Anybody who has spent some time with Korean will probably be pretty pumped up by the idea behind this book: take a ton of Korean compound words and sort them according to their common, mostly Chinese, roots. If you've been at it long enough that you're starting to pick up patterns of shared syllables, or if you read Chinese (it's probably best to have both these down before you start looking at this book) this might sound like a godsend- but the bad news is the magic screeches to a halt right here. After laying down the vocabulary, the authors hightail it and leave the reader to figure out what to do with the words, and even how to do it. Don't get me wrong- it's still a great concept and this isn't meant to be a negative review, just a (really long-winded) warning of what not to expect from this book.
Before you even pick the Handbook up, you should be prepared for the fact that outside of segregating Chinese and Korean roots (there's some interaction in the actual examples and the Korean root list is necessarily much less beefy) and listing everything in Korean alphabetical order, this thing has absolutely zero structure whatsoever. There is, for example, no effort made to allow the reader to build up on vocabulary as they work through list after list of essentially random words. In fact, the authors level with you in the introduction that they weren't even concerned with presenting the most commonly used vocabulary items. Since you're expected to drop $27, a common frequency approach, some exercises, or even a sample sentence here and there shouldn't be too much to ask for, but the Handbook doesn't deliver on this, or on anything more useful than a big old list.
Apparently the idea is after going through a couple hundred of these sometimes pretty hefty lists you'll have hammered enough connections into your skull that the next time you come across a compound word with the syllable `kyeong' (gyeong) you'll know for sure that it probably means either light, scenery, mirror, circumstances, incline, to congratulate, respect, or maybe scripture... (there's more). Here's where the question of target audience kicks in. If you know Chinese then this book RULES because you already have the background to clear away the mess, associate the characters with the vocabulary items, and can relax and essentially transcribe Chinese words into their Korean pronunciation. It wouldn't be real surprising if it were to be revealed that the Handbook started out as something like a class supplement for advanced level students of Chinese working on a second foreign language requirement- this is after all published by the University of Hawaii Press. Sure the format is convenient, but it's still up in the air why it should cost $27 for something a reasonably attentive student is going to wind up doing by default anyway.
If you don't have a reading knowledge of Chinese, the Handbook might be a little unwieldy. While it's a played out and hardly 100% applicable analogy, imagine how bizarre it would be to learn English through huge lists of bare words arranged according to Latin etymology. As far as the amount of exposure to the language you should have before going into this book, it probably wouldn't hurt to have a solid command of at least several hundred vocabulary items so you have enough of a foundation to start making the connections the book wants you to make. Strangely enough, the authors provide a brief introduction to the Korean alphabet but one would assume that anybody who could gain anything from this book will already be well past that point.
If you're particularly inspired, this book can be used as a clunky root dictionary but it isn't exactly designed with that in mind. You'll probably want to be at a level where you're familiar with Korean alphabetical order before you shell out for this thing, but the authors do provide an index by initial letter. There is no index for looking up Chinese characters, which is actually kinda surprising.
That said, if you're still willing to slog through this thing, just keep an eye on what you're doing with it. (SPIEL WARNING) While the authors warn against it, this book can end up as a classic example of the old school bulldozer style of rote memorization that has been maimed by recent SLA research but is still fairly common in many parts of the world. If you're new to the game, picture the horrors of a Chinese bookstore filled with shelf upon shelf of "The X0,000 Words You Need to Pass the TOEFL/Test Into College," "Memorize this Dictionary for Success," etc. I'm sure that there are many learners out there who are perfectly happy to commit massive amounts of vocabulary to memory devoid of any context just by looking at their English approximations. But the problem is this reinforces the idea that languages and vocabulary items are nothing but x=y mechanical codes for each other that coexist happily in vacuums. Particularly loaded terms like `(economic) development,' `restaurant,' `terrorism,' `history' and `reunification' are going to have varied meanings depending on the context and language they are used in, `queen' will ring differently in English and Korean (as well as in British vs. American English) and `winter' is many different things for Seoulites or natives of Edmonton, Sydney and Miami. If you hail from an English-speaking nation, it wouldn't take too much exposure to Korean homes and lifestyles before you realize that even basic `Lesson One' vocabulary like `bed,' `door,' `table,' `(dinner) plate,' `to study' and, especially, `teacher' and `father' often refer to things and have associations markedly `different' from what they mean in English. (/END OF SPIEL) As such this book is probably best suited to students working in a classroom environment, or in some setting where context is available and there's an opportunity to see how these words interact in actual Korean.
Ideally though, an extremely determined reader working through the Handbook can conceivably pick up an understanding of how the roots work with each other, like how a student of English looking at the words daylight, daytime, daydream, weekday, bad hair day, April Fool's Day and day care wouldn't necessarily have to memorize all the meanings for each individual term in order to come away with a productive appreciation of the ways `day' can be used. Hopefully exposure to this list will set off bells when they get to the later sections for `light' and `time,' for example. But as in the situation with kyeong above, due to factors including the enormous influence of Chinese vocabulary and Korean's lack of tones, Korean has a relatively low inventory of syllables and without the benefit of a background in the Hanja (this is part of why there are so many Chinese characters) things might get a little rough. Still, this is apparently the intention of this book, which just like the full title says, really is a resource for word recognition and comprehension- with the key words here being `resource' and `recognition.' The handbook allows you to get inside of Korean word formation and sets you on a course to better deal with Korean later, plus it might be good prep for eventually learning the Hanja, but it doesn't offer anything immediately usable. Hopefully somebody will see that this book is on to something and come out with a program with a more practical bent, and printed on paper of less astounding quality to cut overhead. Bumped up to four stars because there aren't enough Korean learning materials out there and at least somebody's giving it a shot.