100 books like Korea's Place in the Sun

By Bruce Cumings,

Here are 100 books that Korea's Place in the Sun fans have personally recommended if you like Korea's Place in the Sun. Shepherd is a community of 9,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea

Rhoda Howard-Hassmann Author Of In Defense of Universal Human Rights

From my list on readable stories on human rights.

Who am I?

I am a scholar of international human rights and comparative genocide studies. My father was a refugee from the Holocaust. So I was always interested in genocide, but I did not want to be another Holocaust scholar. Instead, I introduced one of the first university courses in Canada on comparative genocide studies. From a very young age, I was also very interested in social justice: I was seven when Emmett Till was murdered in the US. So when I became a professor, I decided to specialize in international human rights. I read a lot of “world literature” fiction that helps me to empathize with people in places I’ve never been.

Rhoda's book list on readable stories on human rights

Rhoda Howard-Hassmann Why did Rhoda love this book?

This was the first book I read on North Korea.

North Korea is a combination of the Soviet Gulag and Auschwitz. Under the reign of the three Kims (grandfather, father, and son), North Koreans have endured malnourishment and starvation since the 1990s. Most of this would been avoidable if the government hadn’t had ridiculous economic policies forbidding private enterprise, and also imprisoned anyone who criticized the Kims’ rule. 

Remick is a journalist who introduces North Korea to a general audience by interviewing six refugees.  I “assigned” this book to one of my ladies’ book clubs and they found it very interesting and easy to read.

By Barbara Demick,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Nothing to Envy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An eye-opening account of life inside North Korea—a closed world of increasing global importance—hailed as a “tour de force of meticulous reporting” (The New York Review of Books)
 
NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FINALIST • NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD FINALIST

In this landmark addition to the literature of totalitarianism, award-winning journalist Barbara Demick follows the lives of six North Korean citizens over fifteen years—a chaotic period that saw the death of Kim Il-sung, the rise to power of his son Kim Jong-il (the father of Kim Jong-un), and a devastating famine that killed one-fifth of the population.
 
Demick brings to life…


Book cover of The Orphan Master's Son

Robert S. Boynton Author Of The Invitation-Only Zone: The True Story of North Korea's Abduction Project

From my list on understanding North Korea.

Who am I?

I became fascinated by North Korea during a six-month fellowship in Tokyo in 2008. Japan was still dealing with the aftermath of the return of some of its abducted citizens in 2002. It turned out that North Korea had been abducting people—South Koreans, Japanese, and others—since the 1970s. I began interviewing some of the returnees and embarked on an eight-year journey that took me back to Japan and South Korea many times. Throughout my research and reporting, I became convinced that the truth of the abductions, much like the truth of the region, lay between Korea and Japan. I was drawn to books that tried to come to terms with the uncomfortable relationship between two cultures whose similarities are trumped by their mutual animosity.

Robert's book list on understanding North Korea

Robert S. Boynton Why did Robert love this book?

Adam Johnson visited North Korea once as a tourist. Based on his keen observations during those weeks, he spins a fantastic tale about Pak Jun Do, an orphaned boy who uses treachery and deception to rise to a high position in the North Korean regime. Pak is part of a crew that kidnaps a little girl from Japan, and later marries North Korea’s most famous actress. The genius of the book is that Johnson imbues the characters with believable personalities, even as he moves them through a nightmarish reality most would find completely unbelievable. The book is so good that one need not have any interest in, or knowledge of, North Korea to enjoy it.

By Adam Johnson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Orphan Master's Son as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

- WINNER OF THE PULITZER PRIZE FOR FICTION
- NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
- NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FINALIST
- 'You know you are in the hands of someone who can tell a story. Fantastic' ZADIE SMITH
The award-winning and New York Times bestselling novel: a dark and witty story of the rise of a young orphan in the surreal and tyrannical regime of North Korea .

Young Pak Jun Do is convinced he is special. He knows he must be the unique son of the master of the orphanage, and definitely not some kid dumped by his parents. Surely it…


Book cover of Pyongyang

Conrad Wesselhoeft Author Of Adios, Nirvana

From my list on memoir-based graphic novels.

Who am I?

