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Korea: The Impossible Country Hardcover – November 10, 2012
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"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 is a regular columnist for a Korean newspaper, the Joongang Ilbo, and has commented on Korea-related topics many times for the BBC, Al Jazeera, and others. He is also co-founder of The Booth, a small chain of craft beer pubs.
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.
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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Excellent introduction with emphasis on the cultural origins. This should be a 'first look' work for anyone attempting to understand Korean affairs. Read morePublished 2 months ago by warren switzer
Great book. I bought it because 6 months ago I move to Korea to work. I wanted to know more about the Korean culture. The book helped me a lot.Published 3 months ago by manuel lozano
I made a mistake as I was looking more for a book about the history of Korea. I love Korean historical films and they make me curious about Korea's history and rulers. Read morePublished 3 months ago by Jean E. Terry
Very informative and up to date. Would have liked more information about U.S. military bases and evangelical protestant Christian experience there.Published 3 months ago by Bevers
It's informative understanding Korea and how Korean build their country wealthier from poorest country even though I am a Korean.Published 3 months ago by Youchun Pu
succinct for the size of the book there is an awful lot of information in here.Published 4 months ago by patboivin
I found the topics that the author chose to focus on interesting and insightful. Many people are fascinated by one aspect of Korea or another, but few are able to succinctly and... Read morePublished 5 months ago by Tara Newby
A decent intro book to Korea. Didnt like how he repeated some of the same facts/stats from his earlier chapters in the later chapters (gave a feeling of reading a college research... Read morePublished 5 months ago by Mike