Best books of 2023

Best books of 2023

With 2023  almost over, five important publications have included Sparks on their “best of 2023” lists, including The New Yorker, The Economist, The Financial Times, The New Statesman, and The Tablet


The New Yorker

“With firm but never dogmatic moral conviction, Johnson pays tribute to the writers, the scholars, the poets, and the filmmakers who found the courage to challenge Communist Party propaganda. These dissenters looked beyond the official lies about the past and the present, and decided to document the truth about forbidden topics, including Mao Zedong’s campaigns to massacre putative class enemies. They often paid for their candor with long prison terms, torture, or death. Their conclusions—presented in homemade videos, mimeographed sheets, and underground journals—didn’t reach a wide audience when they appeared. And yet, as Johnson makes clear in his superb, stylishly written book, the value of their legacy is incalculable.”


The Economist

“A Pulitzer-prize-winning journalist describes the valiant e!orts of China’s “underground historians”, a motley and persistent group of academics, artists, film-makers and journalists attempting to correct the sanitised official record and provide truthful accounts of history. A rare insight into the extraordinary risks that some Chinese take to illuminate the darkest corners of communism.”



The FT

“‘Who controls the past, controls the future,’ wrote George Orwell. This is a fascinating and important story of dissident historians in China, who are challenging the Communist party’s authorised version of history.”





The New Statesman

“In a year of unrelentingly bleak news, I’ve chosen Sparks  (Allen Lane), Ian Johnson’s evocative study of China’s underground historians documents both the relentless crackdown on civil society and intellectual freedom under Xi Jinping, and the quiet courage of those who refuse to be crushed. Drawing their inspiration from earlier acts of resistance that appeared hopeless in their own times, these independent scholars, filmmakers, and journalists have come to view their work as time capsules, determined to preserve an accurate record of the country’s past for future generations. ‘They want future Chinese to know,’ Johnson writes, ‘that in the 2020s, when things had never been darker…. Not everyone had given in.'”


The Tablet

“Controlling the interpretation of what has happened in China since the Communist revolution is an integral part of President Xi Jinping’s ever-tightening grip on his vast country. In Sparks: China’s Underground Historians and Their Battle for the Future (Allen Lane, £25; Tablet price £22.50), Ian Johnson charts the brave attempts of individuals, the ‘underground’ historians, to challenge the party line and reveal the brutal arbitrariness which has marked its rule from the beginning.”

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