A few years ago, I read a terrific collection of essays — It Must be Beautiful — on the great scientific equations of modern times. I loved it, but as I meandered through the book, I was struck by an unexpected poignancy. The first essays, by and large, described breakthroughs that had taken place in the laboratories of Europe. The second half was quite different. Some time in the 1920s, the balance of scientific discovery shifted inexorably to the U.S. A small book of essays held within it proof of a profound historical change.

I found myself thinking of that while reading a new book by Martin Jacques, a British journalist turned academic. Jacques’ tome is called When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order, and his thesis, which he advances with a depth of argument often missing in similar works, is made plain enough by his title. The most likely scenario for the future, Jacques writes, is that “China continues to grow stronger and ultimately emerges over the next half-century, or rather less in many respects, as the world’s leading power.” His book is an examination of how and why that will happen, and what it will mean.

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