This book flirted with 3-stars, but finally got a 4. It's overrated, in my opinion, but....
The author has great difficulty, though he is obviously well informed about the facts on the ground, in understanding (and contextualizing) the soft authoritarianism that is China today. This is proof, which one finds often in many walks of life, that those who know the most don't always understand the best. (My own experience in my own field has given me MANY examples of this, to be sure.)
I have already explained in my status updates the kind of error this leads him to. That China is corrupt, dirty, large and unwieldy, that the Party pulls the strings (as best it can), etc..., does not make comparisons with the Stalinist purges apt; that it is not forthcoming about SARS is hardly startling given Japan's handling of Fukushima (and cf. http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1496753.A_Public_Betrayed) and the West's handling of Assange.... etc.
But the problem here goes deeper, I believe.
It seems to me that MacGregor started out with one thesis, and then -- to his own dismay -- ended up with a very different thesis. Apparently he had wanted to reveal the dirty secret that China is not, in fact, a liberal utopia -- and so plays up, and indeed with a touch of melodrama, the flaws in Chinese governance, the Party influence on SEO's etc -- none of which, in fact, is in the least remarkable or unknown. And in order to do so, he spends many long pages narrating anecdotes which do not quite rise to the emotional temperature he had hoped to reach. As such, the book is sometimes simply boring and predictable and can be easily scanned.
But then... finally, he comes to an Afterword and acknowledges that, for all the imperfections, the system actually seems to be working pretty well -- that for all the Atrophy, there is indeed a lot of Adaptation (and flexibility) as well -- and that, as David Shaumbaugh argued (http://www.amazon.com/Chinas-Communist-Party-Atrophy-Adaptation/dp/0520260074), the adapation seems to be winning out. He also points out how people have been predicting the implosion of China for 20 years and how "surprisingly", and 'to the dismay of many in the West' (quoting from memory here), they keep getting proven wrong.
(Even apart from the bears like Pettis et al, who are well known, I have a colleague who is connected with a well-known writer on China [among other things] and who was telling me with a certainty that China would soon fragment -- back in 1993 and 1994. So I know this type quite well -- When I raised the point a year or two ago, they nodded knowingly and assured me that their prediction wasn't wrong, because it hasn't come true yet. Hmmmm....?)
In fact, the Afterword is a very good (brief -- 10 pages, maybe?) summation of the TRUE state of affairs..., and if MacGregor had started composing this book AFTER he had come to his conclusions, rather than arriving at it -- in contradiction to the apparent aim and direction of his narrative..., simply because he had to admit to himself that his narrative had failed -- that is, rather than "thinking with the pen", this would have been a far more useful book. At any rate, the Afterword got him an extra star.
On the other hand, maybe he (and his editors) simply felt that the negative thesis would sell more books than would a sober, balanced, non-apocalyptic assessment... which, btw, his journalist's brief couldn't really have pulled off for 300 pages.... in which case, fuck him -- 3-stars!