From Kirkus Reviews
A veteran British journalist examines the history, culture, and economy of North and (principally) South Korea, where he lives for half of each year. Realizing that most readers know Korea only because of the war (1950-53) or because of the communist North's nuclear potential and noisy aggressiveness, Breen limns with patience and perspicuity an engaging portrait of this least-known of the major Asian economic powers. He describes, for example, the ``fierce sense of identity'' among Koreans and concludes that in Korean society ``you are your DNA. He examines Korean religions and educational systems, observing that the peninsula's undergraduate programs are inferior because students experience ``no pressure to perform as undergraduates. In a rapid summary of Korean history, Breen notes that the Koreans ``have remained a distinct people'' for centuries, despite domination by China, Japan, and others. He has a powerful command of anecdote and detail, illustrated for example in his description of community-wide rock fights in the 19th century to settle public disputes and in the horrible image of the 100,000 pickled Korean noses the 16th-century Japanese warriors took to their country to certify their body counts. Breen credits the late South Korean president Park Chung-hee for providing the leadership that propelled his nation into the front ranks of economic powers, but he also presents a devastating analysis of the pervasive bribery and corruption in the Korean business, education, medical, and legal systems. In a clever though questionable analogy, Breen attempts to infer broad cultural truths from the ``lawless, selfish and rude'' behavior of South Korean drivers, asserting that ``traffic behaviour illustrates how society regulates itself. In general, a splendid work of explication and analysis by one who admits to being both charmed and angered by his subjects. -- Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
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“Michael Breen illuminates through countless anecdotes and personal observations the weird and wonderful ways of Asia's most paradoxical, polarized country. Few Koreans, let alone foreigners, have a better understanding than Breen of how a people can be alternately warm and ruthless, shrewd and childlike, tolerant and pigheaded. This is a thoughtful, passionate, and enlightening look at the world's eleventh largest economy and one its oldest cultures; required reading for the neophyte and Korea hand alike.” ―Steve Glain, former Seoul correspondent, The Wall Street Journal
“Michael Breen gives readers an insight into the history and character of a complex people which helps us assess how they might deal with the current complex period in their development.” ―Catherine Lee, Seoul correspondent, The Economist
“For anyone who wants to know Korea and the Koreans better, this book is an excellent place to start. Michael Breen's achievement is to have gotten under Korea's skin. His portrait of Koreans is at once highly personal and convincingly recognizable. both engaged and engaging, this book comes as close as an outsider can get to an insider's account of contemporary Korea [and its] undoubted importance as a key player in the global economy of the twenty-first century.” ―Aidan Foster-Carter, Korea expert, Leeds University