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Korea's Place in the Sun: A Modern History [Paperback]

Bruce Cumings
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

18 Oct 2005
Korea has endured a "fractured, shattered twentieth century", and this updated edition brings Bruce Cumings' leading history of the modern era into the present. The small country, overshadowed in the imperial era, crammed against great powers during the Cold War and divided and decimated by the Korean War, has recently seen the first real hints of reunification. But positive movements forward are tempered by frustrating steps backward. In the late 1990s South Korea survived its most severe economic crisis since the Korean War, forcing a successful restructuring of its political economy. Suffering through floods, droughts and a famine that cost the lives of millions of people, North Korea has been labelled part of an "axis of evil" by the current Bush administration and has renewed its nuclear threats. On both sides Korea seems poised to continue its fractured existence on into the new century, with potential ramifications for the rest of the world.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; New edition edition (18 Oct 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393327027
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393327021
  • Product Dimensions: 23.3 x 15.6 x 2.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 382,349 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"Passionate, cantankerous, and fascinating... Rather like Korea itself." - New York Times Book Review

About the Author

Bruce Cumings teaches Korean history, East Asian political economy and international history at the University of Chicago.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
brilliant account of the Korean people's hard life fighting US imperialism and the indignities imposed on it by the West. A courageous story by an outstanding writer and historian
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0 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars thank you 28 Dec 2012
By kurc
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Korea's place in the Sun: a modern history
this book is for my study of reserch and know about North Korea
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Amazon.com: 3.7 out of 5 stars  47 reviews
95 of 106 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Partisan and Selective Account 29 Dec 2000
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
One of the first books I read about Korea, Korea's Place in the Sun: A Modern History, illustrates the importance of interpreting history cautiously. Korean history, because of the division of the peninsula between two warring countries, is highly politicized. Cumings has been generally classified as a New Left historian and as sympathetic to the North Korean regime. The second charge is just mud-slinging, but the first generalization is still an active question in South Korean politics and academia.
First, since the book's publication in 1997, the Koreas have undergone many changes, both domestically and in their relations. South Korea's media and academic industries have also matured, and expression is more lively and open. There are more generalist and expert histories available on the market, so the importance of Cumings' work is easier to evaluate.
Cumings is generally a proponent of unification. This taints his history in several ways. First, Choson is depicted as a golden age of unified Korean power. Cumings also supports the Conservative Korean line, that foreigners wrecked Choson and downplays evidence of aristocratic factionalism and the weakness of the Korean central government. His discussion of the Japanese Occupation downplays the role of Korean businessmen in the Occupation economy and government. His account of the Korean War is heavy on politics and military leadership discussions, but spare on soldier's recollections. Cumings' sections on North Korean industrialization are competent, but since 1997 the subject has been better researched. Cumings still cannot compensate for the dearth of economic data, which plagues accounts to the present.
Cumings also burdens his account of Korean history with questionable social psychological opinions about the nature of Korean culture. He reinforces the conservative Korean view of the unique mission and origin of the Korean people as offspring of divine forces, a tactic the Koreans share with the Japanese. His account is subtly anti-global and anti-foreign. For this reason, his account is by Korean standards mainstream unificationist, but his open-minded treatment of North Korea notwithstanding, he is aligned with the forces of anti-globalization.
Not that the book does not contain valuable information about Korean history presented with colorful prose. However, what Cumings omits is damning. Most of ancient Korean history is omitted, which accentuates Choson at the expense of earlier dynasties. Discussions of religion are downplayed for politics and sociology. Cumings does not hide his bias, but readers need to examine his opinions well and use his footnotes for independent evaluation. And, by all means, read other newer books about Korea.
48 of 54 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Reads Like Literature 10 Aug 2001
By Andrew - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I loved this book and have read it twice from cover to cover in addition to refering to certain capters regularly. There is no other book that captures the colorful, tragic and compelling story of Korea's modern history half as well as Cuming's opus.
