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Korea has endured a "fractured, shattered twentieth century," and this updated edition brings Bruce Cumings's leading history of the modern era into the present. The small country, overshadowed in the imperial era, crammed against great powers during the Cold War, and divided and decimated by the Korean War, has recently seen the first real hints of reunification. But posi Korea has endured a "fractured, shattered twentieth century," and this updated edition brings Bruce Cumings's leading history of the modern era into the present. The small country, overshadowed in the imperial era, crammed against great powers during the Cold War, and divided and decimated by the Korean War, has recently seen the first real hints of reunification. But positive movements forward are tempered by frustrating steps backward. In the late 1990s South Korea survived its most severe economic crisis since the Korean War, forcing a successful restructuring of its political economy. Suffering through floods, droughts, and a famine that cost the lives of millions of people, North Korea has been labeled part of an "axis of evil" by the George W. Bush administration and has renewed its nuclear threats. On both sides Korea seems poised to continue its fractured existence on into the new century, with potential ramifications for the rest of the world.


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Korea has endured a "fractured, shattered twentieth century," and this updated edition brings Bruce Cumings's leading history of the modern era into the present. The small country, overshadowed in the imperial era, crammed against great powers during the Cold War, and divided and decimated by the Korean War, has recently seen the first real hints of reunification. But posi Korea has endured a "fractured, shattered twentieth century," and this updated edition brings Bruce Cumings's leading history of the modern era into the present. The small country, overshadowed in the imperial era, crammed against great powers during the Cold War, and divided and decimated by the Korean War, has recently seen the first real hints of reunification. But positive movements forward are tempered by frustrating steps backward. In the late 1990s South Korea survived its most severe economic crisis since the Korean War, forcing a successful restructuring of its political economy. Suffering through floods, droughts, and a famine that cost the lives of millions of people, North Korea has been labeled part of an "axis of evil" by the George W. Bush administration and has renewed its nuclear threats. On both sides Korea seems poised to continue its fractured existence on into the new century, with potential ramifications for the rest of the world.

30 review for Korea's Place in the Sun: A Modern History

  1. 5 out of 5

    Michele

    Whenever people would ask me about my grandfather I would say he was a military man who founded the Korean Air Force, who became a diplomat and a politician in the 1960s-80s. I would say this in a very definitive voice and hope that people wouldn't ask anything specific because I had absolutely no idea - not one inkling - about Korean history! A few weeks reading this book alongside my grandfather's memoirs changed that. It also raised a whole load of questions about what's true, in politics and Whenever people would ask me about my grandfather I would say he was a military man who founded the Korean Air Force, who became a diplomat and a politician in the 1960s-80s. I would say this in a very definitive voice and hope that people wouldn't ask anything specific because I had absolutely no idea - not one inkling - about Korean history! A few weeks reading this book alongside my grandfather's memoirs changed that. It also raised a whole load of questions about what's true, in politics and in family histories. I now know who my Korean drum teacher is talking about when she says that the guerilla fighter Kim Gu ('Number Nine') was an absolute hero to her generation of Korean students. I now also know that my grandfather probably would have viewed him as an enemy of the state. What does it mean to me to know more about Korean history now? I have a much better sense of where I come from, but also a sharp sense of that place as not *really* being where I come from. Where I come from is somewhere between Korea and America. I have forged an identity from an abstract notion of what it means to be Korean and the very real experience of growing up as an outsider in America. There is no history of the land where I come from because there is no land. But there is literature. Learning more about Korean history has made me want to read more Korean-American authors. Last thought - I read this book while in Morocco for three weeks. It was the perfect place to learn more about my roots, Morocco being so different from both where I grew up and where I live now. It was like being a foreigner three times removed. Perfect.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Earl Grey Tea

