A veteran British journalist examines the history, culture, and economy of North and (principally) South Korea, where he lives for half of each year. Realizing that most readers know Korea only because of the war (1950-53) or because of the communist North’s nuclear potential and noisy aggressiveness, Breen limns with patience and perspicuity an engaging portrait of this least-known of the major Asian economic powers. He describes, for example, the “fierce sense of identity” among Koreans and concludes that in Korean society “you are your DNA.— He examines Korean religions and educational systems, observing that the peninsula’s undergraduate programs are inferior because students experience “no pressure to perform as undergraduates.— In a rapid summary of Korean history, Breen notes that the Koreans “have remained a distinct people” for centuries, despite domination by China, Japan, and others. He has a powerful command of anecdote and detail, illustrated for example in his description of community-wide rock fights in the 19th century to settle public disputes and in the horrible image of the 100,000 pickled Korean noses the 16th-century Japanese warriors took to their country to certify their body counts. Breen credits the late South Korean president Park Chung-hee for providing the leadership that propelled his nation into the front ranks of economic powers, but he also presents a devastating analysis of the pervasive bribery and corruption in the Korean business, education, medical, and legal systems. In a clever though questionable analogy, Breen attempts to infer broad cultural truths from the “lawless, selfish and rude” behavior of South Korean drivers, asserting that “traffic behaviour illustrates how society regulates itself.— In general, a splendid work of explication and analysis by one who admits to being both charmed and angered by his subjects.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-312-24211-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1999

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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