The Uyghurs are an ethnic group living throughout central Asia largely concentrated in Xinjiang Province, China's far west. They are predominantly Muslim and culturally distinct from the Han majority of China. The Uyghurs, like another ethnic group in western China - the Tibetans - have a very tenuous and, in many cases, tragic relationship with their own country.
Bovingdon's book began as his dissertation in graduate school. It turned into a larger project. He lived in Xinjiang for years in the 1990s and put in over twenty months of field research into the writing of the book. The interviews conducted and the research put into the book are impressive.
Bovingdon begins The Uyghurs by framing the Uyghurs' story with the deserts that they inhabit.
From page 23:
There are a lot of ideas and topics explored in the book that I enjoyed. I particularly liked the discussions of 20th-century Sinification of Xinjiang, the effects of decolonization after World War II and how that affected Beijing's views of how to handle Xinjiang and the Uyghurs, "everyday resistance" that present-day Uyghurs direct towards the Chinese system, and the divisions amongst Uyghurs living abroad and the effects that such disagreements have on the world's attitude towards the Uyghurs (the Uyghurs' plight has never gained traction abroad like Tibetans' has).
That being said, I wish Bovingdon's personality would've shown through more in his book. There were scores of interviews and several stories told from the first-person perspective. But instead of expounding upon those experiences, Bovingdon used them and then quickly moved on adding very little flavor to the text. Bovingdon's (surely) amazing experiences seemed under-utilized to me. Maybe I'm too used to reading journalists pour their hearts onto the page instead of a more strictly academic approach, but I found this book to be drier than it had to be.
The Uyghurs deepened my understanding of the Uyghur ethnic group and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region a great deal. I'd recommend it those wanting a serious examination of one of China's least-understood groups of people.