Until World War II, ""exotic"" Shanghai--site of the famed, inviolable International Settlement--was the West's residence-in-China. There, as Barber graphically notes, fabulously wealthy Westerners and Chinese middlemen had to ""pick their way carefully between corpses in the streets"" on their way to spend money. A metropolis, then, of luxury and squalor, mixing White Russian â‰¤migrâ‰¤s, European Jews, and 30 other nationalities in the midst of the Chinese masses. This conglomeration, with all its inequities, is what gave Shanghai its charm, in Barber's view; and though he doesn't shrink from denouncing the foreigners' excesses, he tends to blame the Chinese Communists for turning Shanghai into a dull city. Drawing on the papers and testimony of former Shanghailanders--businessmen, diplomats, journalists, society matrons--he recreates the last five years of the ""old"" Shanghai, from 1948 to 1953. (A penchant, perhaps--in Sinister Twilight he detailed the fall of Singapore.) As the last stand of the Nationalists, and the biggest prize for the advancing Communists, Shanghai and its people lived against the backdrop of the Civil War, but the daily life of the city was curiously unaffected until the final Communist victory. Barber stays with the story to chronicle the gradual tightening of ideological and cultural control that followed, until the last of the foreigners left. Though not a Nationalist partisan, he seems to wish that the two sides had spared the city and left it to its own wits to survive. The nostalgia often grates against the details of the ""glamour,"" but Barber's story is as fast-paced as The Shanghai Express.