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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good analytical history but lacks a core diagnostic
Andrei Lankov’s history and analysis of North Korea is written in an interesting, accessible and engaging journalistic style. He paints a dire picture of contemporary life there. He offers prognoses for the future of North Korean society, and examines policy options for the rest of the world. Along with other authors on North Korea, he argues that the regime is...
Published 15 months ago by Geoff Crocker

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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars wrong timing ?
I had read one of Mr. Lankov's books before and found it very interesting, not only because of his knowledge of North Korea but also the comparisons with his native Russia. This book is certainly interesting but why was it published so soon after the accession of Kim Jong -Un ? Events have certainly moved on since the early days of his rule. Nevertheless, still quite a...
Published 13 months ago by Simon R..


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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good analytical history but lacks a core diagnostic, 27 Feb. 2014
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Andrei Lankov’s history and analysis of North Korea is written in an interesting, accessible and engaging journalistic style. He paints a dire picture of contemporary life there. He offers prognoses for the future of North Korean society, and examines policy options for the rest of the world. Along with other authors on North Korea, he argues that the regime is rational, although in a Machiavellian sense, and the people more content than they were. This rationality is however very domain specific, and neither enlightened nor overall. He elsewhere presents the people as seriously oppressed.

Minor quibbles are that the text is often repetitive, the argument at times goes round in circles, and Lankov uses the cumbersome device of referring to himself as ‘the present author’, and then writing in the third person.

There is good coverage of the Kim dynasty and some of the general population, but insufficient coverage of the elite in between the two. Who are the people who devised Juche philosophy, or the people apparently capable of developing nuclear technology almost independently? Where did they come from, and whence their skills? How does the Kim dynasty interact with this elite? It matters, because it poses the question of whether the regime would simply collapse without the Kims, or whether an extensive power elite really controls the Kims and the country.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The real North Korea, 27 July 2013
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Andrei Lankov does a fine job in showing what works in North Korea and what doesn't and what we might expect to happen in the next 20 years or so.

The North Korean government is often portrayed as a bunch of loonies or the world's last rogue state. When you start reading the book you will quickly discover that it is anything but that. The author starts off with detailing how well Kim Il-Sung took over the country and what an excellent job he has done economics-wise. Lankov is fairly straightforward in his opinion on the matter. Having lived in Pyongyang also helps.

Chapter Two deals with the transformation of the economy under Kim Jong-Il, not that the chap desired for that to happen, I suppose. What strikes me so hilarious about this chapter is that North Korea is now probably more of a market economy than quite a few of the states of the European Union. I am not surprised that the country's present Government would like to go back to `the good old days' of the 1980s, but the author shows how well that would work.

The nuclear issue and how well it can be used to prise aid out of `the West' is dealt with at length.

The most interesting bit of the book I found the author's thought on North Korea in the next 20 years. There are also several scenarios on how the North and the South might find together. You will have to decide for yourself how likely you find any of these. I would agree with the author that the present system in North Korea will go with a bang rather than reform gradually, but I think that many of his figures are too low. German unification in 1990 was estimated to cost anything up to 800 bn Deutschmarks (roughly 400 bn Euro). So far the German government has spent about ten times as much. During the 1990s, investment banks in Asia would regularly quote unification cost estimates of up to USD 6 trn. One thing is certain though the cost estimates will remain a hotly debated issue right up to the day when the wallets need to opened.

Included in the narrative are grey boxes - let the colour not put you off - with additional information like North Korean math questions, salaries or women in politics to name a few. It is incredible what a politicised subject mathematics can be.

All told I found this book a page turner. I really enjoyed the many comments Andrei Lankov makes about the regime in question. Some of the grey boxes are quite bizarre.
There is a whole host of books on North Korea and I have read and reviewed quite a few of those in these pages. I am at present reading Andrei Lankov's North of the DMZ: Essays on Daily Life in North Korea, which strike me like stories from small-town North Korea.
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4.0 out of 5 stars The method in the madness, 10 May 2015
By 
F Henwood "The bookworm that turned" (London) - See all my reviews
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The basic message of this book is that there is a method is the regime's seeming madness - such as its threats to launch a nuclear attack against the United States. The regime is genuinely afraid of an attack by the United States but it also fears the corrosive example of South Korea's peace and prosperity as much, if not more, especially the example it sets to its own population. The regime no longer believes that oppressed South Koreans will rise up and join the North. It knows that it has lost the battle of ideas years ago and now survival is goal. The regime fears for its life - quite literally - were it to collapse. Hence its apocalyptic posturing is designed to buy it time and secure concessions.

The author does not believe that the regime will do what the Chinese and Vietnamese communist parties have done in order to survive. This is because the regime fears that such a route would lead a fate like East Germany's - absorption by its capitalist rival. The Chinese and Vietnamese Communist parties do not share such a fear. China is not going to be absorbed by capitalist Taiwan, which much of the world does not recognise as an independent state. Vietnam vanquished and absorbed South Vietnam decades ago.

