... let me humbly but enthusiastically suggest:
Dreaming in Chinese, by Deborah Fallows*, officially on-sale in Britain next week, available for pre-order on the UK Amazon site here; publisher's page from the London-based publishing house Short Books here.
If you are resident in the New World, you may have to wait for the US edition, from Walker & Company, in September, complete with Americanized spelling and punctuation. In either case, you'll find out what you learn about modern China through learning Chinese. The author knows this based on being trained in linguistics and having learned a lot of other languages over the years, but she writes about love, life, and language in China in a jazzy style. I can attest first-hand to the time she invested in Chinese study over these past five or six years, including before we moved there in 2006. And to how many jams she got me out of, with what she was able to say!
I could be biased, but I think it's great. Plus, sassy, funny, and linguistically informed. See for yourself.
* My wife.
* My wife.
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James Fallows is a staff writer for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. He and his wife, Deborah Fallows, are the authors of the new book Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey Into the Heart of America, which has been a New York Times best seller and is the basis of a forthcoming HBO documentary.