    I have extremely mixed views about this book and it took me a long time to collect my thoughts to express my feelings. There's no doubt that Bruce Cumings is a knowledgeable professor on the subject of modern Korean history and has much to share. I definitely learn some new things even though I've been in Korea for over six years and have read twenty some-odd books about Korea at the time of the posting. I could easily see why he is sometimes called a revisionist or an apologist from his writing I have extremely mixed views about this book and it took me a long time to collect my thoughts to express my feelings. There's no doubt that Bruce Cumings is a knowledgeable professor on the subject of modern Korean history and has much to share. I definitely learn some new things even though I've been in Korea for over six years and have read twenty some-odd books about Korea at the time of the posting. I could easily see why he is sometimes called a revisionist or an apologist from his writing. To me, there is nothing wrong with sharing an unpopular view that differs greatly with what is accept as the standard knowledge. The thing that really turns me off about this book is Cuming's presentation of the material. What stood out to me right away was that it seems that Cumings was trying to write a book for the average reader to better understand Korea, but ended up relying too much of his academic writing styles in the creation of this book. I was able to follow along with almost all of the information in this book due to my somewhat extensive background in Korean history and Korea itself. It appears that most of the information in this book was written with the assumption that the reader already has a decent amount of knowledge of Korea. One thing that irked me was the way he offhandedly mentioned the "Chollas" in the book. For anybody not greatly familiar with Korean geography, I would suspect that they would not grasp that it is a reference to theNorthern Jeolla and Southern Jeolla provinces. In addition to this, Cumings also seems to drop the ball when using his personal experience in the book. With his years of experience living in Korea, it could have supplemented the book extremely well and had a nice personal touch. Instead, he seems to use this information as anecdotal proof at times. The most shocking part was when he was talking about the less and honorable lifestyles of Korean politicians many years ago. He listed off a long list of inappropriate actions that he saw politicians do and then made the argument that if he had seen this, then Koreans must have seen it a lot. I feel that it would've been much more appropriate to list documented examples or statistics about the short-comings of the politicians and then add his own experiences to reinforce the point. The same problem arose when he was comparing the tear gas used by American and Korean police officers. Sure, he had experienced both of them when in or around protests, but this isn't the "proof" that Koreans used stronger tear gas. What I believe would've been better was to document the chemical make up of both tear gases, showing that more of the harsher chemicals are used by Korean police, and then add his personal experience to attest to this fact. Last of all, I felt that a better title of this book could have been, "My Personal Axe to Grind with Korea's Current Place in the Sun." As I stated earlier, I think that presenting an unpopular or commonly overlooked side of a story. However, in this book, Cumings presents an extremely biased opinion when it comes to Park Chung-hee and North Korea. Park Chung-hee is an extremely controversial in modern Korean history and I was able to learn a lot about his government in this book. However, virtually all of the information that was presented in this book about him pretty much demonized him as a leader who abused the entire labor force in Korea. Even though this book was published well before the 2012 presidential elections, a balanced view point would've been much more appropriate to help understand while some people remember this leader fondly. The elderly population in 2012 played a big part in getting his daughter elected as the 11th President of South Korea. Many of these voters who lived under Park Chung-hee felt that they standard of living improved under his rule. On the opposite side of the spectrum, Cumings had almost nothing negative to say about North Korea. With no other previous knowledge of North Korea, someone might develop impression that North Korea is actually a lovely place that is just greatly misunderstood. There was quite a few pages that consisted of a philosophical thought experiment and excerpts from esoteric neo-Confucian writings in order show the reader the true nature of Kim Il-sung and his ruling styles. In addition to this, Cumings puts a lot of effort into pointing out all the faults in the West's and South Korea's diplomatic dealings with North Korea, and all the things that North has done in order to develop a peaceful relationship with the rest of the world. It's great that he is presented a side of the story that is often overlooked or ignored, but balance is needed. Despite all of this negativity that I have wrote, there was quite a bit of information that I learned. I think the biggest thing that I learned (other than negative aspects of Park Chung-hee's rule - which did a nice job of balancing the positive things I had already learned about him), was the belligerent nature of the two armies parked along the 38th Parallel in the months proceeding the outbreak of the Korean War. Cumings doesn't declare that it was the North or the South that attacked first, but he provides a lot of great information showing that this situation was a lot more complicated that what a lot of people learn about the Korean War. I feel that if Cumings would've written the rest of the book in detailed and balance manner that he showed in the discussion of the 38th Parallel before the outbreak of the war, Korea's Place in the Sun would've been a completely outstanding book.

