A Beijing correspondent for The New Yorker describes the clash in China between the rise of the individual and the Communist Party's struggle to retain control. He follows the stories of everyday people and reveals life in the new China to be a battleground between aspiration and authoritarianism, in which only one can prevail.
Age of Ambition is...a riveting and troubling portrait of a people in a state of extreme anxiety about their identity, values and future ... eclectic portraits are drawn from across the political spectrum ... Some of these characters appear several times, giving the book a cumulative impact that helps persuade the reader that China has lost its way. The remarkable story of Lin Yifu, the Taiwanese defector who swam across the strait to become the World Bank’s chief economist and later a cheerleader for China’s economic prosperity, provides a strong narrative thread. So, too, does the story of the persecuted artist Ai Weiwei ... Mr. Osnos has a keen grasp of how the Internet has transformed China’s political landscape, circumventing the government’s efforts to manage information about public incidents.
... [a] lively panorama of evolving contemporary China ... Is it even possible to write convincingly about a country of China's size and history without condensing its complexities into a single version of the truth? These are questions faced by the many journalists, writers and artists whom Osnos profiles, but they are also questions that Osnos himself has to confront from the outset of his project. He negotiates these issues by employing the techniques of the assiduous reporter, meticulously following leads and allowing subjects and situations to speak for themselves ... Osnos has a gift for capturing touchingly comic elements in situations that might otherwise seem overly earnest ... Only rarely...does Osnos permit himself to step beyond the boundaries of his carefully constructed neutrality ... These moments leave us wanting more by way of personal involvement in the narrative from this acute observer of the nation, especially towards the end of the book when we sense that eight years in Beijing are beginning, physically and mentally, to take their toll. In under 400 pages, however, this volume provides a highly readable, colorful introduction to the complexities of modern China.
... [a] compelling and accessible investigation ... the reader is treated to a series of finely wrought portraits of Chinese searchers ... The best work exploring China is being done outside the country, mostly in English ... Now add to those Osnos’s masterful portrait of China’s Gilded Age.