The story of Alibaba’s rise—along with Jack Ma’s—offers a fascinating window onto China’s staggering transformation. Duncan Clark tells the story with flair in Alibaba ... if Alibaba is a good yarn, its greatest value lies in what it says about today’s China. You can read the daily journalism and academic reporting, but it’s another thing to watch a fledgling 35-year-old entrepreneur hunt desperately for investors and then captain the largest-ever Wall Street IPO 15 years later ... While Mr. Clark comes across as a largely independent chronicler, occasionally his admiration for his subject is too evident.
The access [Clark] got to the company pushes his breezy account more toward the business than to Ma’s personality. Still, Ma emerges as an unpretentious, self-deprecating leader, fond of quoting martial arts novels and Forrest Gump.”
The problem is that although the book is loaded with interesting facts about Ma’s rise, some of which have never appeared anywhere else, Clark’s storytelling skills need work ... after the first chapter or two, which are loaded with great detail about China’s burgeoning Internet economy, Alibaba often reads like a long Wikipedia entry. Clark tells us about many things, but shows us very little. As a result, the parts of the book that should be suspenseful don’t feel suspenseful at all ... Clark doesn’t reveal enough about his access to Ma or about his other reporting to help us understand what is new or unique about the information in his book.