A former Midwesterner who is equally comfortable in farmers’ kitchens as in her high-rise apartment in Beijing, Hvistendahl is uniquely situated to tell this unexpectedly dramatic story ... Hvistendahl traces the particulars of Mo’s case, but she also explores the racialized history of FBI investigations into Chinese immigrants. Her careful contextualization of the case makes its particulars loom with the uncertainty of a fun house mirror ... read this fascinating story, which speaks to the larger geopolitical tensions shaping our time.
Hvistendahl makes industrial espionage both understandable and riveting, chiefly by focusing her narrative on two scientists (one Chinese, one American, both manipulated by DBG) who, wittingly and unwittingly, are forced into collecting seeds and information for DBG. This is a complex story, but it’s presented clearly and vividly, thanks to Hvistendahl’s background as a science journalist here and in China; to her exquisite pacing; and to her narrative skills. Unlike many current spy books, which focus on long-ago espionage, this one examines an investigation into the pressing, ongoing problem of industrial espionage. Hard to put down and harder to stop thinking about.
How do you make a story about some Chinese guys pilfering corn from an Iowa farm field into a fascinating, timely book that is global in scope? Easy. Report as thoroughly and write as well as Minneapolis journalist Mara Hvistendahl does ... Complex (if not very sympathetic) characters abound ... Hvistendahl gives the corn-stealing caper the full thriller treatment, complete with evocative, cinematic detail. But the cat-and-mouse story alone is not big potatoes, and is somewhat muddied by an incomplete rendering of exactly what motivates the Chinese government in the risky trade-secret war ... Wisely, Hvistendahl also reports on related complexities of the $52 billion global seed market.
Hvistendahl has written a 'whodunit' for modern times ... Where Hvistendahl is perhaps less successful is in making the case that race and ethnicity have had an outsize effect on the FBI investigations. She seems to suggest that if you are Chinese, you are suspect. And while it has been reported that President Trump told a group of chief executives in 2018 that every Chinese student in the United States is a spy and that the FBI is redoubling efforts to prevent Chinese intellectual-property theft, Hvistendahl’s meticulous reporting on DBN and Mo ends up undermining her assertion, because Mo did exactly what he was accused of doing.
Ms. Hvistendahl deftly turns this material into a compelling whodunit ...What this captivating and well-researched book doesn’t do is to say very much about what America’s best course would be in the face of what is clearly a state-driven effort by China to vacuum up as much technology and know-how from the U.S. as it can. Perhaps that is asking too much. As Ms. Hvistendahl makes clear, China doesn’t solely rely on people of Chinese extraction to collaborate in its catch-up efforts.
... [a] compelling tale of industrial espionage. A Midwest native, Hvistendahl spent several years working in China, and her knowledge of that country’s politics and economics adds depth to the narrative ... Hvistendahl writes about broader issues with force and clarity: an overview of China’s intelligence agencies, the use and misuse of the FISA law, and anti-Chinese persecution by the FBI. She brings the story up to the present day with a brief discussion of the U.S.-China trade war and the impact of tariffs. An informative afterword explains her sources ... This engaging book has something for everyone; it can be read as a spy thriller, an examination of U.S.-China relations, or a case study of agricultural espionage.
The tensions between China and the United States (and indeed much of the world) have increased dramatically since the spread of COVID-19, which began in the industrial Chinese city of Wuhan. Because of this, the main thrust of journalist Mara Hvistendahl’s The Scientist and the Spy seems both pointed and outdated ... does achieve the impossible by making seeding, planting, and food engineering somewhat exciting. Hvistendahl’s pen is sharp and deft, and this book moves fast ... That said, some readers may be turned off by the obvious bias toward Mo ... Also, whereas Hvistendahl often colors US government actions with accusations of racism, she, despite living in China for eight years, never once discusses the ethno-nationalist core of the CCP and its own anti-Western, anti-American initiatives, many of which began during the Cold War ... a good and solid rundown of the murky world of industrial espionage. It does call into question not only the FBI’s close relationship with multinational corporations, but it even calls into question the legitimacy of intellectual property law. That said, this book has several blind spots and is at times a prisoner of its own assumptions.
... a riveting true crime read ... broken down into thirty-nine short chapters, which leads to readability but some fragmenting of the many strands of the Mo case ... However, this is a fascinating, well-written and well-researched book. In the end it teaches us more about America—its institutions and what big business can get away with—than it does about China, this perhaps being a welcome surprise.
The author doesn’t diminish the presence of Chinese spies, who have been exposed in numerous enterprises; she also digs deep into the rather nefarious business of genetic modification, which so tarnished the Monsanto name that the brand name is being retired under new ownership ... A capable work of cat-and-mouse espionage that suggests that industrial spying is just business as usual.