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Korea: The Impossible Country Hardcover – November 10, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


"Daniel Tudor covers all the important issues, yet does not simply tell the more familiar stories but looks deeper and wider to give the full story of Korea today." —Martin Uden, Former British Ambassador to South Korea

"Recommended for expats and any readers who are keen to learn more about Asian cultures, Korea: The Impossible Country is a well–researched and authoritative window into a country and its people." —The Expat Magazine

"Tudor, Seoul correspondent for The Economist, provides a fairly perfunctory account of the "miracle on the Han River", which saw South Korea transformed from postwar ruin to prosperous democracy within four decades. The book's real value comes in its exploration of the cultural forces behind the country's zeal for self-improvement." —Financial Times

"Sixty years ago, South Korea was an economic wasteland. Today, it is not only the world's 11th largest economy, but also a vibrant democracy and an emerging cultural force. This transformation is the subject of a new book, Korea: The Impossible Country, by Daniel Tudor, Korea correspondent for the Economist.'" —Time Magazine

Mr. Tudor pushes into new social and economic territory with his book, including the rising role of immigrants, multicultural families and even gay people in South Korea. He lays out some of the contradictory behavior one finds in South Korea, such as the unending desire for new and trendy gadgets and fashion and yet the tunnel-like view of what constitutes a successful life." —Wall Street Journal

"Tudor's Korea: The Impossible Country is a fascinating overview of daily life in Korea. Tudor's in-depth analysis is the one of an insider who has never lost sight of the view from the outside. His book helps you feel comfortable right from your first visit in Korea." —David Syz, Swiss Secretary of State for Economic Affairs

"With a new generation every five years, it's hard to keep up with Korea. This book is long overdue but Daniel Tudor has done a magnificent job filling the gap. Not only has he captured the new Korea, but he does so in an effortless style that leaves the reader wanting more." —Michael Breen, author of The Koreans

"Written with affection and deep knowledge, Daniel Tudor's book fills a huge gap in our understanding of one of Asia's least known countries. His engaging narrative overturns the stereotypes by depicting a society which, though full of stresses, strains and contradictions, has overcome poverty and dictatorship to become a prosperous democracy. South Korea's transformation into a vibrant, modern state is, as he says, a story that deserves to be better known. Tudor has done the "impossible country" a service by opening its secrets to the world." —David Pilling, Asia Editor, Financial Times

About the Author

Daniel Tudor is a writer and journalist based in Korea, where he is the Korea correspondent for the Economist and contributes to Newsweek Korea and other publications. He holds degrees from Oxford University and Manchester University in England and has worked in finance in both Korea and Switzerland.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Tuttle Publishing; Hardcover with Jacket edition (November 10, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0804842523
  • ISBN-13: 978-0804842525
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 1.4 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (85 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #56,077 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Daniel Tudor is The Economist's Korea Correspondent. He was born in Manchester, England, and is a graduate of Oxford University in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics, and also holds an MBA from Manchester University. His first book, 'Korea: The Impossible Country' was released in November 2012.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

111 of 120 people found the following review helpful By nube on August 27, 2013
Format: Hardcover
I am Korean, and bought this book from a local bookstore. It sure is a page-turner for those who are interested in South Korea. The author does a brilliant job describing many aspects of Korean culture. I was very impressed about the author's depth of knowledge and research. However, I must point out that, possibly due to his elite background, his insight and sources are limited to the upper middle class. The majority of Koreans belong to the lower middle/working class, who are now dangerously pushed to the limit with low wage and almost no social security. They wouldn't dream of getting a plastic surgery, buying new gadgets every time they come out, or sending their kids to multiple of expensive Hagwons/English speaking countries as described in the book. Most people simply can't afford such things. Thus the social divide between the two groups are getting bigger and bigger, posing serious threats to Korean society, yet the author fails to recognize it.