  3. 4 out of 5

    J.M. Hushour

    For several years I've been working on a project to read a history of every country in the world (and then some), and it's often surprising how little of worth there seems to be on certain places. The Koreas is definitely one that had a stunning lack of lay scholarship available, considering the shrillness with which the peninsula is constantly evoked as, like transgender restroom freedoms, one of things that will destroy American life as we know it. It's sad, since it's a fascinating place. A we For several years I've been working on a project to read a history of every country in the world (and then some), and it's often surprising how little of worth there seems to be on certain places. The Koreas is definitely one that had a stunning lack of lay scholarship available, considering the shrillness with which the peninsula is constantly evoked as, like transgender restroom freedoms, one of things that will destroy American life as we know it. It's sad, since it's a fascinating place. A weird, insular history of virtues and stubbornness vis a vis the rest of the world. It's refreshing to read about a place that well understood the value of other places (like China and Japan), but who only accommodated these to an extent that allowed Korea to, historically, anyway, retain its own internal vigor and trajectory. Cumings is often drily funny and knowledgeable all at once, which makes history more fun to the non-expert. He makes no bones about his views or his approach and this is one of the book's assets, especially when we get to the Korean War and beyond: the South behaves as shittily as the North. Many may be surprised, but South Korea, from the 50s on, beginning with Rhee, was ruled by assholish dictators who differed from the Kims in the north only by degrees of ostentation. Readers will also be surprised to learn how shittily the US behaved in South Korea, backing these dictators, while shrilly undermining every opportunity to bring peace to the peninsula. These are probably the best bits. The book bogs down some in the parts on the economy, but that's just me. That crap puts me to sleep. And there's not much on culture either (no Gangnam Style epigraphs??). Overall, I can recommend!

  4. 5 out of 5

    Jack Haefner

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Although I haven’t read many histories of Korea, I was pleased that this book departed from many of the stereotypes. A professor of mine at the Army War College continually warned us students that it takes decades of moss to grown under our feet before we should expect to see useful historical research. I think Prof Cumings’ book benefits from this distance. The reader should not be surprised that Cumings has received considerable critique from many corners. But I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Although I haven’t read many histories of Korea, I was pleased that this book departed from many of the stereotypes. A professor of mine at the Army War College continually warned us students that it takes decades of moss to grown under our feet before we should expect to see useful historical research. I think Prof Cumings’ book benefits from this distance. The reader should not be surprised that Cumings has received considerable critique from many corners. But I would expect this. True, as a historian he does himself no favors by writing for publications such as the New Left Review. He should be more content to state the facts, not engage in ideological battles. I’d rather have less of the Republicans vs. Democrat diatribe and stick to historical facts and tensions. The way Cumings organizes this books is helpful. It is not an A to B chronology. Instead, looks through Korean history from its cultural virtues. I know, these weasel words, but Cumings organization using this moniker helps the reader grasp a conceptual framework for best understanding the larger Korea historical landscape. But Cumings has four money paragraphs in this book. While I don’t agree with everything in these quotes, they are fertile ground for thought and discussion: “The beginning of wisdom is to recognize that the United States continues to bear the greatest responsibility for peace on the Korean peninsula and, in many ways, for failing to resolve the Korean conflict fifty years [now sixty] after it began. Nowhere else in the world has the United States backed one side of a conflict so exclusively, with such minimal contact with the other side.” (p. 505) and: “The point is not that North Korea is a nice place, or that it is beyond suspicion, or that P’yongyang has a better media policy: quite to the contrary, its policy for half a century has been to pole lie upon lie, exaggeration upon exaggeration, even when it would be more convenient and helpful to its cause to tell the truth. But that is what we have learned to expect from communist regimes. What is the excuse for a lemming-like, mimetic, and ultimately ignorant media in a raucous democracy like that in the United States, in spite of its many (regrettably post facto) protests about how the Pentagon herded the media like cattle during the Persian Gulf War?” (p. 487) And about Korean Americans during the 1992 Rodney King race riots, a tension casted by the media as white vs. black, not what was largely Latino vs. Korean-American: “Rarely if ever did any media pundit point out that the Koreans had bought their stores from African-Americans, who had bought them from Jews after the Watts riots a generation earlier; or that the Korean merchants were often the poorest segment of Korean businesspeople in the United States, doing a job and providing a service that most others would reject.” (p. 464) And last, but very importantly: “Koreans look upon Americans with far more subtlety and awareness than most of us look upon them, and they found ways to bear all the indignities that flowed from American misunderstanding with varying degrees of resignation, stubbornness, self-interest, daily resilience, or grin-and-bear-it good cheer, and usually to remain grateful to the United States for sharing its wealth and shedding blood of its soldiers on Korean soil. Rarely if ever would a Korean put an American college in a position where he might be humiliated or lose face, and therefore the brashness and vigor with which young people condemned the Yankees in the 1980s was mortifying to the older generation. But it was a sign of Korea’s return to itself, to self-awareness and assertion, and ultimately to national dignity.” (p. 388) After reading this book, I find there’s so much more I need to understand. If I think I’m lacking—and I’m an Army officer posted in Korea—I find many in the security establishment or the press know even less. From a perspective of understanding the toil or war and its human dimension, studying arcane battle details of Korean War is helpful. But it seems we do so little to understand the larger issues at play here on the Peninsula. Prof Cumings could do us a great service to update this text once more. It would be interesting hear his perspective of shifting US policy towards Korea during the OIF/OEF, end of the Six Party Talks, and DPRK tests over the last handful of years.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Travis

