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Kim Jong-Il: North Korea's Dear Leader Hardcover – 16 Jan 2004

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 228 pages
  • Publisher: John Wiley & Sons (16 Jan. 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0470821310
  • ISBN-13: 978-0470821312
  • Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 2.4 x 24.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,107,808 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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"The only comfort to be had from the new batch of Korea books is provided by Breen′s biography of Kim Jong Il, which details a hedonistic streak as wide as the DMZ." (Atlantic Monthly, September 2004)

"...a breezy and gossipy account of the life of the Dear Leader, who has been variously portrayed in the West..." (Sunday Telegraph, 22 February 2004)

"...he interestingly draws on some psychological profiles and a few accounts of those that have met him [Kim Jong Il]..." (Spectator, 28 February 2004)

"...immensely knowledgeable..." (The Herald, Glasgow, 6 March 2004)

From the Inside Flap

North Korea has been described by experts as the most dangerous country in the world. The only Asian state on US President George W. Bush′s famous "Axis of Evil", it stands threateningly outside the community of nations.

For most of the world, communism is now ancient history. But in North Korea, it is still very much alive. Indeed, the communist personality cult that still holds the country together is arguably more fanatical than any other before it.

The unlikely object of worship for the country′s 23 million people is Kim Jong–il, the pudgy and reclusive son of former dictator, Kim Il–sung. Little is known about Kim in the fraternity of international leaders, except for one rather disturbing fact: under his leadership, his country has become the first to withdraw from the international system of controls on nuclear weapons, which has put Kim Jong–il on a collision course with the United States.

What makes this especially remarkable and worrying is that this country with aspirations to become a nuclear power, has all but collapsed economically. Its people are so impoverished and malno urished that they are, on average, several inches shorter and many pounds lighter than people of the same age living across the demilitarized border in rival South Korea.

Kim Jong–il is the one fat man in the whole country.

How long can he continue in power? What stops his regime from collapsing politically? Will his reign end in nuclear warfare or will he go quietly? Or will he surprise us all and start true reconciliation between the two halves of the Korean peninsular? The answers, Michael Breen argues in this fascinating and colourful portrait, all lie with Kim Jong–il.


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If you could scan Northeast Asia from space at night-which the United States does, for obvious reasons-you'd pick up something odd. Read the first page
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Having read quite widely about North Korea as a country, and having come across numerous chapters on Kim Jong-Il, in which one could only glean snippets of information on the man. I was keen to find a biographical work on the man (several exist that have been written by North Koreans, but those are basically fairy stories). Breen's book is highly readable, although I noticed some typos and garbled phrases, suggesting this book was rushed out.

My real problem with it is that Breen is extraordinarily dismissive of both Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il. He uses anecdotes that sounds almost completely implausible (all of which he has gleaned from a very few disgruntled North Korean defectors)to paint a picture of a buffoon. If Kim Jong-Il was such a caricature of a dictator, how has the Kim regime managed to stay in power, twenty years after almost all the other major socialist powers collapsed? I do not say this out of admiration for the regime, but rather because, as the South Koreans recognize, Kim Jong-Il and North Korea are a real threat, and should be taken seriously.

If you want an actual biography of Kim Jong-Il, or anything approaching an even-handed and scholarly book on the man, avoid Breen's book and try the superb "Under the Loving Care of the fatherly Leader" by Bradley Martin.

On the other hand, if you're after an entertaining and light hearted read, give this ago- as long as you take the anecdotes with a pinch of salt, it is actually quite a fun read.

Not really recommended though.
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Format: Hardcover
Michael Breen is well qualified to write about the Korean peninsular, having lived in Seoul for many years, and visiting North Korea several times. Although no scholar (he is a former journalist) Breen is also the author of "The Koreans - Who they are, what they want, where their future lies", an excellent commentary on South Korea.

Access to NK is well controlled, and highly fettered; much of Breen's book is based on testimony of NK defectors to the South and conversations with other visitors to the state. Breen has never interviewed the Dear Leader, (although he did meet the Great Leader and relates that he felt that the GL must have been struggling with flatulence!) journalists, especially foreign journalists, being treated with suspicion in North Korea. So in this respect, there is nothing really substantial to the book, and Breen has merely gathered and compiled a series of anecdotes and known facts about the Dear Leader, and added his interpretation of the man. However, I would stress that the lack of hard facts reflect more on the subject of the book, than the author: Breen literally does not have much to work with.

Breen discusses Kim Jong-il's early upbringing, quoting from school reports supposedly cited in official books about the Dear Leader. What rapidly comes through from the quotes that Breen uses, much (or all) of the state's writings about its leader smacks of brownnosing and trying to put a positive spin on events. The section about Kim Jong-il's adult life is much more based on hearsay - as Breen acknowledges, there are large sections of the Dear Leader's life about which very little is known. It is known that Kim Jong-il integrated himself to his father, although always remaining in the background, even for a time after his father's death in 1994.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By P. Kaye on 10 Aug. 2004
Format: Hardcover
Breen is a lively writer and has plenty of first-hand experience of North Korea, but this book is ultimately disappointing. He offers some interesting anecdotes and useful insights, but too often veers into flippant parody. The result is a patchy read - good for newcomers such as me as a primer for more serious works, but frustrating, I imagine, for anyone with more knowledge.
I get the strong impression this is a rushed-through attempt to cash in on the increased global attention being given to North Korea, rather than a considered study by a seasoned Korea-watcher. Indeed, Breen does say he had approached the publisher with a different project. This impression of hasty opportunism is magnified by some very sloppy editing - there are several typos, bad spelling mistakes and ambiguous and confusing sentences.
The chapters feel disjointed, especially toward the end of the book. One of them is devoted to a series of stories of suffering in the North Korean gulags. Harrowing, and very valuable in itself, but Breen makes no attempt to show how this illuminates Kim Jong-il's character. It feels like it's been dashed off quickly and stuffed in as an afterthought.
Some of the anecdotes relating the author's personal experiences are weak, and feel like they've been included to indulge Breen's sense of himself as an intrepid explorer of a closed country. They're in there not because they're instructive, but because they happened to him.
He has only "met" Kim twice (and then as one of a group of journalists) - not enough contact with the subject, I would have thought, to write convincingly on him.
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