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The Real North Korea: Life and Politics in the Failed Stalinist Utopia

From the publisher’s website:

  • Based on both archival research as well as extensive interviews with North Koreans inside and outside their country, in their native language (a surprisingly rare case in North Korean studies)
  • Challenges some widespread assumptions about North Korea like the idea that ‘sooner or later, North Korea will emulate China’ (the author demonstrates why this is highly unlikely to happen and if were happen, how it is even less likely to succeed)
  • Challenges two schools of thought which exist in the US foreign policy establishment and in academy when it comes to dealing with North Korea. The book explains why neither a hardliner nor a dove can seem to get the results they want in dealing with the North and why both strategies are flawed

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.

Entry on Goodreads.com here.

* Where the book is available from a number of sources, they are prioritised as follows: (1) Amazon UK site, or Bookshop.org 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 Bookshop.org 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.