An original, authentic take on the fissures developing behind North Korea’s totalitarian facade.

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NORTH KOREA'S HIDDEN REVOLUTION

HOW THE INFORMATION UNDERGROUND IS TRANSFORMING A CLOSED SOCIETY

A crisp, dramatic examination of how technology and human ingenuity are undermining North Korea’s secretive dictatorship.

Baek, a fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard, synthesizes diverse research, including her own monitored visits and interviews within the hidden diaspora of successful defectors, to produce a comprehensible academic study attuned to the human toll of North Korea’s oppressive regime. Despite the authorities’ determination to punish any rebellion, the author argues, “over the past two decades there have been cracks in the state’s control over the dissemination of information among citizens.” A horrific famine in the 1990s necessitated tolerance for informal markets, which later established smuggling routes for new technologies like USB drives and smartphones. This both fed and was amplified by the stream of defections to China and South Korea, which continued in spite of the cruelties the regime directed toward defectors’ families. Baek looks at the challenges faced by those who flee: “When defectors cross into China, their minds are opened and their worlds change.” Her interviews with such individuals buttress her thesis that the new wave of information sharing serves as inspiration, despite the state’s intrusive surveillance. She documents smuggling methodologies and the material that North Koreans desire, ranging from South Korean pop music and films to religious texts and Voice of America–style news broadcasts as well as Japanese DVD players and inexpensive radios, all available on the black market. Since North Korean society has a strict caste system, Baek argues that this amplifies the forbidden desires among less favored citizens to question the government and ultimately pursue a better life, despite the strong tendency to conform within an authoritarian state. Baek’s writing is clear and patiently structured, which makes her interviewees’ accounts of brutal treatment and the inner revelations caused by smuggled media seem more urgently affecting.

An original, authentic take on the fissures developing behind North Korea’s totalitarian facade.

Pub Date: Nov. 15, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-300-21781-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2016

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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