    Succinct summary of Korean history. Most helpful to me in gaining a better understanding of North Korea's current stand. They are not an "irrational" "Psychotic" state with "bizarre" behavior. Like any country, they are shaped by their history and geography. Korea has always been a minnow surrounded by whales: China, Japan, Russia. They have a long history of being invaded and a long mythology of fighting off the invasions from superior powers and demanding to "just be left alone". That is North Succinct summary of Korean history. Most helpful to me in gaining a better understanding of North Korea's current stand. They are not an "irrational" "Psychotic" state with "bizarre" behavior. Like any country, they are shaped by their history and geography. Korea has always been a minnow surrounded by whales: China, Japan, Russia. They have a long history of being invaded and a long mythology of fighting off the invasions from superior powers and demanding to "just be left alone". That is North Korea's heritage, and that is their current stance. I had heard of South Korea's rapid economic growth, but never understood how they did it. They are a complex country with love/hate relationships with Japan-who colonized them before WWII; with North Korea, who is their blood; and with the US, who is their patron saint though sometimes more patronizing thorn also. Overall the book did a great job of helping me understand that both Koreas--like any fascinating character--are both good and bad, beautiful and hideous, fearless and cowards. And for all the simplistic solutions offered in newspapers and magazines for the Korea Situation, the place is as complex and intelligent as a tiger, and potentially much more dangerous.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Dvallosiogmail.com

    In Korea’s Place in the Sun, Bruce Cumings sought to explain Korean history through a revisionist’s point of view. In many ways this books elucidates some of the problems in the traditional Korean narrative, such as the often contemptuous role of Western powers (particularly the United States) in forging a modern Korea that is divorced from the country’s traditions. Cumings expertly chronicles the peninsula’s de facto, and eventually de jure, division following World War Two, paying special atte In Korea’s Place in the Sun, Bruce Cumings sought to explain Korean history through a revisionist’s point of view. In many ways this books elucidates some of the problems in the traditional Korean narrative, such as the often contemptuous role of Western powers (particularly the United States) in forging a modern Korea that is divorced from the country’s traditions. Cumings expertly chronicles the peninsula’s de facto, and eventually de jure, division following World War Two, paying special attention to the role of outside powers in facilitating this split that would eventually lead to the Korean War. However, his storytelling and scholarship abilities are stained by his rabid subjectivity. The United States has undoubtedly influenced the Korean peninsula (particularly South Korea after 1945), but the latter half of this book seemed to be more of an anti-American diatribe than an academic history of modern Korea. This book’s size, scope, and scholarship would normally make it a seminal work in the field of modern Asian history. However, Cumings’ blatant rejection of any shade of objectivity should make the reader skeptical of, if not completely averse to, the author’s theses. Nonetheless, the book’s section on North Korea is both fascinating and refreshing. Cumings shows a side of North Korea that those in the West never see: a previously prosperous and industrial country ravaged not by the failings of Marxism-Leninism (the author asserts that the N. Korean system is instead a near-perfect model of a Confucian state), but instead by bad luck, famines, and negative outside influences. The author asserts that once one understands North Korea’s history, tradition, and values, then the “rogue” nation’s actions will be less unpredictable. In conclusion, although this book includes some fascinating chapters, such as the ones on North Korea and the North-South split, its academic value and prospect for being a seminal work are greatly diminished by Cumings’ subjective and spiteful approach.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Joseph

