Jonathan Spence’s The Gate of Heavenly Peace: The Chinese and Their Revolution. I’ve been a China tear for the last three months (for obvious reasons), and having taken Spence’s class on Chinese history at Yale in the 70s, I turned to his account of the lives of several revolutionaries, intellectuals, and artists in China from the 1880s to the 1980s. Excellent, excellent book about a very complex period in world and Chinese history.
Spence writes like a novelist, but is probably the greatest living Western Chinese historian. The first person he profiles, Kang Youwei, is amazing.