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128 of 142 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great accomplishment but keep a notepad handy
I should start by saying that it's not easy to find a Korean history book in English that was actually written by Korean historians and scholars. You can find many authored by US and British authors, and having browsed through some of them, I strongly recommend AVOIDING them - I'll explain at the end of my review.
On to the book: This is a fascinating account of...
Published on December 18, 2002 by Chris B.

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14 of 18 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Unfortunately Dated
When if first came out over a quarter of a century ago this was a welcomed addition to the field since there was so little available in English on Korean history especially on premodern history. It was and is a well written narrative history of Korea by five of the leading scholars in the field. It can still be useful as a reference but the scholarship is now a bit...
Published on February 5, 2010 by History Professor


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128 of 142 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great accomplishment but keep a notepad handy, December 18, 2002
By 
Chris B. (St. Paul, MN USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Korea Old and New: A History (Paperback)
I should start by saying that it's not easy to find a Korean history book in English that was actually written by Korean historians and scholars. You can find many authored by US and British authors, and having browsed through some of them, I strongly recommend AVOIDING them - I'll explain at the end of my review.
On to the book: This is a fascinating account of Korean history from ancient times up to the 1980's, a span of over 2000 years. Each chapter covers a different period, and the chapters share the same organization, describing the social, cultural, political, philosophical/religous, scholarly, and military aspects of the period in respective subsections. This makes it easy to later refer to previous chapters and compare different periods. Understandably, the level of detail provided increases along with the stability of the country.
The style and content changes noticeably though after the pre-Industrial Age chapters. The history up to this point is analagous to European medieval history with kings, queens, heroic warriors and devious power struggles to control the throne. However, as the 20th century dawned, Korea was overrun by Japan and roughly half a century of occupation ensued. From this point on, the book's strength is its account of modern Korea and the motivations of the Korean government. This is where accounts by foreign authors invariably fail and take on obvious biases based on the "official" information the Korean government and their own governments have dispensed. Having several Korean relatives both in the US and Korea, I should emphasize that this book's account of modern history is definitely politically liberal and populist. It presents a view of politics that is probably more agreeable to Korean university students and professors and less agreeable to older Korean generations with more conservative views.
As an end-to-end reading experience, I really enjoyed this book. I mention 'keep a notepad handy' in the title of this review, and I really do encourage that. You see, the only major problem I had with this book was that the ancient history would quickly become confusing due to the frequent use of similar names, particularly the names of various kings. Also, while I'm amazed at the balance made between depth and breadth to keep a complete history under a billion pages, some of the descriptions of important historical figures are regrettably short - too short to etch them into your memory. For these reasons, I seriously recommend keeping notes (or heck, use a spreadsheet if you really want to keep this stuff straight) about the major figures and events as you go along. I really, REALLY wish they had provided a summary timeline or at least a summary of the kings as an appendix, but no such luck. If you don't keep notes, you may wind up reading the whole thing, enjoying it immensely, but then being completely incapable of recalling correct names and dates. Hint- if you ever get a Korean history trivia question "which king did <blah>?", just guess King Tejo and you've got about 50/50 odds of being right.
In summary, I highly recommend this book. It's also a great source of inspiration to learn more about specific people, places, and events in Korean history.
[follow-up to my initial statements]
Korean history is best told by Koreans and NOT foreign authors. Why? As shown by the histories of China, Korea, and Japan, "western" culture has often incorrectly interpreted "eastern" culture. For example, western authors frequently confuse which Korean king did what. This is often because they failed to note that kings were typically referred to by one name while alive and another after their death. Also, as with many other countries, the history of Korea contains many events where the Korean government has intentionally hidden or distorted certain aspects of its culture to foreign governments. This is especially true of the relationships between China, Korea, and Japan - those three countries have played cat and mouse with each other for centuries. You can find a Chinese, Korean, and Japanese account of the same historical event and they may have significantly different views. One of them may describe a particular battle as a victory, another calls it a crafty political ploy, and the other calls it an insignificant accident.
I should also clarify that while the author is listed as "Eckert", this was translated into english by a group of American (Harvard??) and Korean scholars/historians. That's it for my diatribe - hope it helps.
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36 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bridging the old and new, March 20, 1998
By A Customer
This review is from: Korea Old and New: A History (Paperback)
It is inevitable that recordings of history come with biases. However, the converged efforts of many scholars of this historical book on Korea is one of the best examples of fair representation. Accurate and insightful, the book begins with the basic introduction of nomadic Korea and with skillful elucidation explores the history from the three unified kingdoms up to Korea in the 80's. Each phase is covered in collaboration by experts of that field. Complete detail to geography, arts and culture only enhances the events that took place. Of the numerous and countless history books I've read for my Master's studies, I highly recommend this book as a "starter" for anyone remotely interested in Korea.
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47 of 52 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Place to Begin for Korean History, July 15, 2001
This review is from: Korea Old and New: A History (Paperback)
KOREA OLD AND NEW: A HISTORY is the beginning student's text Korean history has sorely needed. The result of a fruitful partnership between Korean and Western scholars, it is both well-written and researched.
This book is pieced together from two earlier efforts (hence the old and new of the title). Although the second part, containing the latter history of Korea from the mid-19th century to 1990, is more detailed and analytical, the entire book is the best text around. This text has spawned new specialist histories of Choson, Buddhism, and Confucian studies. It is also better edited for typographical and linguistic errors than previous histories.
