From the former director of Asian Affairs at the National Security Council, an eye-opening view of the closed, repressive dictatorship of North Korea.

Cha (Foreign Service/Georgetown Univ.; Beyond the Final Score: The Politics of Sport in Asia, 2008, etc.) first visited North Korea during George W. Bush’s second term with then-governor of New Mexico Bill Richardson to try to defuse nuclear-testing tensions. The author was amazed at the chasm between party haves and everybody else, confirming all that he knew about the authoritarian country. Cha aims to get at some of the pressing questions since Kim Jong-il’s death and the succession of the utterly unknown younger son, Kim Jong-un—e.g., what happened to this once-vigorous dictatorship, and why does the populace do nothing about it? How can the West know so little about what really goes on there? For Cha, the key that unlocked the regime’s secrets was its nostalgia for the good old days of the 1950s and ’60s, when China and the Soviet Union were bolstering North Korean industry and military, while the South was still an agrarian backwater. American aggression during the Korean War left a lasting bitterness, and while the South was grappling with American ambivalence toward its leaders, the North under Kim Il-sung embraced the ideology of juche, or self-reliance, and the cult of the Great Leader. As a result, writes Cha, the North Koreans are simply too oppressed to revolt—not to mention the devastating effects from “Olympic envy” of trying to catch up to Seoul’s 1988 hosting, and the terrible famine of the mid ’90s. The author looks closely at the Kim family, the terrible economic decisions that plunged the country into poverty, the shocking gulag system, its paranoid nuclear proliferation program and the tenuous relations with South Korea. A useful, pertinent work for understanding the human story behind the headlines.


Pub Date: April 3, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-06-199850-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 20, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2012

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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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