I’ve worked as a tugboat hand in Singapore and Peace Corps Volunteer in Polynesia. I’ve served on the editorial staffs of five newspapers, from a small-town daily in New Mexico to The New York Times. I’m also the author of contemporary novels for young adults. Like the writers of these five great graphic novels, I choose themes that are important to me. Foremost are hope, healing, family, and friendship. These are themes I’d like my own children to embrace. Life can be hard, so as a writer I choose to send out that “ripple of hope” on the chance it may be heard or felt, and so make a difference.

Conrad's book list on memoir-based graphic novels

Conrad Wesselhoeft Why did Conrad love this book?

The Canadian animator offers a revealing account of his two-month trip to North Korea to oversee a cartooning project. In deceptively simple words and drawings, Delisle gives us a front-row view of this complex, enigmatic totalitarian society. Everyday life in Pyongyang is rich fodder for this hilariously grumpy author. What’s it really like living in North Korea? Read this book and weep—and laugh. 

By Guy Delisle, Helge Dascher (translator),

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Pyongyang as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 14, 15, 16, and 17.

What is this book about?

Famously referred to as an "Axis-of-Evil" country, North Korea remains one of the most secretive and mysterious nations in the world today. A series of manmade and natural catastrophes have also left it one of the poorest. When the fortress-like country recently opened the door a crack to foreign investment, cartoonist Guy Delisle found himself in its capital of Pyongyang on a work visa for a French film animation company, becoming one of the few Westerners to witness current conditions in the surreal showcase city. Armed with a smuggled radio and a copy of 1984, Delisle could only explore Pyongyang…


Book cover of The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves and Why It Matters

Zachary Shore Author Of A Sense of the Enemy: The High Stakes History of Reading Your Rival's Mind

From my list on knowing your enemy.

Who am I?

I am a historian of international conflict who focuses on understanding the enemy. For most of my career, I have studied why we so often misread others, and how those misperceptions lead to war. The current crisis in Ukraine is just one more example of how the parties involved misunderstood each other. I believe that if we could improve this one ability, we would substantially lessen the likelihood, frequency, and severity of war.

Zachary's book list on knowing your enemy

Zachary Shore Why did Zachary love this book?

Myers, a professor and North Korea watcher, draws on a careful reading of the “Hermit Kingdom’s” cultural products (its political speeches, novels, pamphlets, and more) to tease out a worldview that is too often opaque to outsiders. While escapee literature focuses on how average Koreans suffer under that brutal regime, this book affords us insight into how the regime sees itself – in ways that will surprise you.

By B.R. Myers,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Cleanest Race as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Understanding North Korea through its propagandaA newly revised and updated edition that includes a consideration of Kim Jung Il's successor, Kim Jong-On What do the North Koreans really believe? How do they see themselves and the world around them? Here B.R. Myers, a North Korea analyst and a contributing editor of The Atlantic, presents the first full-length study of the North Korean worldview. Drawing on extensive research into the regime’s domestic propaganda, including films, romance novels and other artifacts of the personality cult, Myers analyzes each of the country’s official myths in turn€”from the notion of Koreans’ unique moral purity,…


Book cover of Immovable Object: North Korea's 70 Years at War with American Power

Stephen Gowans Author Of Patriots, Traitors and Empires: The Story of Korea's Struggle for Freedom

From my list on to understand the DPRK.

Who am I?

I became interested in North Korea in 2002 when the George W. Bush administration declared the country to be part of an Axis of Evil, along with Iraq and Iran. Bush had lied about Iraq, to justify a war against that country, and I wondered what evidence, if any, his administration had that North Korea was either evil or part of an axis. The answer was none. Bush was able to propagate one North Korean myth after another because the public knew very little about the country. I wished to give people some background so they could make sense of what they were reading and hearing about North Korea in the news and social media.

Stephen's book list on to understand the DPRK

Stephen Gowans Why did Stephen love this book?

I love A.B. Abrams as a writer because he can look at a subject and see what others have failed to see. I read his book only after completing my own, and I’m sorry I missed it. Immovable Object tells a fascinating story, recounted in few other places, of how North Korea has not only helped other peoples fight for national liberation but has achieved what no other post-colonial country has ever accomplished: the ability to stay the hand of an aggressive US empire by developing a credible retaliatory nuclear threat.

