Lawyer, mother, avid reader. Game host extraordinaire! Partner in crime to Obsidian Black Plague! My bookish weaknesses include classics, fantasy, YA, and agreeing to read more books than is even remotely possible.
This was way outside of my usual reading fare - I don't read a lot of non-fiction and I read very few books set in China. I am involved in a GR group, and we selected the Dowager Empress Cixi as an area of focus for the first part of the year, so I ended up reading this. It was, unfortunately, the only book I managed to read on the topic, but it was fascinating.
Dowager Empress Cixi was the last ruler from the Qing dynasty in China, and had been a concubine. Imperial China seemed very strange to me, with its rigorous and occasionally nonsensical rules for everyone based upon their birth, sex and status. The conflict with Japan is illuminated, and the scramble of the colonial powers for China was also handled through this very interesting biography.
I'd also heard of the Boxer Rebellion, but knew very little about it, so reading the sections about Cixi's ill-advised and ultimately devastating efforts to use the rebellion against western attempts to seize control of China was really interesting. The most interesting part of the book, however, was Cixi herself.
Mostly uneducated and excluded from power by her sex, Cixi managed to consolidate authority and rule China for decades from behind the throne. As a woman, she wasn't even allowed to meet directly with men. The fact that she was able to gain and retain power, and in so doing begin to modernize China much against its will is a testament to her determination and fortitude. She was utterly ruthless.
If you are interested in biographies, interested in imperial China, or if you just like to read non-fiction this is a fascinating choice.