The Yangtze River in China is the world's third longest, trailing just the Nile and Amazon. The river provided inspiration for American author Pearl S. Buck, who grew up nearby and eventually wrote The Good Earth, one of the most notable books of the 20th century. The Yangtze begins more than four miles above sea level in one of the world's most spectacular mountains and passes through thick forests and lovely alpine meadows during its descent. As it starts to level out, many of China's most important and culturally significant cities line its banks. It becomes a vital means of commerce, and several dams provide power to hundreds of millions of people. Finally the Yangtze reaches the East China Sea, nearly 4,000 miles from its source.