It’s somewhat unfair to the authors of the books that follow Simon Winchester. There are travel/adventure writers and there are serious travel/adventure writers. He’s the latter. Great story, great detail but reads so effortlessly. Winchester’s “The River at the Center of the World: A Journey Up the Yangtze, and back in Chinese Time,” is a classic. Winchester and a Chinese assistant venture from Shanghai to the Tibetan Plateau, making their way up river by all means necessary. The book details the history of the river combined with real time reporting from the edges of the great serpentine beast.
The river is seen simply as a way of serving the Chinese people, although you wouldn’t know it by those who actually live and work along the river, people who suffer through horrendous working conditions, dangerous duties and pollution at an epic scale. Case in point, the Three Gorges Dam, a universally despised project that was ridiculed by most of the world, but once it had been suggested China felt they had to go all in. And the beauty of the area was seen as a negative, something to be toned by the will of man. The dam was designed to bring power to China as well as mitigate the massive floods that at times killed hundreds of thousands of people in single sweeps.
But this book doesn’t serve as a way of bagging on China. The book presents the data, the author’s observations and combines them with his Chinese assistant’s views which at times are very divergent from the authors. But that’s the point of a good book. Lead the way, provide a good story and relevant data then let the audience continue on. I would say “get it, read it,” but the truth is you should get everything Winchester writes. Take your time.