. Why are we studying English?” he asked. He turned and gestured to a row of foreign teachers seated glumly behind him. “Because we pity them for not being able to speak Chinese!” The crowd roared.

Evan Osnos was the on-ground, China correspondent for The New Yorker from 2008-2013 and while he spoke the language well, he did mingle with the residents to scoop out stories that you may never have heard of. Stories, that give perspective to the unhinged hunger for success and power globally, vigorous censorship, and becoming part of the world.

“In most countries, the long-term effects of kleptocracy are easy to predict: economists calculate that for every point that a nation’s corruption rises on a scale of one to ten, its economic growth drops by 1 percent.”

I had always been aware of Hong Kong and it’s connection to China, but with the recent events regarding the extradition laws that threaten the autonomy of Hong Kong, this book guided me to learn what a human rights and freedom of speech crisis, it actually is. As well as, their fight with Taiwan and how Taiwanese people often crossed over to live the equivalent of the American dream in China.

“In surveys, Chinese casino gamblers tend to view bets as investments and investments as bets. The stock market and real estate, in the Chinese view, are scarcely different from a casino.”

Similarly, “the Great Leap Forward” along with the “Cultural Revolution” make you understand what propelled the most populous nation to becoming a cutthroat nation aiming for the billion dollar club.

Every aspect of this book was fascinating and I don’t want to divulge to much of this book, because you need to learn and read it for yourself. The socio-political landscape is changing rapidly due to the ongoing pandemic and once it is over, you can best believe that China will have a huge stake when it comes to economic stability globally.

This book can help you understand how and why that will be.

Onto the basics:

  1. Rating: 5.0/5.0
  2. Favourite quote: “Hope is like a path in the countryside: originally there was no path, but once people begin to pass, a way appears.”
  3. Reader level:  
  4. Should you read:  Absolutely
  5. Would I read it again: Yes! I want to read it again.

Till next time,



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