Chinese Whispers – Ben Chu demystifies China

This post is part of a series of blog posts reviewing our list of top non-fiction titles. These are the books that are being read by large groups in The Pigeonhole’s Company Book Clubs (click for more information). Our carefully curated list includes titles on technology, wellness, politics, geopolitics, the workplace and the economy. Expect a new post showcasing our ever expanding list twice a month.

Chinese Whispers by Ben Chu

Published by Weidenfeld and Nicolson, pp. 288. Buy here.

The Relevance

Alongside artificial intelligence, workplace well-being, and innovation, the rise and rise of China is one of the most popular themes in The Pigeonhole’s Company Book Club. The traditional western superpowers now have to think about their irrepressible competitors in the east, and in particular the most populous country on the planet; a phoenix that has risen from the ashes of Mao’s disastrous ‘Great Leap Forward’ to become one of the most industrialised and productive economies in the world.

There are some great new books on China, but our pick of the bunch is Ben Chu’s Chinese Whispers. In seven bite-sized ‘whispers’ he breaks down the core truisms and mistruths that have proliferated since … well, since forever. These myths have infiltrated not only popular culture, including music, theatre, television, and the arts, but the behaviour of politicians too – with Henry Kissinger’s soundbites frequently popping up in Chinese Whispers as an example of an outsider who has formed very strong, if not entirely accurate, views of Chinese culture.

Any company with operations in China, or those considering expanding into this market, must take steps to understand the operating environment and the psychology of the businesses and individuals they will be dealing with. What Ben Chu demonstrates is that this supposedly unique nation is, in many ways, similar to its new economic contemporaries, especially in the dreams and aspirations of the youngest generations.

The Story

No punches are pulled in this frank demystification of everything that China has come to stand for in the 21st century: a gargantuan country whose culture is deep-rooted in communism, with a population that loves to work so hard it barely spares a thought for its own civil liberties while maintaining a strong distrust for foreigners. This insanely driven nation are running rings around lackadaisical western education systems and it is a matter of when not if they become the world’s number 1 superpower.

These are a selection of the legends that Chu inspects during the course of his succinct yet detailed national profile. Each chapter follows a familiar pattern. First, Chu traces the roots and the supporting evidence of each whisper about China, pulling apart the strands of how and why these beliefs have become so widespread. Once we are all sitting comfortably, reassured by the weight of evidence mustered to support the view that China is, say, an inherently racist nation, Chu pulls the carpet from under our feet and shows us the whole picture.

The answers are always revealing and sometimes shocking, but more often than not they are levelling, and let us know that this supposedly unknowable nation have a lot in common with their western counterparts. Rather than force-feeding the reader his own rhetoric on what China is and is not, Chu lays out the facts and challenges us to come to our own conclusions. That’s just one of the reasons it is such a great book for discussion within companies.

The Creator

Ben Chu has produced a fiendishly well-research book from a position of good authority, and we are delighted to be hosting a live private Q&A with him and one of our company book groups later this month. Born to a Chinese mother and a Scottish father, Ben was brought up in Manchester and went on to study modern history at Jesus College, Oxford. He has written for the Independent since 2000 and has been the paper’s economics editor since August 2011. Before that he was the newspaper’s chief lead writer and assistant comment editor. He has reported from China, Taiwan, Germany, France and Switzerland and Ireland. Other positions Ben has held at the paper include editing the letters page and writing for the personal finance section. You can find him tweeting on the economy and other things right here.

Ben still has family living in the Guangdong province of China and this, his first book, Chinese Whispers: why everything you’ve heard about China is wrong, is published by Weidenfeld and Nicolson. Purchase it here.

If you would like use The Pigeonhole’s Company Book Club service, please click here for more information or email .

The Panama Papers


The Panama Papers – Bastian Obermayer & Frederik Obermaier

This is the third article in our new series about the books that are currently popular in our company book clubs. This carefully curated list includes titles that focus on technology, wellness, politics, the workplace and the economy. To check out the service offering and book a consultation click here. Continue reading The Panama Papers

The Rise of the Robots

This is the second article in our new series about the books that are currently popular in our company book clubs. This carefully curated list includes titles that focus on technology, wellness, politics, the workplace and the economy. To check out the service offering and book a consultation click here.


