This book is a brilliant mix of travelogue and documentary.
One chapter may be an account of the bizarre experience of travelling there, the next a detailed history of an issue like the gulag. Very easy to read. Perhaps not for academics but well worth reading for those considering travelling to the DPRK, and well worth sharing among friends of those who have been so that people actually believe the surreal experience.
Sweeney is different to other authors on the DPRK in three ways:
a) He's emotional but is not a victim and avoids going over the top in his writing - and this is a subject that warrants emotion but strong emotions tend to actually reduce shock levels in the reader. The crimes of the regime means that first hand accounts from North Koreans tend to read like James Herbert books and pass through the minds value-sieve as if fiction. Sweeney's rational, factual approach combined with openness about his own values makes it easier for the facts to sink in and the reader to be left with the right perception of the DPRK.
b) He presents the facts in a coherent way but doesn't over-intellectualise a topic to the point that the crimes of the state become bland and unemotive.
c) He makes absolutely no apology for the state. Most people other than victims (or their ghost-writers) who write about the DPRK have an ongoing involvement with the state of some kind and tend to write somewhat apologetically. Sometimes fear, sometimes expedience, sometimes necessity, sometimes academic neutrality and sometimes the capacity of our minds to blind ourselves to inconvenient truths. Sweeney clearly doesn't plan to go back so gives you his real perceptions.
If I was thinking about visiting the DPRK, this would be the one book I'd buy.