It’s often said that only a lazy journalist reports a story through the eyes of a cabdriver. That may be true everywhere but in China. Here, where a century’s worth of development has been squeezed into decades, cabbies have had a front-row seat to the country’s dizzying changes, and have some of the best anecdotes and the most interesting views of the country’s transformation. Wherever in China I am, I always look for drivers whose ID numbers indicate they’ve been on the road at least a decade; they are always worth striking up a conversation with. In “The Shanghai Free Taxi,” NPR correspondent Frank Langfitt puts a new twist on the cabbie narrative: He becomes the driver. Langfitt rents, and later buys, a car to drive people around Shanghai and further afield, in exchange only for their stories. (This arrangement came about after he tried to become a registered cabdriver but local taxi companies blocked him.) He meets and follows a range of people, weaving their perspectives into his own commentary on China’s high-speed trajectory. The result is an engaging and dynamic narrative that offers readers an unusual perspective on modern China.