    This is essentially a book about Korea from 1860 to 1996. It is the best interpretive history of "modern" and contemporary Korea that I have read and as such it filled a distinct gap. Despite the focus on the last two centuries, the book does address the complexity and seeming contradictions of Korean 'culture.' The author's brief discussion of the influence of Confucianism, particularly it's emphasis on the necessity of 'remonstrance' juxtaposed with the worker howling at the moon after imbibin This is essentially a book about Korea from 1860 to 1996. It is the best interpretive history of "modern" and contemporary Korea that I have read and as such it filled a distinct gap. Despite the focus on the last two centuries, the book does address the complexity and seeming contradictions of Korean 'culture.' The author's brief discussion of the influence of Confucianism, particularly it's emphasis on the necessity of 'remonstrance' juxtaposed with the worker howling at the moon after imbibing too much makkolli (wheat/rice wine) is classic and to the point. As Cumings notes "Mind is mind-and-heart or sim, a visceral knowledge that joins thought with emotion ...." I bought it over ten years ago and I find myself going back to it as a reference. Besides being a history of Korea it addresses Korean Americans. It is especially valuable for its recounting of Korean American relations. I'm reviewing it because Evan Thomas declared that Josef Stalin was "the leader most responsible for the conflict" when referring to Eisenhower's ending the fighting in the Korean War. That unsubstantiated and invalid allegation made me return to it for a quick refresher. Too bad Evan Thomas didn't consult this book. I also like the book because Cumings writes with 'flair' and style. Nick Kristof was right when he noted that this book is "cantankerous and fascinating. Indeed it is rather like Korea itself." Having been married to a woman who was born in Korea in 1944 and was a refugee during the Korean War, I totally agree with that sentiment. This is the real Korea not the homogenized Korea of the Kimchi Chronicles.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Brendan

    This is, arguably, the best history of Korea currently in print. It's thorough, it's smart, it's readable, and it's provocative. Cumings is controversial for his way left of center perspective; he is often far more sympathetic to North Korea than seems warranted. But Cumings, unlike Michael Breen, for instance, really knows what he's talking about. Even when his views seem wrong, one is better off for having negotiated with them. Keep in mind, though, that there's more to the Korean peninsula tha This is, arguably, the best history of Korea currently in print. It's thorough, it's smart, it's readable, and it's provocative. Cumings is controversial for his way left of center perspective; he is often far more sympathetic to North Korea than seems warranted. But Cumings, unlike Michael Breen, for instance, really knows what he's talking about. Even when his views seem wrong, one is better off for having negotiated with them. Keep in mind, though, that there's more to the Korean peninsula than Kim Jong Il. The South is worth studying, too -- its people, its history. These are the people who really have something to lose if there is confrontation with the North. It behooves us to treat them as if they are more than bit actors on the stage.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Angela

    This is a frank, revealing, and easily-read book that takes on a lot of political hot potatoes. Korea's history in the Twentieth Century is absolutely shocking. It's also the subject of a ton of misconceptions. This book is important. This is a frank, revealing, and easily-read book that takes on a lot of political hot potatoes. Korea's history in the Twentieth Century is absolutely shocking. It's also the subject of a ton of misconceptions. This book is important.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Leftiebookworm

    Comprehensive look at Korean modern history, without the rosy glasses that often diminish the USA’s role in the historical harms Korea has experienced.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Greg Northrup

    I thought this was a great book and an excellent introduction to Korea history, albeit with a few problems. The first is that Mr. Cumings' real interest appears to be the 19th and 20th centuries, not ancient history. As a general rundown of Korean history, it serves its purpose, but the coverage of the Three Kingdoms, Silla and Koryo periods feels dispassionate and obligatory - and generally boring. Those with a particular interest in these periods (like myself) will probably find themselves sea I thought this was a great book and an excellent introduction to Korea history, albeit with a few problems. The first is that Mr. Cumings' real interest appears to be the 19th and 20th centuries, not ancient history. As a general rundown of Korean history, it serves its purpose, but the coverage of the Three Kingdoms, Silla and Koryo periods feels dispassionate and obligatory - and generally boring. Those with a particular interest in these periods (like myself) will probably find themselves searching for further reading. In contrast, the writing ramps up with the decline and fall of the Choson dynasty in the late 19th century, the Japanese occupation and forward. The second "problem" I had - and it certainly didn't affect the readability of the book - is Mr. Cumings' constant delight in playing the devil's advocate to typical Western conceptions of recent Korean history. In short, this amounts to meticulously accounting for the atrocities of the South Korea's military dictators (fair enough), and generally playing down or giving cursory mention to those of the North. I'm sure Mr. Cumings would counter by stating that his goal was not to add to the already voluminous extant literature on North Korea's status as perhaps the worst place on planet Earth, but merely to explain the context and circumstances surrounding its existence. If that's the case, fine, but the reader may find some portions frustrating going, to say the least. There is no general overview or analysis of North Korea's vast prison system, merely begrudging asides (as if to pull his readers back from the precipice of incredulity) such in discussing the numbers of political prisoners: "if and when the regime falls, we will probably learn of larger numbers and various unimaginable atrocities, as with the other communist states." Cumings generally treats international outrage as old hat and so much misinformed hysteria. He spends a entire chapter on the nuclear dilemma (castigating the Bush administration at length) without giving any mention humanitarian nightmare which has always been inextricable from the American position on the nuclear issue (at least this has always been my impression). In the end, however, one comes away with an understanding why the North does what it does, as well as a multifaceted understanding of the forces at play. For that, it is recommended. But, as always, read critically.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Pete Dolack