The book is a skillful blend of theory (he quotes Focault in the epigram), hard history and ideology. I especially enjoyed the juicy bits of gossip that more "serious" Korean histories always leave out. He writes about Kim Gu's womenizing, Sygman Rhee's paranoia and the CIA's dirty secrets.
The book has flaws that are glaring and annoying. Cumings details every attrocity that the dictators in South Korea committed, but writes only of the dubious "achievements" of North Korea, never mentioning things like how many of his own citizens Kim Il-son, North Korea's late "Dear Leader" sent to concentration camps. The harrowing accounts of North Korean defectors of life in the worker's paradise are a glaring and nearly unforgiveable.
I would be tempted to say that Cumings had two goals in mind in writing this book: getting in good with Pyoungyang (thus being assured his travel visas always get approved) and annoying the hell out of Seoul (thereby regaining the cult hero status he got in the 80s with his book on the origins of the Korean War with a new generation of South Korean college kids).
But, ultimately, I can't stay mad at Cumings. His story of Korea's painful 20th century is told with the verve and deftness of great literature.
29 of 35 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A passionate, opinionated history 29 Mar 2003
By Paul Wiseman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
A South Korean college student recently told me that he learned more about his own culture from the works of Bruce Cumings than from any number of Korean scholars. I believe it. Cumings knows and loves Korea, his passion and insight coloring every page of this book. Cumings can name all the significant players in modern Korea and how they fit into the nation's long, proud and tragic history. He rightly is anguished and disappointed by America's role in dividing the Korean peninsula and in keeping it divided (even if I think he exaggerates America's sins and significantly under-emphasizes North Korea's). This is a deeply personal book, too: Cumings includes observations from his own experiences in Korea and from his own family (his wife is Korean). In the hands of a less skilled writer and thinker, these personal insights might be a distraction; in this case, they enrich the book immeasurably. The virtues of Korea's Place in the Sun easily outweigh the vices, which (for this reader anyway) include Cumings' unrelentingly leftist politics. In short, Korea's Place in the Sun is an informed, passionate, opinionated and well-written introduction to a country (two countries, sadly) we should all know a lot more about.
41 of 52 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting view on Korea, but questionable historical facts 20 Nov 2000
By Jinho C. - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
It was very interesting to see rather different view on Korea. Maybe it's about time somebody getting away from the conventional view on modern Korean history as just "tragic". He discusses many aspects of modern Korean history, especially the outside influences from US, Japan and China. I agree on most of his points on modern history, however his knowledge on ancient Korean history is very questionable. Relationships among three East Asian nations: China, Korea and Japan were not as simple as the author suggests. For instance, Bruce Cumings over amplifies the effect of Japanese cultural influence on Korea while the truth is that till mid-19th century it was minimal if not zero. Until mid-19th century, Korea has been influenced by Japan militarily, but not culturally. Even after Imjinwaeran(the Japanese invasion of Korea in 1592), unlike the usual situation where victims become the recipients of the aggressor's culture, it was reverse in this case. Japan became the recipient as she intentionally captured Korean scholars and artisans and brought them to Japan. However, it's not to say that Korea was never influenced by the Japanese culture. Ever since Japan became the military superpower in the 20th century and annexed Korea, Japanese culture has been the most influential for Korea. Once the author gets into relationship between Korea and China, it gets more problematic. But because it's so complicated I can't really explain it here.. Therefore, my point is: I recommend this book but read with caution on some historical facts..
16 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An important work 19 Mar 2002
By Bruddy Dahl - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This book is important in that it draws focus on things not usually considered by people in the west, particularly by Americans. The first of these is the overall importance of Korean history and politics to Koreans themselves. In this sense, the book allows non-Koreans to gain a greater perspective of how Koreans might view their own country and its place in the world, a tremendously important point in understanding how America should act toward both the South and North.

Secondly, the book offers a stinging critique of the United States in its dealings with North Korea. Many readers may find Cumings' approach biased because of the degree of criticism he directs at America, while--in my opinion--somewhat glossing over the brutality of the North in its treatment of its own people; however, the book offers an alternative, non-traditional viewpoint, which is important to at least consider. The potential tragedy of the existing tensions on the Korean peninsula make it essential to view the problem from as many angles as possible in seeking a solution.

Finally, the book also provides an informative look at the long rich history of Korea. Those readers having an interest in Korean history will certainly appreciate it for this reason alone. Korea's Place in the Sun is a great starting point in exploring and understanding the Land of the Morning Calm.
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