James Palmer's book begins with wars fought by chariots on the plains 3000 years ago and ends with the reassertion of Chinese imperial power under Xi Jinping. This is a narrative of great empires rising and falling, of astonishingly beautiful art and technological genius. China became, in some places and at some times, 'modern' a long time before the rest of the world.
Each of the chapters is a great read and each has a narrative arc and a central character. Each has strong dramatic scenes, and makes even the most horrific events explicable, if not necessarily forgivable.
But while each chapter is a story in itself, they build into and onto each other, reinforcing historical themes and calling back and forth in time.
And this isn't just a book about China, it's also a book about Mongolia and Korea and Vietnam and Kazakhstan and Tibet and England and America, because China's history is the world's history.