    This book was described to me as something of a standard history of Korea, and it indeed was an illuminating history. I wanted to read this book because I, like most Westerners, knew almost nothing about an important country and wanted to change that. The author has a good early chapter on Korea's many centuries of history, with most of the book concentrating on the 20th century. What made this book valuable is that the author strived to be non-partisan and objective, and I found he succeeded abo This book was described to me as something of a standard history of Korea, and it indeed was an illuminating history. I wanted to read this book because I, like most Westerners, knew almost nothing about an important country and wanted to change that. The author has a good early chapter on Korea's many centuries of history, with most of the book concentrating on the 20th century. What made this book valuable is that the author strived to be non-partisan and objective, and I found he succeeded about as far as that it is humanly possible. (We all have biases and assumptions that we can largely, but not completely, set aside when writing seriously.) The brutality of Japan's occupation of Korea, the destructive role of U.S. imperialism, the brutality of South Korea's long post-World War II dictatorship and the brutality of North Korean practice are all there, along with the positive aspects that arose from the policies of each of them and the underlying reasons for why particular policies were undertaken. This is especially valuable considering the tendency to underplay South Korean atrocities, such as the Kwangju massacre, and to take over-the-top propaganda about North Korea manufactured by South Korean intelligence agencies at face value. Another value from this book is that for the first time I am able to understand the origins of the North Korean propaganda system that extols the Kim family to such an absurd extent — the author persuasively demonstrates that North Korean practice is based firmly on ancient Korean practice. I began to see the similarities while reading the chapter on pre-20th century history and the author makes the connections explicit in his chapter about the North Korean system. There are material bases for the political and economic practice of any country or government, and the most useful history locates practice and theory in those material bases. Korea's Place in the Sun does this well and is well-written, with the exception that sometimes long litanies of unfamiliar names can become confusing. That is a very small flaw, however, and I would strongly recommend this book to anybody who wants to learn about Korea.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Bestantinople

    If someone wanted to study Korean history I would strongly recommend this book as the first one they look at and also as the helpful key for much of the rest of what they will encounter, for modern history anyway. The author has pretty congenial points of view and and a genuine appreciation and affection for Korea and its people. He also has the benefit of having been present in both north and south since the 1970s, which provides the book with its many good anecdotes which you're not very likel If someone wanted to study Korean history I would strongly recommend this book as the first one they look at and also as the helpful key for much of the rest of what they will encounter, for modern history anyway. The author has pretty congenial points of view and and a genuine appreciation and affection for Korea and its people. He also has the benefit of having been present in both north and south since the 1970s, which provides the book with its many good anecdotes which you're not very likely to encounter elsewhere in English literature on the subject. The prose is extremely good, the scholarship is top notch and Cumings is a well known and respected historian of Korea, and he weaves in his anecdotes with his larger narrative and contextualization extremely well. Its a masterclass in writing non-fiction, especially a general interest history. I am looking forward to reading more of his work.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Choonghwan

    I am a Korean born to a south-eastern province of South Korea, raised, educated, influenced under much biases. When I was young under anti-communist and anti-North propaganda, when I was a university student under pro-North ones. Later on, confused and impenetrable I didn't care much about it. One day, I picked up this book to revisit long-forgotten history of my own country. Due to incessant geopolitical upheavals across and nearby Korean peninsula in the 19th and 20th century – forced opening I am a Korean born to a south-eastern province of South Korea, raised, educated, influenced under much biases. When I was young under anti-communist and anti-North propaganda, when I was a university student under pro-North ones. Later on, confused and impenetrable I didn't care much about it. One day, I picked up this book to revisit long-forgotten history of my own country. Due to incessant geopolitical upheavals across and nearby Korean peninsula in the 19th and 20th century – forced opening up of countries, clashes big powers, colonization and independence, civil wars, division of countries, cold wars, there are still too much raw enmities, disbelief, denials of modern history of Korea as it is. It is virtually impossible to fully detach your political and ideological standing from current affairs to judge objectively and, therefore, reconcile and move forward. I am confident that this book serves the purpose of mutual understanding greatly with ample evidences and down-to-earth common sense – when things are as murky as North and South Korea, common sense matters as much. I hope Korea does not remain the last bastion of 20th century follies and ignorance.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jay Koester

