I didn't want this book to end! The author's high and low descriptions of China jive with my limited experience there. His knowledge of the history, culture, flora and fauna were outstanding, while his description of the people really touched my heart. A literary treasure for me!
Winchester is almost thunderstruck by the river's majesty. He loves the wild grandeur of Tibet, and fully appreciates the Yangtze's importance in world history. It's just that he finds China's cities of the 1990s ugly, dull, and distasteful. Partly for diversion he's repeatedly drawn to every available relic of British colonial days, till his Chinese assistant Lilly cries "Oh God, your bloody British Empire again!"
About half the book concerns tales of times past. It's half travel adventure and half history. Clearly Winchester wrote this for a non-Chinese audience, highlighting what seemed relevant or appealing to foreigners, in the years just before the economic boom.
--author of A Galaxy of Immortal Women: The Yin Side of Chinese Civilization
I love the way Simon Winchester weaves together history, geography and natural science together in his books. The outcome is always a highly interesting and thought provoking. This offering about travelling up the Yangtze River starting in Shanghai and ending up at its source is no exception. Winchester skilfully highlights in his journey up the Yangtze the true significance of the river to China in economic, social and political terms. Winchester also highlights the environmental damage that is occurring to the great river in the wake of China's rapid economic growth and development. Very though provoking in the respect that China needs the river but at the same time could also kill the river with her actions.
Winchester's journey up the longest river in Asia is more than a trip back in time, it is a chronograph of all China. From its colonial past through its current environmental debacles, from the mechanics of river-faring to the taste of Tibetan tsampa, Winchester touches it all with erudition, adventure and bone-dry British wit. His belligerent Chinese guide, "Lily," adds insight into the testy force of the nations youth.
This book is a resource for scholars, a must read for China hands, it's a jolly good traveller's tale for all.
I read this book while out with the flu, feeling just miserable and couldn't put it down. In fact I didn't want it to end! Simon blends the best of both worlds: Exacting journalism and a great sense of adventure. Too many adventure/travel writers can't quite seem to make the two worlds work well together. They are either adventurers and not great journalists or the other way around. Simon understands issues of economics, sociology, nature, and adventure and brings them together in a formidable way. Great book!
I read the book before going to China in Feb. 98. It made the river live and gave me a wonderful background in which to review the river and enjoy the trip up the Three Gorges of the Yangzi. I also traveled to the Leaping Tiger Gorge, but discovered that progress had come. Where there was a path when the book was written, is now a gravel road. To appreciate the middle of China this book should be read.
Having being there myself, I can testify that Mr. Winchester has done a great and precise job. Not to be miss If your are planning a trip up the great river or just want to know about it. I specially liked the historic references. I whish I had it as a guide during my trip. My regards to Lily, Mr. Winchester !!
Simon Winchester displays a wealth of knowledge about the Yangtzee. He has clearly done his homework and clearly explains why the Yangtzee holds the importance that it does to the Chinese. His narrative covers all aspects of the region, the geological history, economic history and the crucial political aspects. He always puts the historical importance of these factors into the modern context and the net result is a truly interesting, yet richly informative read. It was difficult to put down. This is not a book for the lazy mind however as the imagery that the author conjures up is provocative and requires a good deal of interaction from the reader.