10 books like Nothing to Envy

By Barbara Demick,

Here are 10 books that authors have personally recommended if you like Nothing to Envy. Shepherd is a community of 7,000+ authors sharing their favorite books with the world.

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The Orphan Master's Son

By Adam Johnson,

Book cover of The Orphan Master's Son

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.

The Orphan Master's Son

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…


Pyongyang

By Guy Delisle, Helge Dascher (translator),

Book cover of Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea

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. 

Pyongyang

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.

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…


The Cleanest Race

By B.R. Myers,

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

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.

The Cleanest Race

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,…


Korea's Place in the Sun

By Bruce Cumings,

Book cover of Korea's Place in the Sun: A Modern History

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.

Korea's Place in the Sun

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…


The Invitation-Only Zone

By Robert S. Boynton,

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

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.

The Invitation-Only Zone

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…


Without You, There Is No Us

By Suki Kim,

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

In 2011, novelists and journalist Suki Kim spent six months teaching English to young members of the North Korean elite at the all-male Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, and this is her account of that experience. Where Demick’s book is an unparalleled insight into the life of ordinary North Koreans, Suki Kim lays bare the denial and self-deception required of her students, and the claustrophobia and absurdity of living in the “upper classes” of North Korea’s supposedly egalitarian society.

Without You, There Is No Us

By Suki Kim,

Why should I read it?

1 author 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…


Dear Leader

By Jang Jin-Sung,

Book cover of Dear Leader: My Escape from North Korea

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.

Dear Leader

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,…


Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader

By Bradley K. Martin,

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

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.

Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader

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


A Land Without Evil

By Benedict Rogers,

Book cover of A Land Without Evil: Stopping the Genocide of Burma's Karen People

We, the Karens, call our land Kawthoolei, which means "a land without evil." When I first came to the UK, Ben gave me a copy of his book, A Land Without Evil. After reading this book, I felt so much pain that I couldn't stop my tears because all of the suffering of my people that Ben wrote in his book were all true, and it brought back all the memories of our sufferings. For decades, my people have been brutally attacked by Burmese governments, but the world didn't know and pay attention in order to help us. 

A Land Without Evil

By Benedict Rogers,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Land Without Evil as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The gentle Karen, a tribe in Burma's eastern regions, call their country "a land without evil". They number between four and five million, and have been fighting for half a century to keep their land and identity. Many - at least 40 per cent - are Christians, and have suffered particularly harsh treatment. Burma today, and Karen State in particular, is a land torn apart by evil. It is a land ruled by a regime which took power by force, ignored the will of the people in an election, and survives by creating a climate of fear. It is a…


The Story of Zoya and Shura

By Lyubov Kosmodemyanskaya,

Book cover of The Story of Zoya and Shura

When I was born, my father, Padoh Mahn Sha Lah Phan, named me after Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya. When he was a student at Rangoon University, he read about Zoya and her brother Shura resisting Nazi Germany’s invasion of Russia. Both Zoya and Shura were killed by the Nazis. My father was inspired by Zoya's story and he wanted me to help resist the Burmese government's violence against his Karen people. 

The Story of Zoya and Shura

By Lyubov Kosmodemyanskaya,

Why should I read it?

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


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