100 books like Nothing to Envy

By Barbara Demick,

Here are 100 books that Nothing to Envy fans have personally recommended if you like Nothing to Envy. Shepherd is a community of 10,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of Darkness at Noon

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

From my list on readable stories on human rights.

Why am I passionate about this?

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?

I studied under the distinguished sociologist, Immanuel Wallerstein. One day in class he said, if you read only one book, it should be this one. So I read it. 

Koestler was a Hungarian Jew who joined the German Communist Party. He became disillusioned with communism, in part because of the Stalin trials of the 1930s, in which many of Stalin’s own former allies were tortured and executed. 

The protagonist of the novel is Rubashov, a dedicated Communist who is accused of treason, tortured, and eventually executed despite confessing to his supposed crimes. The novel is a great way to learn not only about the Stalinist Soviet Union, but about any society that brain-washes its victims. 

By Arthur Koestler,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked Darkness at Noon as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The newly discovered lost text of Arthur Koestler’s modern masterpiece, Darkness at Noon—the haunting portrait of a revolutionary, imprisoned and tortured under totalitarian rule—is now restored and in a completely new translation.

Editor Michael Scammell and translator Philip Boehm bring us a brilliant novel, a remarkable discovery, and a new translation of an international classic.

In print continually since 1940, Darkness at Noon has been translated into over 30 languages and is both a stirring novel and a classic anti-fascist text. What makes its popularity and tenacity even more remarkable is that all existing versions of Darkness at Noon are…


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.

Why am I passionate about this?

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.

Why am I passionate about this?

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.

Why am I passionate about this?

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 Korea's Place in the Sun: A Modern History

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

From my list on to understand the DPRK.

Why am I passionate about this?

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?

Cumings’ books on Korea—there are a number of them—could fill every spot on a list of the five best books to understand the DPRK. Cumings is the leading Western expert on Korean modern history, and Korea’s Place in the Sun is the best place to start. I love every one of Cumings’ books, and this one especially. He is a superb writer and doesn’t pander to established opinions.

By Bruce Cumings,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Korea's Place in the Sun as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

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…


Book cover of The Invitation-Only Zone: The True Story of North Korea's Abduction Project

Paul Fischer Author Of A Kim Jong-Il Production: The Extraordinary True Story of a Kidnapped Filmmaker, His Star Actress, and a Young Dictator's Rise to Power

From my list on North Korea.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve always been fascinated by niche film world stories, and the kidnapping of Shin Sang-Ok and Choi Eun-Hee was my way in to North Korea, a country I was a layman about until I started researching A Kim Jong-Il Production. One thing I’ve found, through the writing of that book, traveling to North Korea, and the ensuing book tour, is that it’s a country it’s impossible not to be obsessed with once you’ve scratched the surface. The struggles and lives of ordinary people – in the face of such a repressive authoritarian regime – are unforgettable.

Paul's book list on North Korea

Paul Fischer Why did Paul love this book?

Starting in the 1970s, several dozen Japanese civilians – everyday people – were abducted by North Korean commandos and sent to detention centers known as Invitation-Only Zones, where the Kim regime attempted to brainwash and turn them into spies in their service. When that failed, the abductees were turned into teachers instead, to teach North Korean agents how to live undercover in Japanese society. It’s the kind of thing so crazy a lot of people don’t even believe it can be true – Kim Jong-Il only admitted to some of the abductions in 2002, and even then only to thirteen of them – and Boynton tells it meticulously and captivatingly.

By Robert S. Boynton,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Invitation-Only Zone as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

For decades, North Korea denied any part in the disappearance of dozens of Japanese citizens from Japan's coastal towns and cities in the late 1970s. But in 2002, with his country on the brink of collapse, Kim Jong admitted to the kidnapping of thirteen people and returned five of them in hopes of receiving Japanese aid. As part of a global espionage project, the regime had attempted to reeducate these abductees and make them spy on its behalf. When the scheme faltered, the captives were forced to teach Japanese to North Korean spies and make lives for themselves, marrying, having…


Book cover of Without You, There Is No Us: Undercover Among the Sons of North Korea's Elite

Wendy Bashant Author Of The Same Bright Moon: Teaching China's New Generation During Covid

From my list on teaching abroad.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve been a teacher for over 30 years and a traveler for longer. As a child, I lived in Germany and Japan. When I grew up, I continued to travel, teaching and living in Thailand, London, and China. I’ve written book chapters, poetry, travel pieces, and won a number of writing prizes: the 2023 New York Book Festival prize and a finalist for both the Peter Taylor Prize for Literature and the Gival Press Novel Award. A graduate of Middlebury College (BA) and University of Rochester (PhD), I now live in San Diego with my husband and two cats, teach adult literacy, and work as a volunteer at the San Diego Zoo.

Wendy's book list on teaching abroad

Wendy Bashant Why did Wendy love this book?

Whereas Hessler’s book is about a country gradually opening up to the west, Suki Kim’s book is about a country completely isolated.

Kim works for six months in North Korea at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, a school for the boys of the ruling elite. While living there, rather than connecting with her students, she is unsettled by how deep the country’s deceptions are.