By A.B. Abrams,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Immovable Object as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

North Korea and the United States have been officially at war for over 70 years, one of the longest lasting and most unbalanced conflicts in world history, in which a small East Asian state has held its own against a Western superpower for over three generations. With the Western world increasingly pivoting its attention towards Northeast Asia, and the region likely to play a more central role in the global economy, North Korea's importance as a strategically located country, potential economic powerhouse and major opponent of Western regional hegemony will only grow over the coming decades. This work is the…


Book cover of A Capitalist in North Korea: My Seven Years in the Hermit Kingdom

Stephen Gowans Author Of Patriots, Traitors and Empires: The Story of Korea's Struggle for Freedom

From my list on to understand the DPRK.

Who am I?

I became interested in North Korea in 2002 when the George W. Bush administration declared the country to be part of an Axis of Evil, along with Iraq and Iran. Bush had lied about Iraq, to justify a war against that country, and I wondered what evidence, if any, his administration had that North Korea was either evil or part of an axis. The answer was none. Bush was able to propagate one North Korean myth after another because the public knew very little about the country. I wished to give people some background so they could make sense of what they were reading and hearing about North Korea in the news and social media.

Stephen's book list on to understand the DPRK

Stephen Gowans Why did Stephen love this book?

Abt, an entrepreneur who lived in North Korea for seven years, challenges the myths and misconceptions about the DPRK that flourish in the West, not only among people who are inclined to believe the East Asian state is a hell on earth, but also among those who are apt to overlook its failings. I really liked this book. It is clearly written and the pace is brisk and engaging.

By Felix Abt,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Capitalist in North Korea as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Business in North Korea: a paradoxical and fascinating situation is interpreted by a true insider.

In 2002, the Swiss power company ABB appointed Felix Abt its country director for North Korea. The Swiss Entrepreneur lived and worked in North Korea for seven years, one of the few foreign businessmen there. After the experience, Abt felt compelled to write A Capitalist in North Korea to describe the multifaceted society he encountered.

North Korea, at the time, was heavily sanctioned by the UN which made it extremely difficult to do business. Yet he discovered that it was a place where plastic surgery…


Book cover of In North Korea: First Eyewitness Report

Stephen Gowans Author Of Patriots, Traitors and Empires: The Story of Korea's Struggle for Freedom

From my list on to understand the DPRK.

Who am I?

I became interested in North Korea in 2002 when the George W. Bush administration declared the country to be part of an Axis of Evil, along with Iraq and Iran. Bush had lied about Iraq, to justify a war against that country, and I wondered what evidence, if any, his administration had that North Korea was either evil or part of an axis. The answer was none. Bush was able to propagate one North Korean myth after another because the public knew very little about the country. I wished to give people some background so they could make sense of what they were reading and hearing about North Korea in the news and social media.

Stephen's book list on to understand the DPRK

Stephen Gowans Why did Stephen love this book?

Strong was a US journalist who reported on Communist movements for 40 years, beginning in the 1920s. In 1949 she travelled to Korea to report on the birth of the new North Korean state. I love this book because it offers an on-the-ground view of why the state was created and what its founders were trying to accomplish—invaluable for understanding the country today.

By Anna Louise Strong,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked In North Korea as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Written by world traveler Anna Louise Strong (1885 1970), a reporter dedicated to social justice issues. A leftist radical, she covered I.W.W. trials and labor strikes in the Pacific Northwest before becoming a socialist . She was the Moscow correspondent for the American Friends Service Committee and International News Service, and traveled extensively throughout Russia, Asia and Eastern Europe. She was the first reporter to gain access to North Korea after WWII. In North Korea was published by Soviet Russia Today (1949), and she considers such topic as government and elections, industry, agriculture and impact of Soviet troops.


Book cover of The Specter of Communism: The United States and the Origins of the Cold War, 1917-1953

Stephen Gowans Author Of Patriots, Traitors and Empires: The Story of Korea's Struggle for Freedom

From my list on to understand the DPRK.

Who am I?

I became interested in North Korea in 2002 when the George W. Bush administration declared the country to be part of an Axis of Evil, along with Iraq and Iran. Bush had lied about Iraq, to justify a war against that country, and I wondered what evidence, if any, his administration had that North Korea was either evil or part of an axis. The answer was none. Bush was able to propagate one North Korean myth after another because the public knew very little about the country. I wished to give people some background so they could make sense of what they were reading and hearing about North Korea in the news and social media.

Stephen's book list on to understand the DPRK

Stephen Gowans Why did Stephen love this book?

