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The Best of Books 2016


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The Most Wanted Man in China: My Journey From Scientist to Enemy of the State

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The Most Wanted Man in China: My Journey From Scientist to Enemy of the State
By Fang Lizhi; translated by Perry Link
Henry Holt, 2016
352 pp.

Fang’s memoir is a bildungsroman of dissent, a story of the political education of a Chinese scientist: his youth as a loyal Communist in the early 1950s, his gradual disillusionment with the revolutionary state, his efforts to reform it, and finally his expulsion from China in 1990, after which he taught astrophysics at the University of Arizona until his death in 2012. Fang’s engaging narrative and careful analysis have been lucidly translated by Link. The book reveals how the Chinese Communist Party ruined itself and squandered its resources in the first four decades after it took power in 1949. The mind of the physicist is at work here: Fang describes the forces of political entropy and examines how people found ways to build a humane order in spite of political repression. The text is full of gems for specialists in Chinese politics and history, but it is also important as the testament of an important Chinese political dissident who arrived at liberalism not through Thomas Jefferson and political theory but through Albert Einstein and astrophysics, all while living through Mao Zedong’s revolutions. If ever there was a case for a link between science and democracy, this is it.

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