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Review - Xi Jinping and the Addictive Quality of Biographies

Apologies for my two weeks' radio silence...  Work has been intense, so I haven't mustered up the energy to blog until this weekend.  Happily, I've been reading, and there is plenty to catch up on!

My current obsession reading focus is an unlikely one: CEO, China: The Rise of Xi Jinping (2016) by Kerry Brown.  I picked this up last Saturday and just ordered my own hard copy - yes, it's that interesting.


Brown is a professor at King's College, as well as a contributor to The Diplomat.  This combination of academia and journalism means his writing carries the best of both worlds and is well annotated, particularly for a book geared towards the general public.  (One or two reviewers complained he is too challenging to read... from my perspective, Brown's prose is more digestible than Michael Korda's, no offense to Korda.)

To be sure, the well-written biography is my favorite way to consume history.  There's several reasons for this:
  1. Certain individuals influence history (obviously).  Therefore, we should know about them.
  2. An individual's life puts a human face on what can be dry historical information.
  3. A biography typically employs the natural narrative structure - birth, life, and death.  This means you have clear pacing in a history book which otherwise could (arguably) begin and end anywhere.
  4. For me, it is easier to retain information absorbed in the context of a personal timeline vs. an impersonal timeline.
My current gold standard of biographies is A Prince of Our Disorder by John E. Mack, which I reviewed in some detail a couple of years ago.  Mack's documentation and tone proved to be a harmonious combination for tackling one of the most enigmatic figures in recent history.

Another one worth mentioning is Evita: The Real Life of Eva Peron.  I gave it a low rating for the sparse sources and so-so writing; nevertheless, I still own the book because it offers chilling insights on the power of mass media in tandem with cult-like political personalities.  Of course, one could read about that in a number of history books, but through the lens of Eva's tumultuous life, I could remember much I might otherwise have forgotten.

CEO, China is perhaps the first biography I've read that is in present tense.  Brown's thesis is that Xi runs China like the CEO of a corporation, and part of the (somewhat unsettling) thrill of reading this book is the fact we are watching his career unfold in real-time.  Only time can tell the end result of all these happenings; in the meantime, I'm hoping to gain some background insight from biographies like this.

Comments

  1. I also like biographies. I tend to read mostly about historical characters with an emphasis on the American Revolution. I think that my favorite biography so far was Stacy Schiff’s Cleopatra.

    Xi Jinping is indeed a key figure in our world. I can see how a biography of him would be both interesting and worthwhile.

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    Replies
    1. I'll have to look into that one on Cleopatra! Another blogger I follow, Fanda, said she is reading it soon. I know embarrassingly little about Cleopatra (or ancient Egypt, for that matter)...

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