Attention last-minute holiday shoppers! We have an easy-to-purchase gift to recommend. And we guarantee that it will fit all sizes, shapes and tastes.

This is assuming your intended recipients are intelligent, literate and eager to learn about the world. For as your intellectually slothful friends (if any), we recommend you just keep off your list entirely. Why waste your (presumably) hard-earned money on them? Let them spend their holiday watching football or something.

The answer to your gift-list problem is to buy your friends a book on China—in fact, any book on China, or any two or even three books. You absolutely cannot go wrong. In the last year not one book on China has been published in the US that’s not worth buying and reading. This is a serious statement.

That’s not because the best writers in the world are writing only about China, necessarily. It’s because China is a subject of such vast and profound interest right now that it’s virtually impossible to find a bad or useless book about the world’s most populated nation/civilisation, even if you try.

And, to be sure, no one is foolish enough to try. The field of China books today is fiercely competitive. Serious people understand the need to comprehend with sophistication the surprising shape of the emerging new world order. It is a matter of urgency and responsibility, especially in a democracy where we have an obligation to be informed.

No one has time for literary jokes of half-baked book scams. With something like one fifth of the entire world’s population, holding more US Treasury investments than even the rich Japanese (the prior all-time high US bondholder), and burning up more and more of the world’s energy and mineral reserves and resources, China is, as they say in Hollywood, the new plot line.

Just check in with your favorite book search engine and see what’s available.  It’s an amazing list. Who has time to read them all? But why not buy at least one of them—any of them!—for a friend if not for yourself? But if you absolutely must have a firm recommendation, here it is: a provocative new book with an even more provocative title—“When China rules the world: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order,” (The Penguin Press, 550 pages).

This is probably the book to read or give to a friend if you’re not going to get more than one. It encompasses a huge range of issues, is written in flawless, clear and concise English, and comes to firm and disturbing conclusions. I even agree with some of them.

Author Martin Jacques is something of an alarmist about China’s rise in the world. Notice we say alarmist, not militarist. The British journalist and well-travelled research fellow takes the view that China will rise on its own Chinese terms. This means its modernity will not copycat our Western one.

Jacques has designed his highly informed book to be deliberately provocative without his having to play the fool, and the reader is richer for the effort. He is not predicting war, but neither is he predicting Disneyland.

The implication for the West is that we really need to start paying more attention to what they are up to, especially because we haven’t: “China is the elephant in the room that no one is quite willing to recognise.”

This column, launched in 1995, has been shouting out that West Coast over and over. Serious Singapore thinkers, especially Lee Kuan Yew. Kishore Mahbubani, George Yeo Tommy Koh and Chan Heng Chee, have been warning the West to wake up about China.

But it’s allright with me if the author of “When China Rules the World” wants to lay claim to inventing the wheel that has been rolling along for two decades in Asia. He seems to get a charge out of the phony exclusivity. No matter. The book he has produced is worth the conceit.

My advice: buy one for yourself, give one to a friend. Or buy another book on China.  By comparison to the value of knowing as much as you can about this Asian elephant, almost all other gifts would be wildly overpriced.

– Tom Plate