Book Reviews, Economics

The Forbidden Game: Book Review

Book Review: The Forbidden Game by David Merkel, CFA of AlephBlog

forbidden-game-9781851689484_0 forbidden game
The forbidden game

I’m not a golfer, but I really liked this book.  The charm of the book is that it takes us through the lives of three men, and a host of lesser characters, and shows us how the growth of golf in China shaped their lives.  Two of the protagonists are Chinese, and one American.

The American, Martin Moore, was a promising golf course designer who did increasingly well designing courses in the US, Thailand, and China.   He learned how to get things done amid demanding bosses and ambiguous regulation.  Is building a golf course forbidden or not?  What if we call it a “health club?”  What if many locals object to their land being expropriated?

He succeeded amid many obstacles.  The next protagonist, and the one who had the most dramatic success was Zhou Xunshu, a man who went from not knowing anything about golf — an industrial worker, a common man, to being a golf professional.  His efforts were significant, and he underwent many hardships as he pursued his dream.

Then there is Wang Libo, a man who gets displaced by his home getting taken from him to build a golf course, and he takes the opportunity and builds a store/bar/restaurant near the complex to profit from the opportunity.

Three engaging characters amid the ambiguity of changing regulations, and whether it was legal to build new courses or not.

You will learn a lot about China in the process… what it is like dealing with an all-powerful Party whose machinations are secret.  And yet, one where if enough people protest, you can’t do anything, even if you have all of the permits in place.

You will get a behind-the scenes look at creating the world’s largest golf course twice, and the ambition of those who wanted to see it done quickly.

You will also experience the Chinese Dream, as the book’s subtitle suggests… the dreams and goals of those who want to live a life similar to middle-class Americans, but all the more poignant, because the path to getting there is often unclear.

To those reading me at, please Google “Aleph Blog Washburn” and you will be able to read a special Q&A with the author that I will post after writing this post.

This was an enjoyable book to read, and I think most people would learn something from it.




This is a great book.  It will make a great gift to friends of yours who are golfers.  If you want to you can buy it here: The Forbidden Game: Golf and the Chinese Dream.

Full disclosure: The PR flack asked me if I would like a copy and I said yes.  She invited me to write a Q&A also.  Hey, look at the next post.

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