This is a pretty good book on general Korean culture and history. This book is mainly made for people that have very little information on the subject of Korea and does a pretty decent job of elaborating on some of the nuances of Korean culture and its history. For people that do not know anything about Korean history and culture the book is a fun read that will be able to be read fairly quickly. Although this is a good book for foreigners to read, I have heard from some people that the book is not entirely accurate as a book on culture is extremely difficult to make accurate. In general the book seems to be good and definitely resonates strongly with me as a person who grew up with Korean culture. One other caveat is that the book is slightly biased in a more Western view. You can feel a slight bias against certain traditional aspects of the culture in Korea. Certain more western ideas seem to be shown as superior and that the culture should adapt rather than a more unbiased look at the culture. All in all it is a great book to read and seems for the most part accurate.
Korea. The impossible Country is a passionate comprehensive introduction to Korea, its culture and its people. The book is easy to read, engaging, very informative, and a great introduction to the country, especially if you intend visiting. Tudor's depth of knowledge is admirable and impressive and although his expertise is economics and business, the book has a soul. What is more, Tudor is able to dig into the Korean soul and present it to you in its many faces. You will dive through Korea's collective psyche and understand why Koreans behave and do things in a certain way.
This book could have been a Wikipedia sort of book or a travel guide sort of book but it succeeds at being none of that but being informative and a good companion from travelling. The book touches on the eternal and the mundane in five fascinating sections: 1- Foundations: We are presented with a brief analysis of the most influential religions in Korea (Buddhism, Christianity and Confucianism) and the specific forms that Capitalism and Democracy take in that country. 2- Cultural Codes: We immerse ourselves into those beliefs, ways of being and attitudes that make Koreans who they are: Jeong, Chemyon, Han, Heung, competition, family and neophilia. 3- Cold Reality, focuses on those aspects of life that make the functioning of society possible but aren't as thrilling as others: politics, business, work, marriage, studying and being fluent in English. 4- In the hours not spent working: eating, drinking, music, cinema, and the living space are the subject of this section. 5- More of Us and Less of them, analyses Korean attitudes towards foreigners, gays, women, and the many faces of Korean nationalism.
The book is preceded by short historical introduction. Nothing boring, it is short and sweet, very informative and a good introduction to the History of Korea. Plenty of historical details are also found in each chapter when a historical background is needed.The epilogue is a brief summary of what Tudor discusses throughout the book, that is, what makes Koreans a remarkable nation and the challenges that Korea has and needs to face in the changing world we live in.
Tudor is basically an economist and there are plenty of statistics and business and economical references in the book. However, they add to the overall believability of the book.
I love that one can read the chapters individually if one wants, as they are complete in themselves, making the book very versatile and practical.
I didn't find any typo in the book, something really cool.
THE ABSENTEES >>> Two of the main absentees in the book are Korea's working classes and rural dwellers, who are barely mentioned. Korea is a very urban country. I get that, but I would have liked having a bit of more background on rural areas and rural culture and see how they differ from the urban Korea or not. On the other hand, the working class is barely mentioned, and I would have liked to know more about them as well. Are their interests, struggles and obsessions the same as those people who would send their kids to an American University and have plastic surgery to look better in their resumé?
>>> There is a total absence of Korean literature, theatre and visual arts regarding painting, sculpture and experimental visual arts and artists in section 4. Korea has a vibrant literary scene, a scene where women are dominating and are well-respected. Any visual artists that is not part of the film industry...?
>>> One of the chapters I was looking forward to read was that on Korean food. One can find a list of typical Korean dishes anywhere, so I expected this chapter to go beyond that and offer a bit of depth about Korean culinary culture. Tudor does so superficially. Some of the questions that interest me and aren't mentioned are: Which hours do they eat in the day? Is their main meal in the morning, midday or evening? Is there a foodie culture in Korea as we have it in Western countries? Is eating out expensive? Do Korean have a strong street food culture as other Asian countries? Does everybody cook at home these days or is still a women's task? Which differences do you see in food eating according to social classes in Korea? Is there a "vernacular" tea culture in Korea? Do they love programs like MasterChef? Which foreign foods do they love the most? I think Tudor knows all of this and more, so I would love have loved that sort of information commented on, even if lightly. Perhaps in the new edition of the book?
