Book reviews: an amusing and inadvertently chilling look at China through Western eyes
An economic analysis of the global drug trade and the world of fast food round out this week’s non-fiction e-book and audiobook selections
Why the Chicken Crossed the World
by Funky Chicken
Amazon Digital Services (e-book)
Funky Chicken is the pen name of an American-born Chinese woman who moves to Shanghai and writes a blog, from which she has extracted “18 surprising secrets from China on success, wealth and happiness”. She warns at the start that she is not a China scholar and while she looks like a local, she thinks like a Westerner. Funky writes about everything from how she handles pollution, to how she uses food to bribe her frightened team to talk to her, to her fascination with the way in which parents “pimp their kids”. Every weekend at a park, hopeful mums pass out their children’s vital statistics in the hopes they will find a son- or daughter-in-law. Hongkongers will find some anecdotes amusing, useful even, but also unintentionally chilling. She tells of a Chinese colleague who wrote a blog for fun. Then one night the police appeared and dragged him out of his house. “[His wife] had no idea where he went, why he was taken away, and when he would be returned.” Eventually released, he refused to tell anyone what had happened but never quite seemed the same after that. He also stopped writing his blog.
by Tom Wainwright
To combat the illegal drug trade effectively, it is necessary to understand that these businesses are run like any big multinational company. That is clear in Tom Wainwright’s Narconomics: How to Run a Drug Cartel, which far from being a manual for drug lords outlines how governments could wipe out these organised-crime networks. He argues that equating prohibition with control is a key mistake because this hands exclusive rights to the drug barons, whose undoing could be legalisation. Also important is understanding that cartels have such huge market shares they can dictate the terms of trade, so that the only real losers are the suppliers desperate to reach consumers, for whom prices are kept relatively stable (think of how Walmart and other big chains operate). Wainwright argues that “attempts to raise the price of cocaine by forcing up the cost of coca leaves is a bit like trying to drive up the price of art by raising the cost of paint”. The cost of the raw ingredient is only a fraction of the street price. Narconomics, which applies basic economics in its analysis, is not a quick fix. But it makes a lot of sense.
Fast Food Maniac
by Jon Hein
Brilliance Audio (audiobook)
It’s tempting to blow off this book as a waste of time, just as its subject, fast food, is a waste of calories. But Jon Hein’s enthusiasm for fries, burgers, biscuits and the like provides an interesting insight into a globally popular diet. In the US, he says, one in four adults eats fast food every day, which is why he has organised his book as a guide. Hongkongers will be familiar with many of the chains, among them KFC, Pizza Hut and McDonald’s. Hein, who narrates the book, provides a snapshot of these chains, along with 66 other American national and regional favourites, giving potted histories, factoids, and advice on must-eats. Those who don’t do fast food won’t be tempted, although they will enjoy the foods vicariously. They will probably also like learning what all the fuss is about: that Dairy Queen’s ice creams, for example, are magic because of the temperature at which they freeze. Best of all is Hein’s Secret Menu (foods not advertised but apparently available). And who knew you can ask for a free doughnut at Krispy Kreme if the “HOT NOW” sign is on. Give it a try.