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Kim Jong-Il: North Korea's Dear Leader Hardcover – January 29, 2004

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Editorial Reviews


"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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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 200 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1st edition (January 29, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0470821310
  • ISBN-13: 978-0470821312
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 0.9 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,148,997 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Jared M on August 18, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Matthew P. Arsenault on October 7, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Although Breen, I'm sure, is a fine journalist, this particular work is little more than a compliation of Kim Jong-il news wire snippets and passages from memoirs. Breen offers little in the way of biography other than material provided by DPRK itself. Granted, Kim Jong-il is enigmatic, however Breen's work would have been substantially furhtered had he persued his psycho-political research. The author's brief passages subjecting Kim Jong-il to J.D. Barber's The Presidential Character methodology was clever and thought provoking. Had he been able to move his argument further in that direction, perhaps drawing new scholarship into the picture, a clearer picture of Kim Jong-il would appear. Still, Breen's descriptions of his own travels through North Korea were enlightening. As it is indeed, "the hermit kingdom" any description of the North proves intersting. In conclusion, for a good compliaiton of Kim Jong-il info, Breen serves well, but if one is looking for a more indepth biography, it would likely be best to look elsewhere.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Cris on June 20, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Breen's outline of the Dear Leader is approriate for the bizzare, often silly nature of his subject. The author moves back and forth between academic and personal observations, happily mocking the disgusting powers that be in North Korea.
I agree with the review who did not like the "Is Kim Jong-Il evil?" chapter. It seemed like filler at one point. I also felt that the end of the book lacked some of the witty writing I found in the very well done introductory part.
All in all an enjoyable read- worth the cash for a few insights into a fascinating (but disturbing character).
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12 of 17 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 30, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I've been interested in North Korea ever since the nuclear crisis flared up in late 2002. Yet my search for worthwhile books to read about that sad little country has not turned up very much. The literature seems to be divided up into ideological rants about how the Bush administration provoked the new crisis (given the fact that the North Koreans began cheating before Bush was president that makes no sense) or impenetrably dense academic tomes (I noticed a reviewer of Breen's other book sneering at the fact that it is a "popular" book).
In my view, I learned a great deal about Kim Jong-Il and the state that he runs by reading Breen's book. I thought the chapters on the North Korean slave labor camps and the one titled "Country of the Lie" were particularly enlightening. I'm starting to perceive North Korea as less a country than a cult and the typical North Koreans as the equivalent of abused children who persist in believing that the "Dear Leader" loves them, even as he lets them starve.
This being said the book is not perfect:
1. It could have been longer. It was only about 190 pages. I would have liked more information about the nuclear crisis and North Korea's arms and drug dealing enterprises.
2. The chapter "Is Kim Jong-Il Evil?" wavers from being highly perceptive to being annoyingly "new age-ish."
3. The author makes a few minor errors (understating a number or two by several orders of magnitude and stating that the average North Korean's weight is 16 kilograms -34 pounds which is impossible).
Still, I feel that I am far better informed having read this book. I believe it deserves a five star rating even with its faults because it fills such a yawning gap in public understanding of this strange little man and his strange little country.
Read it and learn!
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