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The Two Koreas: A Contemporary History Hardcover – October 5, 1997

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Oberdorfer first toured Korea in 1953 courtesy of the U.S. Army and returned often on the Asia beat for the Washington Post. In the present volume, his accounts of the conflicts of the last 20 years, appraisals of leaders based on interviews in Korea, Japan, Washington, and Moscow, and incisive policy analysis form a detailed and insightful history of North and South Korean politics and U.S. policy. Particularly engrossing is the analysis of relations between Moscow and Washington and their defiant clients, which turned domestic rifts into world conflict from the 1950s through the potentially nuclear crisis of 1994 and the present famine. The obvious comparison is with Bruce Cumings's commanding Korea's Place in the Sun: A Modern History (LJ 2/15/97). Cumings analyzes the evolution and nature of Korea's political economy over the last few centuries. Oberdorfer brings to life the events, leaders, and decisions of the last 20 years. Larger public and academic collections will want both volumes.?Charles Hayford, Evanston, Ill.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Kirkus Reviews

An old Asia hand offers a briefing that's more notable for the breadth than for the depth with which it addresses the issues still dividing North from South Korea. Oberdorfer (The Turn, 1991, etc.) starts his narrative in 1972, the first time that Pyongyang representatives had openly visited Seoul since the peninsular country was partitioned in the wake of WW II, and then reviews the ongoing negotiations on reunification. The author (a former Far East correspondent for the Washington Post) goes on to detail the South's blood-sport approach to politics at a time when the continued presence of Kim Il Sung lent the North a measure of stability. By way of example, the KCIA gunned down Park Chung Hee, opening the way for Chun Do Hwan. Following deadly riots in 1987, another would-be strongman, Roh Tae Woo, bested reformers Kim Dae Jung and Kim Young Sam for the presidency, leaving him to oversee the 1988 Olympiad successfully staged in Seoul. In the meantime, Beijing gave Seoul a jolt, following Moscow's lead and establishing diplomatic relations with South Korea. Shortly before the Democratic People's Republic of Korea's founding father died in mid-1994, the wider world and Washington became gravely concerned about the Red state's nuclear capabilities. Jimmy Carter helped avert a full-blown crisis, however, and Kim's son (Kim Jong Il), who inherited an economy on the rocks, is coping as best he can with famine and a host of other daunting internal problems. Yet the impoverished North continues its efforts to subvert the flourishing South. Even so, Oberdorfer is reluctant to predict whether, let alone when, the two Koreas will be reunited. Indeed, he exits on the breezy note that there's no telling what may happen in a country so full of surprises. A fine overview of Korea's recent past, which will leave most readers frustrated by its lack of analysis on what might lie ahead for this divided nation. (b&w photos, not seen) -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; 1St Edition edition (October 5, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0201409275
  • ISBN-13: 978-0201409277
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 6.5 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,396,646 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Joe the Critic on April 20, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I was pleasantly surprised at how well-written this book is. Oberdorfer knows his subject, and he is clearly a top-knotch journalist. Unlike a previous reveiewer, I don't find his writing dry at all -- compared to most history books, it is gripping and entertaining, and does a good job of describing the key players and major events without bogging down in trivia.

Having grown up during the 70's and 80's (and having lost a relative to the Korean conflict), I'm fascinated to learn more about the events that were unfolding at the periphery of American consciousness during the administrations of Carter, Reagan, Bush Sr., and Clinton. Despite recent developments in North Korea's nuclear standoff, the book doesn't feel out of date, as the situation today is little different than when this book was written.

Highly recommended for those with an interest in East Asia, international affairs, or geopolitics.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Kurt Veggeberg on December 24, 1997
Format: Hardcover
I had the good fortune to read this book while I was in Korea during the recent presidential election and currency devaluation. The background on Kim Dae Jung, the president elect, made my time in Korea more interesting. The author retells in detail how the peninsula was almost embroiled in war over the tree cutting incident in the DMZ along with many other chilling stories that were difficult to fully understand when they were happening. Well worth reading if you are interested in what is happening in modern Korea.
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9 of 13 people found the following review helpful By S. Bowman on July 25, 2001
Format: Paperback
overall, it is a very good book. It has tons of information, and one learns just how precarious the Korean Penisula has been since the Armistace back in 1953 (i think that's the correct year). The only issue I have with the book is it is a bit on the dry side and it is clear a journalist wrote the book. That is, it does not go in-depth much, but instead just spits out the facts and tells it like it happened. In other words, don't expect much analysis of the events or the people involved in those events.
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10 of 16 people found the following review helpful By J. J. Bevill on October 27, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I bought this book based on my satisfaction with Oberdorfer's outstanding book, TET, which I read many years ago.
THE TWO KOREAS is mainly a political history of the two Koreas since 1972. He begins with a broad and basic overview of Korea's history, and the absurd way in which the country came to be partitioned at the end of WWII. The main story line begins in 1972, with the origins of communications between the two Koreas, and continues up through 1996.
Although the focus is political developments in the conflict between the two Koreas, economic and social elements are added to contrast their respective development over time. The word that comes to mind when contemplating North Korea is "bizarre".
The most interesting theme is on North Koreas' drift to aquiring nuclear weapons, and the factors that prompted it. Interestingly, South Korea had pursued the development of nuclear weapons in the 1970's, but that effort was stopped by the United States. Later, North Korea began nuclear development which lead to the situation we find ourselves in today (2002), with North Korea admitting it has nuclear weapons.
Readable, relevant, interesting, and insightful, this is an excellent start to understanding how the two Koreas came to be, and while the story ends with 1996, it isn't difficult to understand how North Korea eventually came to have nuclear weapons.
Those looking for scholarly analysis and major footnotes will not find them. However, the book does have fascinating accounts of the major player's actions and thinking, and first person sources that only a journalist will have. Those sources add personal insight and current perspective to the issues discussed.
This book is well worth the money and effort.
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