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North Korea in a Nutshell: A Contemporary Overview

From the publisher’s website:

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

10 Conclusion

Entry on here.

* Where the book is available from a number of sources, they are prioritised as follows: (1) Amazon UK site, or for the more recent uploads (2) Amazon US site (3) Other sites in US or Europe, including second-hand outlets (4) LTI Korea, where the title is advertised as available from there (5) Onlines stores in Korea. Links to and Amazon UK site contain an affiliate code which, should you make a purchase, gives a small commission to LKL at no additional cost to you.