    I haven't read a history book since I was last required to 20 years ago in college. But a recent visit to South Korea had me interested in learning more about the country. This was a fascinating book that was way more than a recitation of historical facts. I learned many things that changed the way I look at politics, culture, religion, as well as America's place in Korea. Highly recommended. I haven't read a history book since I was last required to 20 years ago in college. But a recent visit to South Korea had me interested in learning more about the country. This was a fascinating book that was way more than a recitation of historical facts. I learned many things that changed the way I look at politics, culture, religion, as well as America's place in Korea. Highly recommended.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Seongkyul

    What a heftyyy book, took me as long as it did for 100 years of solitude. Rightly the go-to history text for korea.. appreciated every chalkful of info in it. Also cumings is quite the cheeky, occasionally humorous academic writer. Many a finger-snappable moments. Respectt... Sighh... the ongoing heavyweight work of working out my koreanness.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Mr.david

    A straight-forward history of Korea for non-academics. Not sure I buy Cumings's revisionist take on who caused the outbreak of the Korean War--especially considering the revelations about the start of that conflict that emerged when Soviet archives were opened in the 1990s. A straight-forward history of Korea for non-academics. Not sure I buy Cumings's revisionist take on who caused the outbreak of the Korean War--especially considering the revelations about the start of that conflict that emerged when Soviet archives were opened in the 1990s.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Teresa Thompson Arcangel

    I had to read this book for a college course, but I am so grateful that I was introduced to it. It is very readable - not dry at all, in my view. I regret that I loaned it to someone and never saw it again. I guess he liked it too.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Philip

    Very good read for those want an in depth cause/effect of the current state of the politics on the Korean peninsula. It shows the cultural, philosophical and political history of Korea over the last 150 years.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Hee Jin

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. as i read somewhere -- was indeed true that the author's viewpoint on Korea is very particular & the writing is neither objective nor masks itself. what i was really looking for was a 'traditional' history book - ie a chronology of dates and events and people, so it's not fair to say that i was disappointed by this in that sense since it was not the purpose of this book to serve such a need. the thematic organization of the book was refreshing, however, and although it was not what i was looking as i read somewhere -- was indeed true that the author's viewpoint on Korea is very particular & the writing is neither objective nor masks itself. what i was really looking for was a 'traditional' history book - ie a chronology of dates and events and people, so it's not fair to say that i was disappointed by this in that sense since it was not the purpose of this book to serve such a need. the thematic organization of the book was refreshing, however, and although it was not what i was looking for, i nevertheless learned something from seeing the pie sliced in a different way. if i could do it over, i would prefer to read / familiarize myself with the actual history before reading this as some of the dates/people were lost on me since my knowledge is limited at best. (also doesn't help that i know the names and events in actual korean and the romanization throws you off a lot). also thought-provoking to see an emphatic presentation of possibly controversial sentiments / interpretations.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Douglas Kim

    I've been recently reading about Korean history as a Korean American and was recommended this book by other diaspora Koreans as the one to read in English that wasn't filled with pro American bias. As 2020 revealed the rampant anti-Asian attitudes in the west, it was illuminating to see where much of it comes from, which is anti-communist sentiment that turns into anti-Asian racist attitudes of yellow peril and the like. While the information is great, sometimes the author does go on tangents and I've been recently reading about Korean history as a Korean American and was recommended this book by other diaspora Koreans as the one to read in English that wasn't filled with pro American bias. As 2020 revealed the rampant anti-Asian attitudes in the west, it was illuminating to see where much of it comes from, which is anti-communist sentiment that turns into anti-Asian racist attitudes of yellow peril and the like. While the information is great, sometimes the author does go on tangents and meanders about. While the ancient history is summarized for context for the modern period, I almost feel that it could be shortened a bit more, the meat of it for me was the events since the mid 19th century. The cumbersomeness of it made it lengthy as a read, which is overall why I'm docking it a star. However, any Korean American curious about their history and how they got here should take a look at this book, it's much more truthful than what American media or educational system has been teaching us.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jacob van Berkel