However, some questions remain, mostly related to the question of Korean nationalism. The authors address the peculiar problem Korea faces: cultural chauvinism combined with dependence on foreign markets, notably Japan and the United States. The authors admirably and courageously document the role of the Japanese and American policies in Korean development, the nature of Pak Chung Hee's regime, and the fortuitous nature of Korean economic recovery, but still cling to cultural nationalist baggage about the cultural, linguistic, and racial unity of the Korean nation, downplaying the numerous historical political entities on the Korean peninsula and significant regional differences.
As Korea becomes more pluralistic and its economy more open, information about the last 5 decades will continue to filter through, but, increasingly this liberalness is purchased with a racial and linguistic chauvinism that threatens to keep studies of Joseon and Koryo wrapped in inviolate sacrality. Although the authors final note of a turn to more participatory evolution of Korean politics, the bigotry and exclusivity of the Korean market is left intact.
One way this is manifested in the book is the separation of political and economic sections, as in the nineteenth and twentieth chapters. The way the Pak regime operated directly impacts how Korea's economy developed. Separating the two discussions, leaves open the fallacy that Korea can continue to develop without political liberalization. It is almost a disguised tribute to Pak and his Japanese mentors. An end to mindless adulation of the supposed "Korean Miracle" is a prerequisite for continued Korean development and development of Korean studies.
The book also needs to be updated for the 1990's, particularly the troubles of the two Kim administrations, because the author's concerns have important policy implications. In Korea, history is immediately played out in the contemporary arena.
This book is the best place for laymen and beginning students to start. it is a model, both in its honesty and authorial collaboration, for future Korean studies.
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Riddle that is Korean History, May 5, 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: Korea Old and New: A History (Paperback)
The complicated history of Korea is a rich field of study for the professional historian. It has been ruled by Buddhist- and Confucian-based governments, and also been the victim of countless foreign invasions. Understanding the factors which have led to the modern day division of North and South Korea is no easy matter. Most works dealing with the history of that land are bogged down with the tedious analysis of obscure, period texts. These approaches use the works to explain - or attempt to explain - the underlying forces behind those changes in political structure. The problem with this approach is that many of those texts were merely rhetorical exercises written by career(-minded) politicians seeking to better their personal station by justifying the policies of the victors of this or that time and place. This approach does little to address the effects of those changes on Korea's populace, economy, and diplomatic standing in the Asian community. Happily, this book is an exception. "Old and New" does a good job of synthesizing Buddhist and Confucian polities in relation to the major periods of Korean history (Three Kingdoms period, Koryo Dynasty, Chosun Dynasty). This discussion clearly defines the major issues of each period, and segues easily into a discussion of the fall of the Chosun Dynasty in the early 1900s, when Japan occupied the "Hermit Kingdom." Much attention is rightfully devoted to the post-WWII machinations between Russia, America, and the various political factions inside Korea which led to the Korean War. The authors note that the Koreans did not stand helplessly by while Russia and the USA arbitrarily drew a dividing line between North and South. Indeed, the authors convincingly demonstrate that various Korean groups worked to manipulate the super powers, just as the super powers attempted to invoke their will on Korea. The sad result of all this was the Korean War. One area not touched on in enough detail is the role of Koreans in the Japanese army during WWII. True, the majority of Koreans who took part in that conflict were conscripted, but the book does not touch on the fact that not all Koreans were forced into the fray. There were factions inside Korea which supported Japan and the war effort, and some of the Korean army units earned a reputation in Southeast Asia for brutality which matched that of the Japanese. Still, this is an excellent overview of Korean history, and a must read for anyone seeking a deeper understanding of that country's tragic history.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Introduction to Korean History, February 4, 2004
This review is from: Korea Old and New: A History (Paperback)
It is always difficult to find a good introductory text in English for any of the Asian countries outside of China and Japan, due mainly to the fact that facility with the required asian language does not necessarily translate into a facility with English. The pressure to publish necessarily prevents one from committing the requisite time to writing something with the epic scope of Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.
This book offers a good overview of the stretch of Korean history with a strong narrative balanced by detailed descriptions of local life and culture during the different periods. There is a lively discussion of consequences and the organization of the book leads us to be able to draw pertinent parallels to what has happened in latter periods of history.
After reading this - what did I gain?
1) I was able to gain a sense of the tradition of Korean history - and further understand the resonances of words such as Silla, Paekchae, Chosun - (in the same way I finally understood how Germany, Allemand and Deutschland could all refer to the same country - these being different tribes who lived in the area)
2)A sense that whatever hardships Koreans have suffered in this century they have seen before - whether it is in the form of Chinese incursions, or the mad rampage of the warlord Hideyoshi in the 16th century. Korea has been divided before.
3) A better sense of Korea as unique cultural entity - with its own centers of excellence, such as celadon, hangul, etc.
My only reservation with the book is that it dwells too much on latter day history from Japanese colonial occupation until the 1980s. Obviouly the sources are better but it left me feeling that pacing changed from that of grand narrative into detailed analysis (This may have been because this book is a combination of two books) But all in all it gave me a better sense of where everything fits than Bruce Cumings' book "Korea's Place in the Sun" - which should be read in conjuction with this book.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent framework for Korean history, February 10, 2008
By 
Deb Nam-Krane "dnkboston" (Boston, MA United States) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: Korea Old and New: A History (Paperback)
I taught Korean history to adults and children at a Korean language school for a few years, and while I found other "chattier" references helpful (Bruce Cummings book springs to mind), this was the book I turned to again and again. It was not only a thorough reference, it also gave me the context to fit information from other sources into.

