With its provocative title, this well-written and timely book by the well-known British journalist Martin Jacques is something of a publisher’s dream. A cut above the annual crop of run-of-the-mill “China threat” books, Jacques’ thoughtful analysis is selling well and deservedly so. It combines an excellent introduction to Chinese history and culture with an exposition of the main arguments surrounding the 21st century “rise of China”, albeit heavily weighted in favor of the author’s own views. It even throws in an excellent chapter on Japan that, taken on its own, would be a good enough reason for buying the book.

But what of the massive assumption contained in the book’s title? Does Jacques manage to make his case that China is set to rule the world? Talk of the emergence of a G2 of America and China in the wake of the crash of 2008 appears, if not to confirm, then at least prefigure China’s rise to preeminence. None of the great issues facing the world can be solved without reference to and without the agreement of the “big two.” All eyes are on the U.S. and China as the world gathers in Copenhagen to address the existential threat of global warming. But counting as one of the world’s biggest problems does not translate to occupancy of the top seat, and would in any case be an unhappy way to ascend the throne.

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