The Relevance

Currently our most read nonfiction title, The Rise of the Robots unpacks the rapid progress of the AI revolution and has become, definitively, the must-read title of the genre. Not only are Martin Ford’s hypotheses diligently researched, convincing, accessible, and couched in elegant prose – they are almost completely inarguable and are required reading for all professionals, especially those concerned with strategy, HR, and innovation. Readers are challenged to think creatively in the face of this brave new information, and construct a world in which human labour – and in particular the middle classes –can remain necessary and valuable.

Continue reading The Rise of the Robots

Eat Sweat Play

How can women reclaim their bodies and combat daily inequality whilst having fun? According to the author of Eat Sweat Play Anna Kessel: through sport.

For too long women have been told to stay off the pitch, but in her new book, Anna Kessel calls on women across the world to create a sporting role for themselves – to join the games that they have been left out of. The change starts now.

Continue reading Eat Sweat Play

A Very Expensive Poison

This is the first article in our new series about the books that are currently popular with our company book clubs. This carefully curated list includes titles that focus on technology, wellness, politics, the workplace and the economy. Expect a new post showcasing the highlights once a fortnight. To check out the service offering and book a consultation click here.

A Very Expensive Poison by Luke Harding

The Relevance

You don’t need to be interested in Russia, international relations, or security to enjoy Luke Harding’s investigative masterpiece; the unveiling of London as a playground for spies and a hotbed for murder and deceit is more than enough to keep you gripped. Russia has always been a major player on the international political scene – never more so than now. With America undergoing a process of redefining its foreign policy on a scale not seen for generations, and the UK in the throes of their own identity crisis, understanding the internal machinations of the Russian authorities and gaining an insight into the scarcely believable manner in which lethal powers are passed down the hierarchy, is both politically relevant and makes for a enthralling narrative. In our reading groups Harding’s book has prompted lengthy debate and it continues to be a popular selection for our clients and their colleagues.

The Story

More than ten years have passed since the death of Alexander Litvinenko – ample time for Luke Harding to piece together how two blundering assassins executed their somewhat rudimentary plan with the most expensive (and toxic) of poisons. Having offended the Russian government and Vladimir Putin in particular, Litvinenko sought sanctuary in London, where he received a sizable monthly stipend from the sometime-charitable oligarch and friend, Boris Berezovsky – a man whose monthly expenditure regularly exceeded $1 million. But rather than ensuring a safe distance between him and his former employers, Litvinenko was still exposed to the wrath of his riled compatriots.

The meat of Harding’s book, after the steady and careful scene-setting of the early chapters, occurs in the final third, when – after a couple of bungled attempts – two of history’s less capable hitmen make their final play. The incompetence and plain ignorance of the two men entrusted with a substance that left poisonous traces throughout west London, is – frankly – terrifying; as is Litvinenko’s chilling awareness, in the immediate aftermath of the assassin’s plot, that he had been poisoned.

The Creator

Luke Harding is perfectly placed to narrate events concerning corruption at the heart of the Russian state, having been a victim of their unscrupulous methods himself. During years spent living and reporting in Moscow as a foreign correspondent, Harding frequently found himself on the wrong side of the authorities and was subjected to intimidation and threats as comeuppance for unflattering articles he had written – an experience he catalogues in one of his previous books. Harding positions the murder of Litvinenko as the centrepiece of Russia’s broader incursions on the West, providing insight, and perhaps warning, of what is to come. This nuanced account of what is, at its heart, one family’s tragedy, makes for essential and captivating reading. Following our book groups, Luke is open to hosting events and Q&A sessions with the readers.

More details on our company book clubs can be found here. Please contact to discuss options for your own reading group.

How I Write, by TM Logan

TM Logan is former Daily Mail science reporter, covering stories on new developments in a wide variety of scientific fields. He is Deputy Director of Communications at the University of Nottingham and lives in Nottinghamshire with his wife and two children. His debut thriller, Lies, will be published by Bonnier Zaffre in May 2017. He is currently working on his next stand-alone thriller.

