Andrei Lankov has gone where few outsiders have ever been. A native of the former Soviet Union, he lived as an exchange student in North Korea in the 1980s. He has studied it for his entire career, using his fluency in Korean and personal contacts to build a rich, nuanced understanding. In The Real North Korea, Lankov substitutes cold, clear analysis for the overheated rhetoric surrounding this opaque police state. After providing an accessible history of the nation, he turns his focus to what North Korea is, what its leadership thinks, and how its people cope with living in such an oppressive and poor place. He argues that North Korea is not irrational, and nothing shows this better than its continuing survival against all odds. A living political fossil, it clings to existence in the face of limited resources and a zombie economy, manipulating great powers despite its weakness. Its leaders are not ideological zealots or madmen, but perhaps the best practitioners of Machiavellian politics that can be found in the modern world. Even though they preside over a failed state, they have successfully used diplomacy - including nuclear threats - to extract support from other nations. But while the people in charge have been ruthless and successful in holding on to power, Lankov goes on to argue that this cannot continue forever, since the old system is slowly falling apart. In the long run, with or without reform, the regime is unsustainable. Lankov contends that reforms, if attempted, will trigger a dramatic implosion of the regime. They will not prolong its existence.
Based on vast expertise, this book reveals how average North Koreans live, how their leaders rule, and how both survive.
©2013 Andrei Lankov (P)2014 Audible Inc.
What I enjoyed most was the unique perspective of its author, Andrei Lankov, who grew up in the former Soviet Union, a sometime ally of North Korea, and lived in North Korea as an exchange student. This is a clear analysis of the politics and their consequences in North Korea, backed up by personal experience and research from numerous sources to add depth and interest to this book. There is no hype or anti-east / anti-west rhetoric, just analysis of a very puzzling country.
The author's experience is unique in that he understands the things that puzzle outsiders who lack such experience. For example, he explains why the North Korean leaders are not irrational: they merely appear that way to outsiders as they act in order to maintain power within North Korea. Despite the general repulsiveness of the Kim regime to outsiders, and their surface irrationality, the Kims are just crazy like foxes.
His intonation helps a great deal in helping the book flow, and making it easier to follow the author's tone and thread of thought in the writing. As a Korean speaker, a few incorrect pronunciations of Korea words (due to how they are romanized in print) were harder for me to follow, but were not a problem.
It took a number of commutes home to get through this, but it was always fascinating.
I liked that the author concluded with some suggestions of how individuals can help in moving North Korea into the modern era.
Family father, neuroscientist, and non-fiction addict.
Of all the countries in the world, North Korea must be among the worst places to be born. In terms of GDP, North Korea is as poor as Ghana. But the worst part of being born in North Korea is without doubt the brutal leadership. Kim jong un and Kim jong il before him, are prepared to do anything to save themselves from the pressures they are facing, from within their own nation as well as from the outside. They are not, as one might think, naive. Rather they know exactly what they need to do in order to stay in power. Unfortunately for the common people in North Korea, this entails a ruthless big brother society where the smallest signs of disobedience or doubt in the North Korean leadership, are severely punished.
The author, Andrei Lankov, has the right profile to tell the story of North Korea. He is a Russian citizen who has visited North Korea many times over the past 3-4 decades. He does not seem to biased in favor of any particular view, and he demolishes a number of myths and exaggerations that are popular in the west. For example, I have always thought that there was no private market in North Korea, but this is false. While North Korea, officially do not have a private market, in practice they do have a growing private market, and the people running them tends to be rich compared to other North Korean citizens. As long as these people behave according to a set of informal rules, the government, realizing their utility, leaves them and their businesses alone.
Even though Lankov exposes western exaggerations, he also describes the atrocities of the North Korean leadership and the resulting suffering that the North Korean people must consequently endure. All in all, the book provides a nuanced and multifaceted account of North Korea, from a historical and a contemporary perspective. If you want to understand this mysterious country better, this book is for you.
Thoughtful analysis of the past, present, and future situation in North Korea. Best assessment I've read. Strongly recommend this for both the interested layman and the scholar.
An interesting discussion of the logic of the Kim family's political survival and behavior, and of what this means for the future of Korea. Overall it was informative, but the author eventually struck me to be repeating or contradict himself. I like how he deconstructs naive ways of looking at North Korea, but he ends up in a patronizing sort of pessimism that's maybe a bit over the top. I'm glad I read it, though.
The author's unique perspective as a former Soviet citizen lends credence to his expertise. A great overview of the Hermit Kingdom.
A very informed look into North Korea that presents all the discussion points in a format that shows no political agenda.
Just a great history book
I think so - the complex nature of the relationships and history made is easier to understand in this format.
His voice leant an appropriate gravitas to the subject matter.
This was a fascinating and unique insight into modern day North Korea; it's relationships with the outside world and daily life in the region have become clearer to me now, and the quick-to-judge, headline grabbing media treatment of the country can now be read with appropriate skepticism. The discussion of the future of North Korea, and how we in the international community might handle the inevitable collapse was also very interesting and informative.
I will probably give this one a second listen.
"A level headed analysis of a complex topic"
After a concise history of North Korea under Kim Il-Sung during the cold war, Lankov explains how and why the regime's "irrational" behavior is actually based on a pragmatic, and somewhat Machiavellian logic. Lankov embellishes his observations and conclusions with first hand experience of the country gained while as a Soviet exchange student in Pyongyang during the 80's.
Steven Roy Grimsley gives an excellent and clear reading, possessing the best kind of deep American accent that lends itself well to the subject. Making potentially difficult to pronounce Korean names and words (to my western ears anyway) distinct and easy to recall.
An excellent read/listen.
Yes, the narration was very well done and made for an easy read. The narrators deep voice and American accent are clear and crisp.
The general theme of the book was what interested me, getting a real insight into the North Korean way of life has interested me for years. The book provides real knowledge into the North Korean regime and how the North live in comparison to the south, it also provides a look at possible outcomes for when the Kim dynasty fall's. Possible reunification or keeping the North as a separate state.
I would listen to this book in short stints as it can be very deep with a lot to take in, I did it within a week.
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