However, like a form of rising damp, capitalism and markets are making a slow comeback in North Korea. This is a reflection of the retreat of party control – it simply does not have the resources to ban all capitalist acts between consenting adults. This is especially pronounced in the growth of private food markets, presided over by women. Though the regime has abandoned some of its outer walls of its citadel, it has reinforced the keep – with nuclear weapons. There is no doubt that the regime intends to defend its last redoubt at all costs. This is the grim logic that drives the regime.

For the author, the outside world has little choice but to grant concessions like food aid because the alternatives are anarchy or war. He ventures no forecasts as to when the end for the regime will come – only that it will. The outside world can only prepare itself and manage the fall out and it should do nothing to cause a precipitate collapse of the regime. Perhaps the happiest outcome would be the evolution of the North Korean regime into some sort of reformed but stable development dictatorship. Many South Koreans dread the possible costs of unification and would be happy to live with a separate, but reformed North Korea. Who knows if this possible or not? Let's hope so.
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5.0 out of 5 stars EXCELLENT BOOK PROVIDING A VIEW FROM ANASIAN MENTALITY, 12 Jan. 2014
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North Korea is a far closed and hermetic country. Hard, very hard to find out dsomething reliable about this controversial country. Lankov provides clear and sensible explanations about the mentaslity of the rulers of this country. HE achieve this goal by adopting the point of view of the countries of this área. Lankov is far away of steriotypes and provides a new, refreshing view of this country armed with nuclear weapons. To read this book is neccessary to adquire some understanding of North Korea.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Thoughts on North Korea, 15 Mar. 2015
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Seeker (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Real North Korea: Life and Politics in the Failed Stalinist Utopia (Kindle Edition)
I found this a fascinating and very readable book. It is particularly interesting in setting-out the difficulties in the West, South Korea and even China in dealing with North Korea. I would though liked to have heard more about what life is like in North Korea and what the populace really think. I also would like to hear about more about the Juche principle. Of course, it may be that there is really no substance to it and it is not worthy of serious analysis.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Now I get the picture..., 9 Jan. 2014
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If, like me, you've ever found yourself looking at all the bizarre news and thinking "WHAT ON EARTH IS ALL THAT ABOUT!?", this is the book for you.

Not only has the author impeccable credentials but he explains all of the dynamics, history and rationale of the Pyongyang Regime very clearly and concisely.

A fascinating read.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Refreshingly realistic, 7 Jun. 2014
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This review is from: The Real North Korea: Life and Politics in the Failed Stalinist Utopia (Kindle Edition)
There is so much propaganda about North Korea on both sides of the DMZ that it is hard for the novice on this subject to choose one book that explains everything in a realistic way, but this is it. The author presents the impartial facts in a digestible format and makes predictions on what will happen to NK that are sound and based common sense and a much deeper knowledge of the Korean psychology than most Western politicians can fathom. The "unpredictable" actions of NK leaders become entirely predictable when you understand what motivates them. Korean culture, both north and south, is hard for the Western mind to grasp but this book helps the reader to understand the mindset. Why for example do South Koreans ignore the presence of death camps just a few hundred km north of their border - most South Koreans don't even know they are there and those that do are in denial. Left-wing South Koreans of a certain generation admire, even revere the NK leadership, so how can this be when it is obvious that the Kim dynasty has failed their people so completely. The explanations for conundrums such as these are all in this book, which is both authoritative and accessible.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating., 26 Dec. 2013
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This review is from: The Real North Korea: Life and Politics in the Failed Stalinist Utopia (Kindle Edition)
Provides an intriguing insight into the country and its origins. Only comment that prevents it being five stars would be that there is some repetition in the final chapters that could have been avoided (the attentive reader doesn't need to have so many recaps), but this is a minor flaw. All in all an absolutely excellent overview that completely opens one's mind to the ins and outs of this complex nation.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The One to read., 16 Aug. 2013
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I have now read several books about North Korea and in my mind this is the one to read if you want to find the best one to clarify the questions I had in my mind such as--Do the N.Korean people really believe the stuff the Kim regime has been peddling all these years and ,if so, how come? This book perhaps did not tell me a lot new about the Kims but it did explain in more depth how their control has been maintained and it also opened my eyes to some very interesting aspects of S.Korea and its relationship to the North.Lankov ended with some predictions--which of course may not happen---about how the Kim regime may finally end and how other countries, especially USA, would best respond---depressingly he suggested that they almost certainly will not respond in a helpful way and I could myself see USA`s wrong-headed policy towards Cuba as a fair example of why that will probably be true.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A really well written book by an author who writes ..., 18 Nov. 2014
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This review is from: The Real North Korea: Life and Politics in the Failed Stalinist Utopia (Kindle Edition)
A really well written book by an author who writes both eloquently and concisely on history and also on relevant personal experience to explain and detail one of the worlds most misunderstood regimes. #Fascinating.
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