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Korea's Place in the Sun: A Modern History (Updated) Updated Edition

51 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0393327021
ISBN-10: 0393327027
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Bruce Cumings traces the growth of Korea from a string of competing walled city-states to its present dual nationhood. He examines the ways in which Korean culture has been influenced by Japan and China, and the ways in which it has subtly influenced its more powerful neighbors. Cumings also considers the recent changes in the South, where authoritarianism is giving way to democracy, and in the North, which Cumings depicts as a "socialist corporatist" state more like a neo-Confucian kingdom than a Stalinist regime. Korea's Place in the Sun does much to help Western readers understand the complexities of Korea's past and present. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Cumings's riveting history of modern Korea challenges much received wisdom. Rejecting the verdict of Western historians who support Japan's "modernizing role" in Korea, he characterizes the Japanese occupation (1910-1945) as a callous colonization that fostered underdevelopment, crushed dissent and suppressed indigenous culture. Director of Northwestern University's Center for International and Comparative Studies, the author is highly critical of the U.S. military occupational government (1945-1948), which he blames for bolstering the status quo and laying the groundwork for one of Asia's worst police states. Popular resistance in South Korea, he emphasizes, ultimately transformed an authoritarian regime into a relatively democratic society, while the North, which he has visited extensively, remains a cloistered, family-run, xenophobic garrison state. Yet, drawing on recent scholarship, Cumings argues that North Korea was never a mere Soviet puppet but instead resembled more autonomous communist nations, such as Yugoslavia. His incisive concluding portrait of Korean Americans presents a hardworking, upwardly mobile yet insular, ambivalent group, "in the society but not of it." This spirited, vibrant chronicle is indispensable for understanding modern Korea and its dim prospects for reunification. Photos.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton; Updated edition (September 17, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393327027
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393327021
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.2 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #124,241 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

95 of 106 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 29, 2000
Format: Paperback
One of the first books I read about Korea, Korea's Place in the Sun: A Modern History, illustrates the importance of interpreting history cautiously. Korean history, because of the division of the peninsula between two warring countries, is highly politicized. Cumings has been generally classified as a New Left historian and as sympathetic to the North Korean regime. The second charge is just mud-slinging, but the first generalization is still an active question in South Korean politics and academia.
First, since the book's publication in 1997, the Koreas have undergone many changes, both domestically and in their relations. South Korea's media and academic industries have also matured, and expression is more lively and open. There are more generalist and expert histories available on the market, so the importance of Cumings' work is easier to evaluate.
Cumings is generally a proponent of unification. This taints his history in several ways. First, Choson is depicted as a golden age of unified Korean power. Cumings also supports the Conservative Korean line, that foreigners wrecked Choson and downplays evidence of aristocratic factionalism and the weakness of the Korean central government. His discussion of the Japanese Occupation downplays the role of Korean businessmen in the Occupation economy and government. His account of the Korean War is heavy on politics and military leadership discussions, but spare on soldier's recollections. Cumings' sections on North Korean industrialization are competent, but since 1997 the subject has been better researched. Cumings still cannot compensate for the dearth of economic data, which plagues accounts to the present.
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50 of 56 people found the following review helpful By Andrew on August 10, 2001
Format: Paperback
I loved this book and have read it twice from cover to cover in addition to refering to certain capters regularly. There is no other book that captures the colorful, tragic and compelling story of Korea's modern history half as well as Cuming's opus.
The book is a skillful blend of theory (he quotes Focault in the epigram), hard history and ideology. I especially enjoyed the juicy bits of gossip that more "serious" Korean histories always leave out. He writes about Kim Gu's womenizing, Sygman Rhee's paranoia and the CIA's dirty secrets.
The book has flaws that are glaring and annoying. Cumings details every attrocity that the dictators in South Korea committed, but writes only of the dubious "achievements" of North Korea, never mentioning things like how many of his own citizens Kim Il-son, North Korea's late "Dear Leader" sent to concentration camps. The harrowing accounts of North Korean defectors of life in the worker's paradise are a glaring and nearly unforgiveable.
I would be tempted to say that Cumings had two goals in mind in writing this book: getting in good with Pyoungyang (thus being assured his travel visas always get approved) and annoying the hell out of Seoul (thereby regaining the cult hero status he got in the 80s with his book on the origins of the Korean War with a new generation of South Korean college kids).
But, ultimately, I can't stay mad at Cumings. His story of Korea's painful 20th century is told with the verve and deftness of great literature.
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42 of 53 people found the following review helpful By Jinho C. on November 20, 2000
Format: Paperback
It was very interesting to see rather different view on Korea. Maybe it's about time somebody getting away from the conventional view on modern Korean history as just "tragic". He discusses many aspects of modern Korean history, especially the outside influences from US, Japan and China. I agree on most of his points on modern history, however his knowledge on ancient Korean history is very questionable. Relationships among three East Asian nations: China, Korea and Japan were not as simple as the author suggests. For instance, Bruce Cumings over amplifies the effect of Japanese cultural influence on Korea while the truth is that till mid-19th century it was minimal if not zero. Until mid-19th century, Korea has been influenced by Japan militarily, but not culturally. Even after Imjinwaeran(the Japanese invasion of Korea in 1592), unlike the usual situation where victims become the recipients of the aggressor's culture, it was reverse in this case. Japan became the recipient as she intentionally captured Korean scholars and artisans and brought them to Japan. However, it's not to say that Korea was never influenced by the Japanese culture. Ever since Japan became the military superpower in the 20th century and annexed Korea, Japanese culture has been the most influential for Korea. Once the author gets into relationship between Korea and China, it gets more problematic. But because it's so complicated I can't really explain it here.. Therefore, my point is: I recommend this book but read with caution on some historical facts..
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29 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Paul Wiseman on March 29, 2003
Format: Paperback
A South Korean college student recently told me that he learned more about his own culture from the works of Bruce Cumings than from any number of Korean scholars. I believe it. Cumings knows and loves Korea, his passion and insight coloring every page of this book. Cumings can name all the significant players in modern Korea and how they fit into the nation's long, proud and tragic history. He rightly is anguished and disappointed by America's role in dividing the Korean peninsula and in keeping it divided (even if I think he exaggerates America's sins and significantly under-emphasizes North Korea's). This is a deeply personal book, too: Cumings includes observations from his own experiences in Korea and from his own family (his wife is Korean). In the hands of a less skilled writer and thinker, these personal insights might be a distraction; in this case, they enrich the book immeasurably. The virtues of Korea's Place in the Sun easily outweigh the vices, which (for this reader anyway) include Cumings' unrelentingly leftist politics. In short, Korea's Place in the Sun is an informed, passionate, opinionated and well-written introduction to a country (two countries, sadly) we should all know a lot more about.
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Korea's Place in the Sun: A Modern History (Updated)
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