I get distracted easily. Or I’m not good at multitasking, or maybe both. My desk – in the spare bedroom – faces the wall so there’s nothing to distract me, no window, no view, no outside world. No TV, no radio. Nothing to tempt me away from sitting in that chair and putting my hands on the keyboard.

Fewer distractions in my writing space means it’s easier for me to reach that magical place where I’m not sitting in the chair any more but right in the middle of the story with my characters, living and breathing every moment with them, hearing and seeing them. Falling into the page and being there as the story comes alive around me. And then when I take a step back and look at my desk clock again, an hour has gone by as if it was five minutes.

When I start a first draft I get a diary, photocopy the ‘Year at a glance’ page at the back, and stick it on the wall by my desk. I will write every day, without fail, until the first draft is done. It helps me to maintain momentum, to keep on top of the plot and stay in touch with my characters. I use the photocopied page to keep a tally of my word count, although it’s less about the number and more about making links in the chain and keeping that promise to myself. If I’ve written for 30, or 50, or 100 days straight, I’m less likely to take a day off and break the chain (at least that’s the idea).

The walls around my desk are generally covered with notes, chapter plans, lists, reminders and scraps of paper with ideas and quotes for the story I’m working on. When ideas occur to me during the day, at work or doing the dishes or reading in bed, I’ll scribble them on a post-it note and stash them in my wallet. It can be anything from a line of dialogue to a story turn, a particular mannerism, a great location, a sound, a smell, the colour of the sky or anything else that catches my eye.

All those notes go up on the wall – and often end up on the page.

TM Logan, January 2017
Follow him on Twitter @TMLoganAuthor

Ghosts of the Silk Road

Sam Meekings

I write when an idea comes to me that is so loud, so urgent, that I cannot ignore it. When it bangs on my windows and hollers through the letterbox so loud I cannot sleep and have no choice but to grab a pencil and notepad and let it all spill out.

The idea for The Book of Crows came when I was travelling on the Silk Road. I had made my way to the far west of China, to see Xinjiang, the vast desert province that borders Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. In the city of Kashgar, I saw huge yellow mosques and also giant karaoke clubs. It seemed to be a city where east and west went colliding into each other.

Continue reading Ghosts of the Silk Road

Interview with book designer Jonathan Pelham

We love putting a spotlight on the publishing industry. To that end, we spoke to designer Jonathan Pelham. As both a freelancer and a senior designer with 4th Estate, Jonathan has designed covers for books by all sorts of authors, from F. Scott Fitzgerald to Molly Antopol.

How did you get into designing book covers?

I started off as a cover art worker, which involved doing things like taking in corrections and preparing artwork for print. I was only supposed to be there four months to help shift a backlog of work but somehow managed to make myself indispensable and ended up staying five years and being promoted to junior designer.

Continue reading Interview with book designer Jonathan Pelham

How We Read Now

The following blog is an adaptation of a talk given by our Founder and Publisher, Anna Jean Hughes, at the 2016 Schilling Conference in Copenhagen.

LOOK, it’s a cat reading:

What do you do while reading a book these days? This may seem like a bit of a facile question. You’re reading, right? But are there other things that you do? Highlight a particularly meaningful line and punctuate it with a “How Apposite” in the margins, or scrawl the words into your notebook for future reflection. Do you Google what in the hell ‘apposite’ means, then tap out the quote into Twitter (!!! #apposite) and underline the word in your marginalia for extra emphasis. OR look up the author, read their Q&A and find out that they, like you, also munch many a peanut butter jelly sandwich. Then check out a video of them reading said meaningful line on Youtube (through a mouthful of PBJ).

Continue reading How We Read Now


’Tis the time of year when everyone gets enthusiastic about lists. And, frankly, we are no different – we love a good list. Especially when it’s a list of books. So to prep you for the ‘Best of 2016…’ season, we’ve curated our very own listicle. Here are the best places to go for your best-of book lists as the year draws to a close!


Continue reading THE 5 BEST ‘BEST BOOK’ LISTS OF 2016