KOREAN, REALLY? Some of the things Tudor says about Korean can be seen also in Western Europe, USA and Australia, so I wonder whether those are specifically Korean, and in which ways they are specifically Korean.For example: > Yummy mummies who don't work using their children's achievements to push their own egos and, therefore, push their kids unnecessarily for their own sake are everywhere. > The obsession with technology. Yes, sure, Korean moves faster than other countries in the world of gadgets, but you find similar obsessions with gadgets and technology in many Western countries. there are many people camping outside their local Apple store before the launch of a new gadget or new version of a gadget to get it. > Gay actors who keep in the closet not to destroy their careers. Certainly, gay people have a brighter life in the Western World (Western Europe especially) but, where I live, there are constant items of news on TV about people being abused, bullied or marginalised because they are gay. The Australian ex-swimmer Ian Thorpe, had depression, publicly denied being guy, wrote a biography in which he denied it, and when he came out of the closet said that he had kept it secret out of fear because he didn't know if his country would accept him. Also in Australia, a pop singer Anthony Callea kept his gay self hidden for work career purposes, he said, as most of his fans were female teens. Of course, nobody is making life difficult for them, but people who aren't famous have a more difficult day to day. > The problem of the ageing population and low birth rates. I cannot but agree with what Tudor says, but this is not a typically Korean problem, as it affects most countries of Western Europe, Spain and Italy with one the lowest birth rates in the world and the population ageing at the speed of ageing :).
THE EDITING I notice the editing when the editing is not as good as it should be. I don't mean editing as in correcting typos and odd grammar sentences, I mean editing as the proper job of editing a book by professional editors. > Tudor repeats himself quite often, things are said over and over again in different chapters, sometimes in the same chapter, and it is not always necessary. Just one example, the per capita earnings of Koreans in the post-war era. > At times the book reads like a blog, others like a newspaper article, and others as a proper book. That is distracting to me and not good for any book. > The "Special Feature: Interview with Choi Min-sik" feels like a cut-&-paste from a blog or article added here. I don't know if that is the case, but it reads as a pastiche. The question that matters here is, is this interview really relevant to know the film culture of Korea and necessary to be included in the book? The answer is no. > The data that Tudor uses for some references to religious practices relates to the 1990s! Hello hello, 2016 calling. I wonder how accurate the statistics were in 2012, when the book was written, and today. > The author mentions a few books and articles, but does not quote them properly I understand that the book is for the general public, but including a footnote when an explicit reference is mentioned will not disturb the general populace, it is a matter of courtesy to the author mentioned, a professional backup for your reputation, and some readers could be interested in that book or article. Just an example: " In a paper on the influence of chemyon on Korean consumer culture, Yoosun Hann of the University of Illinois wrote that it was important “not to stand out, but to fit in” (pp. 112-113)
RENDERING FOR KINDLE ~~ The comprehensive final index is not rendered for Kindle, therefore, not linked, therefore, useless for Kindle users. Moreover, the number of pages relates to the printed edition. Cheat! Cheat! Cheat! ~~ If I get an e-book, I expect the book to have any website mentioned in the text out-linked.
A WISH After reading the book I am sure he is an expert on Korea. Why not including a list of must-read books and reputed sources on Korea?
IN SHORT I cannot highlight enough how much I enjoyed this book and how much I recommend it to anybody who wants to know about Korea. However, the book is not polished enough, and some areas and social groups are not mentioned or barely so.
This book is a great source for someone interested in South Korea that has no prior knowledge about the culture, the political environment and the impressive economic history that surrounds this country. The book is ambitious. It does aim to cover about every subject that you can think of. That is precisely the weakness of the project. By attempting to cover both Confucianism and the latest fashion trends, the book does neither properly. It is a collection of disconnected thoughts that take the form of chapters on a wide range of subjects, such as shamanism, housing, the relations with North Korea and the role of women in the labor force among many other unrelated examples.
The starting chapters are great. The tone of the book throughout the first part entitled Foundations do justice to the purpose of delivering a comprehensive view of South Korea without spending too many lines on details. The tone is right for an overview, and the reader is eager to see the promise of a holistic understanding of South Korea during the following pages. And yet, the tone is superficial for the remainder of the book; continued in a series of 10 to 15 page chapters, the content is based more on opinions and personal experiences than an outcome of careful and comprehensive research.
The major problem that I had with the book is that there is no distinction between general trends and anecdotal evidence. The author does not impose any discipline on his opinions and assumes that his impression or the experiences of his close friends and acquaintances are reflections of the Korean society as a whole, even for deeply personal issues such as the concept of happiness for Koreans and its relation with their abnormal suicidal rates.
The introductory chapters, worthy of higher praise, are followed by a series of disappointing pieces that do not present a cohesive story. It is hard say what is the main theme of the book after reading it other than the fact that it takes place in South Korea. Nevertheless, I thank the author for pointing me toward interesting readings, such as the autobiography of Hyundai’s founder Jeong Ju-young (Chung Ju-yung). His role during the Korean growth miracle should not be understated.