Explore North Korea, one of the most secretive countries in the world.
This thoughtful book provides a concise introduction to North Korea. Two leading experts, Kongdan Oh and Ralph Hassig, trace the country’s history from its founding in 1948 and describe the many facets of its political, economic, social, and cultural life.
The authors illuminate a hidden nation dominated by three generations of the secretive Kim regime, a family dynasty more suited to the Middle Ages than the contemporary era. North Korea has a robust if outmoded military force, including a growing arsenal of weapons of mass destruction, to deter and defend against foreign attacks and to maintain independence and isolation from the rest of the world. The struggling economy, disconnected from the global marketplace, operates under harsh international sanctions. All North Koreans, from the highest party cadres to the youngest children living in prison camps, are essentially servants of the leader.
Despite Kim Jong-un’s despotic control, the authors argue that North Korea cannot continue on its current path indefinitely. Kim treats even his closest associates harshly, and the gap is widening between his elite supporters, numbering a million or so, and the other twenty-four million North Koreans. The economic and technological gap between South Korea and North Korea is increasing as well, and younger people are becoming disenchanted as they gradually learn more about the outside world.
Kongdan (Katy) Oh, whose parents fled from the northern half of Korea in 1945, has worked for more than thirty years as a policy analyst at the RAND Corporation and then at the Institute for Defense Analyses.
Ralph Hassig taught for five years in Asia as an adjunct professor of psychology at the University of Maryland University College.. He and his wife, Kongdan Oh, are the authors of North Korea through the Looking Glass and The Hidden People of North Korea.
1 Geography and History: A Troubled Land
Physical Geography: A Land of Great Potential
Cities: Few and Far Between
Korean History: A Shrimp among Whales
The North Korean State: Communism and Kim Come to Korea
The Korean War: A Disastrous Attempt to Unify the Country
2 Leadership: The Kim Dynasty
Kim Il-sung: The Strong Kim
Kim Jong-il: The Secretive Kim
Kim Jong-un: The Young and Ruthless Kim
Guidance: An Exercise in Public Relations
Mansions: Living Like Kings
3 The Government: Of the Party, by the Party, for the Leader
Governance: Riddled with Corruption
Social Control: Dominating the People
Crimes: Ordinary and Political
Prisons: Cruel and Usual
Corruption: The Currency of the Realm
Lies: Second Nature to the Regime
4 Human Rights: An Alien Concept
Political Class: Loyalty to the Regime
Defectors: An Exit for People without Voice
Human Rights Reputation: An International Disgrace
5 The Military: “Pillar” of Society
Weapons and Strategy: A Porcupine Defense
Soldiers: Wartime Cannon Fodder, Peacetime Slave Labor
Nuclear Weapons: The Pride of the Regime
Missiles: Power Projection
Threats as a Weapon: The First Line of Defense
6 Foreign Relations: Of a Hermit Kingdom
Foreign Policy Principles: Independence First and Last
North Korea and South Korea: Deadly Competition
North Korea and China: Beware of the Dragon
North Korea and Japan: Age-Old Enmity
Japan’s Chosen Soren: A Fifth Column in Enemy Territory
North Korea and the United States: The Ultimate Enemy
Tourism: Cautious and Controlled
7 The Economy: From Socialism to Capitalism
The Old Economy: Socialist in Principle
The New Economy: Capitalist in Practice
Industry: A National Rust Belt
Farming: Planting Seeds on Rocky Ground
The Local Economy: Taking up the Slack
International Trade: Not Easy for a Hermit Kingdom
Foreign Investment Inflow: Risky for Investors
Working Abroad: Hard Work for the Privileged Few
International Sanctions: The Price of Nuclear Weapons
8 Transportation and Communication: Necessary for the New Economy
Domestic Transportation: Slowed by Years of Neglect
Old Communication Channels: Government to People
New Communication Channels: People to People
9 Culture and Lifestyle: Trying to Live a Normal Life
Education: Ideological and Academic
Food: Living on the Edge
Housing: Substandard and in Short Supply
Health and Health Care: A Victim of the Bad Economy
Religion: Totally Banned
Sports and Amusements: Simple Pleasures for the People
Life Events: The Same the World Over
About the Authors
[Hassig and Oh] have written a fantastic introduction to North Korea covering geography, leadership, human rights, the government, the military, foreign relations, culture, and the economy. Written so that each chapter and subtopic can be read and understood on its own, the book reflects the authors’ contention that once the Kim family is gone, North Korea will have to reenter the world stage and join the modern age. The book is based on solid research and written in an accessible style that explains complex ideas and events in just a few words or paragraphs. While the text assumes readers have some background knowledge and agree with the authors’ opinion that the Kims are the primary factor holding back North Korea from reaching its full potential, repetition among chapters and sections allows readers to pick up the text at any point to understand the development of the country throughout the past 65 years. Chapter 6 provides excellent background on foreign relations and establishes a good foundation for understanding how North Korea remains a “hermit kingdom” even into the 21st century. Highly recommended.
One of the most important books on north Korea in recent history . . . [that]makes the hermit kingdom and the intelligence community’s ‘hard target’ accessible to the policy maker, strategist, military planner, and perhaps most importantly, to the public. . . . But this is no dry area study. This is a very well written book that flows smoothly, and while filled with critical facts about the regime, it provides context for these facts and offers perspectives that help the reader to understand how the geography, history, culture, and the regime’s revolutionary thinking influence policy, strategy, and actions. . . . This book should be at the top of any recommended Korean reading list. It is now on mine.
North Korea in a Nutshell is an invaluable resource for anyone seeking to understand one of the world’s most secretive and problematic countries, written by two of the world’s most knowledgeable experts. Even those who think they know North Korea well will find great insights here.
To the outside world, North Korea appears solely as a nuclear menace led by a dynasty of despots. This essential new volume by Kongdan Oh and Ralph Hassig, two veteran analysts with decades of experience, reminds us that North Korea is also a real country, albeit a very different one, with its own distinctive history, society, economy, commerce, and culture. Its twenty-five million people must navigate through political oppression, a stringent class system, and pervasive corruption to satisfy basic human needs and fulfill universal desires. To understand why North Korea is what it is, start with this fascinating read.
This deeply insightful book sheds an unfiltered light on all aspects of the past and present of North Korea, thus enabling readers to fathom possible scenarios for its future. The authors pave a broad road to guide our journey exploring one of the world’s most difficult countries to understand.
For decades, I have turned countless times to Katy Oh and Ralph Hassig to understand North Korea. To capture their deep and wide knowledge of that sad but dangerous country in one volume is a signal service to the general reader. Moreover, this book also has new insights for those of us with long experience dealing with the Hermit Kingdom.
3/31/22, Choice: This book was featured in a roundup of top community college titles.