    A modern history indeed, perhaps too much so. The focus of this book is on the years 1945-98, anything before (and, in the 2005 updated edition, after) is glossed over. For instance. Among the things I was hoping to clarify for myself by reading this book was the 1895 murder of Queen Min by Japanese troops. The book disappointed me in this regard. It basically merely mentioned it. It provided some hows, although it didn't mention (say) the Black Ocean Society, but almost no whys and thenwhats. A A modern history indeed, perhaps too much so. The focus of this book is on the years 1945-98, anything before (and, in the 2005 updated edition, after) is glossed over. For instance. Among the things I was hoping to clarify for myself by reading this book was the 1895 murder of Queen Min by Japanese troops. The book disappointed me in this regard. It basically merely mentioned it. It provided some hows, although it didn't mention (say) the Black Ocean Society, but almost no whys and thenwhats. At best it provided me with enough background knowledge for me to go and research it further. So, read it for the period 1945-98 is what I'm saying. Especially the years 1945-53 are told at length. For everything before or after, maybe read something else.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Chris Baik

    I stumbled upon this book at a random discount bookstore. I thought it might be good to get an overview of Korean history written in English. Cumings has a pretty specific viewpoint on Korean history, and definitely doesn't come across as anything close to objective on his portrayal of it. Nonetheless, I learned a lot, especially about pre-20th century Korean history, that I had never had the opportunity to read about. His anecdotal evidence and opinions are fascinating to hear, because several o I stumbled upon this book at a random discount bookstore. I thought it might be good to get an overview of Korean history written in English. Cumings has a pretty specific viewpoint on Korean history, and definitely doesn't come across as anything close to objective on his portrayal of it. Nonetheless, I learned a lot, especially about pre-20th century Korean history, that I had never had the opportunity to read about. His anecdotal evidence and opinions are fascinating to hear, because several of them do resonate with my own experiences and do lend credence to his on-the-ground knowledge of Korean culture. While I don't agree with every single interpretation he makes, I think many of them are worth considering and discussing further.

  24. 4 out of 5

    BillKeckIII

    An Excellent History of Korea Really eye opening history of Korea. Starts with ancient Korean history to 1890. In 1890 the West decided to "open" Korea against it's will. Around 1906, the West (Including the USA) gave Korea to Japan, as a colony, until 1946. After that, the West split Korea, North & South, due to the Cold War. Today, the Two Koreas remain as an artifact of the Cold War. Reunification is a chimera, like the Holy Grail. First published in 2001 & updated in 2005, before Donald Trump An Excellent History of Korea Really eye opening history of Korea. Starts with ancient Korean history to 1890. In 1890 the West decided to "open" Korea against it's will. Around 1906, the West (Including the USA) gave Korea to Japan, as a colony, until 1946. After that, the West split Korea, North & South, due to the Cold War. Today, the Two Koreas remain as an artifact of the Cold War. Reunification is a chimera, like the Holy Grail. First published in 2001 & updated in 2005, before Donald Trump & Kim Jong-Un.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Willamae

    Shockingly readable! I don't have the skills necessarily to evaluate the quality of a history book, but I found it fairly easy to read, and pretty engagingly written. Very of it's time (I don't think the 2005 revision revised a whole lot) so the Current parts are a little weird, but also it's really interesting to get this perspective on ROK/DPRK from the mid-90s. Shockingly readable! I don't have the skills necessarily to evaluate the quality of a history book, but I found it fairly easy to read, and pretty engagingly written. Very of it's time (I don't think the 2005 revision revised a whole lot) so the Current parts are a little weird, but also it's really interesting to get this perspective on ROK/DPRK from the mid-90s.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Bill Coleman

    This is a seminal work on Korean history. The Korean people suffered greatly with nearly 40 years of occupation in the 20th century, and a twice-forced industrialization from a previously feudal society. After a bloody civil war, South Korea endured a democratic dictatorship for nearly 20 years before emerging as a true Democracy. A great insight into Korean history.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Calvin

    The blurb on the back describes this account as “cantankerous,” which captures the irreverent tone wonderfully. Cummings captures a long span of Korean and US history into a detailed but readable account.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Saya

    Overly detailed and therefore a bit confusing, a glossary of names wouldn't have gone astray. Nevertheless, for a 700 and something page book, I was surprised to make it about three quarters of the way through...Albeit because I was stuck in a plane and bus without anything else. Overly detailed and therefore a bit confusing, a glossary of names wouldn't have gone astray. Nevertheless, for a 700 and something page book, I was surprised to make it about three quarters of the way through...Albeit because I was stuck in a plane and bus without anything else.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Carkner

    Such a fascinating book! A US historian tells the story of the Korean peninsula, with affection but without hiding the ugliness of Korean history. Now I understand much more about the seemingly inexplicable things that South Korea and North Koreans do.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Hunter Marston

    This book was a bit of a dense tome, but a very valuable read for better understanding modern Korea and its history.

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