Just what I wanted - an accessible and well written history of the middle kingdom covering the social, political and dynastic history right up to the ascent of Mao. It's got it all; territorial expansion, dynastic struggles, the interplay between Daoism, Buddhism and Confucian values, the Mongols, evolution of technology and literature, opium wars, the Generalisimo etc, What I found particularly interesting were the recurrent themes of the `mandate of heaven', the importance attributed to history in Chinese society and the repeated inability of `new' empires to consolidate gains. However, with so much to cover, no one area is dealt with in great depth and those seeking more detail, about recent history in particular, might wish to look elsewhere.
I've read a couple of other titles by Keay and found his writing style hard work. Happily I cannot say the same for this book, which I've enjoyed reading immensely and learned a great deal in the process. The maps and photos within are clear and informative too. I find it hard to imagine that there are any significantly better single-volume histories of China available.