I believe this book will be a good guide for English instructors/businessmen hoping to come to Korea, because what they will encounter is the upper middle class. However, if you are looking for up-to-date full information or a thorough analysis of South Korea, you might want to look for additional sources.
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37 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on November 29, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Tudor's book is not so much the "inside story of an economic, political, and cultural phenomenon" that the cover proclaims it to be so much as it is a thorough survey of *who* Koreans are and *why* they are so. Anyone can look up the history of Korea's chaebol or its political (and military) history, and merely need notice what's hot in pop music to spot Korea's cultural influence. But Tudor avoids such a facts-only approach and frankly (but lovingly) introduces the reader to the factors that motivate, scare, cheer, and depress the average Cho.

Foreign visitors to Korea often find themselves faced with a language, cuisine, environment, and even climate that is so different from their own that they resign themselves to Korea being too impenetrable (and yes, impossible) to contemplate. A subset of these expats find that two years working at a hagwon gives them an unassailable opinion of the 'fascinating natives' and offer an outsider's deconstruction of Korean society in blog form despite no real intimacy with the people or language. They are right in proclaiming that Korea is interesting, but lack a true understanding. Korean-authored works tend to be well-informed, but often oblivious to what their target readership wants to know. Tudor hits the sweet spot and gives a knowledgable explanation of what a Western audience wants to know (and would find interesting, even if initially they might not be curious).

The book includes current events up through mid-2012 and will surely benefit from an update in a few years as Korea gathers more and more of the world's attention with the PyeongChang Olympics and whatever else may happen. For now (and most likely in the future as well), the book should be the first choice for anyone wishing to learn about modern Korean society.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Chris Backe on November 11, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Korea has achieved what many thought impossible - in a couple generations, the country has rebuilt itself from war-torn devastation to a first-world country known for many reasons. At present, the country faces a number of other issues, possibly considered 'first-world problems', that have to be addressed to continue its success. If you're interested in seeing how Korea got to where it is today (and why things are the way they are), a glimpse of history provides the context.

The book starts with a very good review of Korean history, complete with the nuances (and without the nationalist tint) seen in Korean sources. If you're familiar with the country's back story there are few surprises here, but a tale on the country's most recent history is more helpful after seeing how it got here.

The first major section, "Foundations", sets the tone for the rest of the book. The major religions of Korea - including a very good chapter on shamanism - all receive relatively equal treatment. I was a bit surprised to see almost no discussion on Korea's non-religious - those who have given up religion or don't see a place for it. The final chapter, a section on the battles for Korean democracy, should be required reading for any expat interested in intelligent conversation with a local.

The second part discusses the power of jeong (the shared connection and obligation), the dilemma of competition, han (a deep sorrow fueled by uncontrollable tragedy), and to a lesser extent heung (a devil-may-care spirit of joy). As these are the cultural codes of Korea, they merit the attention of would-be expats or anyone studying the people.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Moritz on December 4, 2012
Format: Hardcover
The world has seen many books about countries, cultural regions and growing economies in Asia. Not necessarily about Korea in particular but Japan's longstanding history as a global cultural and economic powerhouse as well as China's recent economic stellar rise and its immense history have attracted pundits, commentators, critics and dubious self-proclaimed experts to share their two cents worth. Most of them shouldn't have.
It is against this backdrop that Mr. Tudor's book is refreshingly insightful and beautiful to read. There are three aspects about it that stand out in particular: Analysis, scope and humility.
1. Mr. Tudor is never satisfied dealing with the subject matter of his book on an observational level. Instead, in each chapter he leaves the level of observation and enters the realm of analysis. He offers surprising, succinct and powerful insights into why Korea is how it is. It never becomes absurd though. Many have tried to do similar things with China (a country in which I have lived and worked for several years). Confucius and the Cultural Revolution have been used to explain every single aspect of contemporary China, however unrelated. Mr. Tudor doesn't fall victim to this obsession. He knows when to warn the reader of the limitations of his own analysis.
2. Mr. Tudor does a brilliant job in presenting Korea from many different viewpoints, including modern pop culture, history, economy and general society. He connects dots that only a true subject matter experts can see. He doesn't present the different aspects of South Korea in isolation but instead shows the reader relations between them. Every chapter of this book hence offer several eye-openers. Also, Mr. Tudor impresses by appearing really savvy in all the areas he covers.
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