As both a Korean-American and someone with a degree in History, I of course already appreciated Korea's separate national identity and the internal conflicts from past and present that continue to haunt modern Koreans. However, one subject (out of many) that I found difficult to fully comprehend was the ornate class and economic structure that developed in Modern Korean beginning in Old Choson and then flowered into a byzantine nightmare by the end of the New Choson era. This book provided a very thorough explanation of that development throughout the dynasties and I would say on average that economic history is probably this book's strongest point.

Another aspect of Korean history that the authors covered very well was the disintegration of Korea from a national entity that even the Chinese had to respect to a pawn of both European and larger Asian powers at the end of the 19th century. On balance, the authors are fair, giving due responsibility to both international predators and national parasites. However, this is not to say that this period was a complete tragedy- the book also documents the actions of Korean nationalists and patriots who more often than not gave their lives for the sake of Korean independence. The tragedy that stands out is more of a lack of organization than a lack of passion.

I have to disagree with a previous reviewer who felt that the authors focused too heavily on the twentieth century. On the contrary, part of the reason I have returned to this book again and again is because it gives such a thorough explanation of the Choson and pre-Choson era. Refreshing, especially because the majority of Korean history books on the market are unable to move off of the Korean war or the division of Korean. Important topics, of course, but difficult to fully appreciate without a thorough grounding in Korea's more ancient past.

There are other good Korean history books to read, but the serious student needs to start here.
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14 of 18 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Unfortunately Dated, February 5, 2010
This review is from: Korea Old and New: A History (Paperback)
When if first came out over a quarter of a century ago this was a welcomed addition to the field since there was so little available in English on Korean history especially on premodern history. It was and is a well written narrative history of Korea by five of the leading scholars in the field. It can still be useful as a reference but the scholarship is now a bit dated as much new work has been done on Korean history since that time. Those wishing for a survey history of Korean history will now find works available that better reflect more recent scholarship and insights. Pratt's "Everlasting Flower" and Seth's "Concise History of Korea" for premodern history and Robinson's "Korea's Twentieth Century Odyssey" for modern history come to mind.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Solid Survey, April 26, 2003
This review is from: Korea Old and New: A History (Paperback)
Eckert has provided a solid survey history of the peninsula that stands as a reliable introduction to the politics and culture of Korea in a single volume. As with most surveys, fascinating intrigues and cultural depth are sacrificed in order to provide an overview of the essentials. It is an excellent introductory text, written in a lucid style noteworthy for its clarity of expression. David R. Bannon, Ph.D., author "Race Against Evil."
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good book about Korea., May 21, 2011
By 
Patrick Wunderlich (Murray, UT United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Korea Old and New: A History (Paperback)
Although it is a little dated, this book still provides a detailed account of Korean history. Its strongest part is Joseon Dynasty and the social arrangements between the classes. Although it is not as interesting as the other books about Korea that I have reviewed, I still believe that it is interesting and should be read by anyone who is interested in or studying Korea.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting, though I don't know if I'm really qualified to comment on it., April 5, 2014
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This review is from: Korea Old and New: A History (Paperback)
I am enjoying this book. It starts way back in history prior to the Neolithic period even, which I think is cool of a history book.
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Korea Old and New: A History
Korea Old and New: A History by Carter J. Eckert (Paperback - August 14, 1991)
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