Leffler’s book is about much more than North Korea, but it covers world events that are critical to understanding the communist Korean state, its birth, and its conflict with the United States. I drew heavily on Leffler’s work in my own book to place North Korea within the context of surrounding geopolitical developments.

By Melvyn P. Leffler,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Specter of Communism as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Examines the origins and history of the Cold War


Book cover of A Team of Their Own: How an International Sisterhood Made Olympic History

Elise Hooper Author Of Fast Girls: A Novel of the 1936 Women's Olympic Team

From my list on inspirational women athletes.

Who am I?

My novels explore women whose contributions to culture have been relegated to the footnotes of mainstream history books, and in few areas have women been more overlooked than in sports. Because of the achievements of today’s female athletes, ranging from the many athletic opportunities available to our young daughters to the professional success of women like Serena Williams, it’s easy to think that progress for women’s sports has come a long way—and in many ways, it has, thanks to legislative protections like Title IX—but these achievements reflect over a century’s worth of sacrifice by many unheralded women athletes. Here are five books that highlight this journey.

Elise's book list on inspirational women athletes

Elise Hooper Why did Elise love this book?

A couple of weeks before the 2018 Olympics opened in Pyeongchang, an unlikely women’s South Korean hockey team hastily took shape. Why unlikely? Its roster, bolstered with women of Korean descent from the United States and Canada, suddenly added players from North Korea. Like most sports books, this isn’t really about sports; it’s about identity, belonging, sisterhood, and culture. Miracles on ice can take many forms.

By Seth Berkman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Team of Their Own as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A December Stephen Curry Book Club Pick

One of ESPN’s 25 Can’t Miss Books of 2019

“A feel-good story.”—New York Times Book Review

“This isn’t simply a sports book. Rather, it’s a book about inspiring and courageous women who just happened to be hockey players.”—Korea Times

The inspiring, unlikely story of the American, Canadian, South Korean and even North Korean women who joined together to form Korea’s first Olympic ice hockey team.

Two weeks before the opening ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics, South Korea’s women’s hockey team was forced into a predicament that no president, ambassador or general had…


Book cover of The Last Stand of Fox Company: A True Story of U.S. Marines in Combat

James N. Butcher Author Of Korea: Traces of a Forgotten War

From my list on the Korean War from someone who served there.

Who am I?

James Neal Butcher is a professor emeritus of the Department of Psychology, University of Minnesota. At age 17, he enlisted in the US Army during the Korean War. He served 2 years in a parachute infantry division (82nd Airborne). He volunteered for service in the Korean War and served one year as an infantry soldier in the 17th Infantry Regiment during the war including the battles for Jane Russell Hill in October 1952 and Pork Chop Hill in April 1953. In 2013 he published a memoir of his early life and his military experience Korea: Traces of a forgotten war. 

James' book list on the Korean War from someone who served there

James N. Butcher Why did James love this book?

Shortly after the beginning of the Korean War in 1950, the First Marine Division was fighting the North Korean army in the north of the Korean Peninsula. In the fall of 1950, the Chinese suddenly entered the war and the First Division Marines became surrounded and vastly outnumbered by Chinese soldiers near the Chosin Reservoir. The only way they could survive was to fight their way south through a narrow valley. Fox Company led by Captain William Barber fought a long cold struggle against the surrounding Chinese. During the relentless violence, three-quarters of Fox’s Marines were killed, wounded, or captured. Just when it looked like they would be overrun, Lt. Colonel Raymond Davis, who is fighting south from Chosin, volunteers to lead a daring mission that will seek to cut a hole in the Chinese lines and relieve the men of Fox.

By Tom Clavin, Bob Drury,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Last Stand of Fox Company as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A "gut-clenching and meticulously detailed" (USA Today) account from the Korean War and how Captain William Barber led 246 courageous Marines of the Seventh Marine Regiment in the perilous defense of Fox Hill.

November 1950, the Korean Peninsula: After General MacArthur ignores Mao’s warnings and pushes his UN forces deep into North Korea, his 10,000 First Division Marines find themselves surrounded and hopelessly outnumbered by 100,000 Chinese soldiers near the Chosin Reservoir. Their only chance for survival is to fight their way south through the Toktong Pass, a narrow gorge that will need to be held open at all costs.…


5 book lists we think you will like!

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