The university, although claiming to be a school for science and industry, has neither labs nor modern technology. Her travel is circumscribed and carefully scripted. The students lie effortlessly about things of little consequence. The entire country seems to be built on holograms and shadows. She travels as teacher, but in the end serves as journalist, seeking the truth behind a country that the world barely understands. 

By Suki Kim,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Without You, There Is No Us as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

It is 2011, and all universities in North Korea have been shut down for an entire year, except for the all-male Pyongyang University of Science and Technology. This is where Suki Kim has accepted a job teaching English. Over the next six months she will eat three meals a day with her young charges and struggle to teach them to write, all under the watchful eye of the regime.

Life at the university is lonely and claustrophobic. Her letters are read by censors and she must hide her notes and photographs not only from her minders but also from her…


Book cover of Dear Leader: My Escape from North Korea

Paul Fischer Author Of A Kim Jong-Il Production: The Extraordinary True Story of a Kidnapped Filmmaker, His Star Actress, and a Young Dictator's Rise to Power

From my list on North Korea.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve always been fascinated by niche film world stories, and the kidnapping of Shin Sang-Ok and Choi Eun-Hee was my way in to North Korea, a country I was a layman about until I started researching A Kim Jong-Il Production. One thing I’ve found, through the writing of that book, traveling to North Korea, and the ensuing book tour, is that it’s a country it’s impossible not to be obsessed with once you’ve scratched the surface. The struggles and lives of ordinary people – in the face of such a repressive authoritarian regime – are unforgettable.

Paul's book list on North Korea

Paul Fischer Why did Paul love this book?

Jang Jin-Sung was Kim Jong-Il’s poet laureate, assigned to a division permitted to consume censored foreign materials. His life is about as good as life can get in North Korea – until one of the foreign magazines he has lent to a friend goes missing, and Jang must flee his home country or face retribution. Dear Leader is fascinating because it’s a book written by a genuine insider, a man who, until his own neck was on the line, served the regime more-or-less happily. To be honest, Jang is not a particularly likable narrator, but there’s an honesty and an urgency to the writing that illuminates the cynicism and manipulation at the heart of the regime.

By Jang Jin-Sung,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

SUNDAY TIMES TOP 10 BESTSELLER

Dear Leader contains astonishing new insights about North Korea which could only be revealed by someone working high up in the regime. It is also the gripping story of how a member of the inner circle of this enigmatic country became its most courageous, outspoken critic.

Jang Jin-sung held one of the most senior ranks in North Korea's propaganda machine, helping tighten the regime's grip over its people. Among his tasks were developing the founding myth of North Korea, posing undercover as a South Korean intellectual and writing epic poems in support of the dictator,…


Book cover of Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader: North Korea and the Kim Dynasty

Paul Fischer Author Of A Kim Jong-Il Production: The Extraordinary True Story of a Kidnapped Filmmaker, His Star Actress, and a Young Dictator's Rise to Power

From my list on North Korea.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve always been fascinated by niche film world stories, and the kidnapping of Shin Sang-Ok and Choi Eun-Hee was my way in to North Korea, a country I was a layman about until I started researching A Kim Jong-Il Production. One thing I’ve found, through the writing of that book, traveling to North Korea, and the ensuing book tour, is that it’s a country it’s impossible not to be obsessed with once you’ve scratched the surface. The struggles and lives of ordinary people – in the face of such a repressive authoritarian regime – are unforgettable.

Paul's book list on North Korea

Paul Fischer Why did Paul love this book?

A mammoth volume, and yet somehow an unputdownable page-turner. It’s the best available overview of North Korea’s first, and most influential, leaders, Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il, and the society they created. It’s clear, measured, and detailed – and even though it’s fifteen years old, as an explainer, it’s a necessary foundation for any layperson trying to get to grips with the dynamics behind the headlines.

By Bradley K. Martin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A dual portrait of Orwellian leaders Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il traces events from the end of World War II to the present, cites North Korea's stockpile of chemical weapons, describes Kim Il-Sung's numerous leadership roles, and warns readers about the threat posed by North Korea to American securi


Book cover of The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror-Famine

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

From my list on readable stories on human rights.

Why am I passionate about this?

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 is one of the first books in English on what we now call the Holodomor, the famine in Ukraine in the 1930s.

It’s now estimated that about 3.3 million people died in this famine, which Stalin imposed via a policy of “collectivization.” Under this policy, Ukrainian peasants had to turn over their entire harvests to the state, leaving nothing for themselves to eat: some even turned to cannibalism. Things were so bad that the government put up posters saying, “eating people is wrong.” 

When Conquest published this book in 1986, many people denounced him as a right-wing anti-communist, but since then many other scholars have proved him right. This was one of the first books I read when I started teaching courses on comparative genocide studies in the 1980s. 

By Robert Conquest,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Harvest of Sorrow as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Harvest of Sorrow is the first full history of one of the most horrendous human tragedies of the 20th century. Between 1929 and 1932 the Soviet Communist Party struck a double blow at the Russian peasantry: dekulakization, the dispossession and deportation of millions of peasant families, and collectivization, the abolition of private ownership of land and the concentration of the remaining peasants in party-controlled "collective" farms. This was
followed in 1932-33 by a "terror-famine," inflicted by the State on the collectivized peasants of the Ukraine and certain other areas by setting impossibly high grain quotas, removing every other source…


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