Book Review: Age of Ambition

book cover imageOsnos, Evan. Age of ambition : chasing fortune, truth, and faith in the new China. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014.

One week from today, a group of 104 Fuqua students will depart from Durham for Fuqua’s China GATE, a unique opportunity for an academic/cultural experience in Asia’s vibrant superpower.  Among the group are Fuqua staff members Chris Shull (Accounting)  and world traveler Linda McCormick from the Ford Library.   Everyone who signed up for the trip has been preparing for months.  And the Ford Library helped, by purchasing  a collection of books that can help voyagers get the most out of their experience.

One of the best new books is Age of Ambition by Evan Osnos, Beijing correspondent for The New Yorker from 2008-13 and resident of China since 2005.  He has been observing the profound changes in everyday life for Chinese people resulting from the sweeping transformation in the economic sector.  Osnos uses the stories of everyday people to explain how life for the average Chinese person is changing.

Central to the story is the Chinese Communist Party, ruling the world’s largest authoritarian state for over 65 years.  Forty years ago, an individual had no choice in where to live or what to do for work; whom to marry or how many children to bear.  People had no opportunity to build a business or to travel outside of China.  When all of this began to change beginning in the 1980’s, tremendous risks and opportunities were created.  People began to imagine a better life for themselves.  They took steps to realize their aspirations.  Ambition was no longer a negative quality.

Osnos uses irony as he observes the inconsistencies that come with rapid change.  Chinese culture is deeply influenced by the group and the ideas of freedom and individuality take time to assimilate.  A favorite portrait in the book is a young woman who leaves her village for better opportunities in the city.  She begins a successful online dating website, a revolutionary idea as the traditional way to find a spouse is through the services of a village matchmaker. The goal of her business to avoid the pitfalls of matchmaking, and to offer to young clients a personal choice in potential mates.  Yet the entrepreneur becomes known as “China’s No. 1 Matchmaker.”  Her company is called Beautiful Destiny, while the idea of destiny is the antithesis of choice.

While the Party supports the economic progress that new freedoms have provided, it is reluctant to accommodate liberty as a potential threat to its survival.  Censorship and propaganda are two tools used to retain power yet in the age of the internet, ordinary people are connected in new ways, making it difficult to control information.  And as Chinese people prosper, they want to know more about the world around them.

This remarkable book is recommended for most readers.  If you are going on the China GATE trip, the insights in The Age of Ambition will bring more meaning to your personal observations.  And if you are staying in the U.S., the book is a readable sojourn into one of the most fascinating countries on the globe.

This book is also available as an eBook on OverDrive as well as on the Business Best Seller Kindles in the Ford Library.

Bon voyage and take care.  Wishing you the trip of a lifetime.

© Meg Trauner & Ford Library – Fuqua School of Business.
All rights reserved.

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