Sunday, July 1, 2012

By Ink Alone: China Airborne by James Fallows

China Airborne
James Fallows
Pantheon (May 15, 2012)

James  Fallows is a blogger and writer for The Atlantic and formerly was a speech writer for Carter while for years has been an eminent journalist. He's also an amateur pilot - this seems a bit ridiculous because am I also an amateur baseball player; no, I'm a baseball player, I just don't get payed for it. And Fallows really loves to fly and discuss aviation matters. He has spent many a pound of ink on his blog discussing ridiculousness of airport security and comparing that to the non-existent security measures of private airports.

In this book, Fallows uses the rapidly changing aviation situation in China as a platform to discuss how China is opening up and changing internally. As of most thing thats Fallows writes, it is extremely well written and eminently interesting. Fallows repeatedly pushed the point that there is no ONE CHINA. There are a million moving parts in China, only miniscule amounts of which we see in the west. There is amazingly skilled manufacturing process with incredible amounts of poverty. There are huge airports being constructed, next to small camps where people don't have electricity and running water.

Fallows discusses in this book how the military control of all airspace is a huge factor in limiting how China will grow - you can't just decide Tuesday morning to fly from Hong Kong to Beijing in your small jet; while in America, you can decide you want to fly from Seattle to Denver with almost no notice. Flying in China is incredibly dangerous because the infastructure doesn't exist; in much of western CHina, where flying would be a great advantage because the populations centers are so spread out, there are no location beacons, pilots are required to fly dangerously low to stay out of military air space and the terrain is quite rugged and intimidating.

The first three quarters of the books is fallows discussions with various aviation individuals in China, how they are trying to change the culture to encourage more private planes, how the people will adjust to flying more commercially. The last quarter of the book jumps into essays about China as a whole and its changing culture.

Overall, I thought the book was interesting. However, the only people I've recommended that they read the book are those who have lived or spent significant time in China because I want to know how much they agree with the book. Its a book that is not critical anyone read. Its interesting, but it won't change your life in any way.

Three out of Five Stars.