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The Two Koreas: Revised And Updated A Contemporary History Paperback – December 6, 2001

ISBN-13: 978-0465051625 ISBN-10: 0465051626 Edition: Rev. & upd.

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Editorial Reviews


"Oberdorfer is one of America's keenest analysts of the international scene." -- --James A. Baker III, former U.S. Secretary of State

"This truly important work will, without question, become the standard against which other books on modern Korea will be judged." -- --Donald P. Gregg, former U.S. Ambassador to South Korea

About the Author

Don Oberdorfer wrote for the Washington Post for twenty-five years. He was a National Book Award finalist for Tet! The Turning Point in the Vietnam War and holds a Woodrow Wilson Award from Princeton for public service. He is currently a resident scholar at Johns Hopkins University Nitze School of Advanced International Studies. He lives in Washington, D.C.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 560 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; Rev. & upd. edition (December 6, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465051626
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465051625
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.4 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #688,703 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

This book details so much of it so well.
I would recommed this book to anyone interested in the politics and hirtory of North and South Korea.
Hallur Mortensen
I keep this handy and even gave a copy to my Professor.
Jerry D. Cozby

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

32 of 42 people found the following review helpful By Tiger CK on September 6, 2008
Format: Paperback
Don Oberdorfer's The Two Koreas is generally a triumph of style over substance and I do not believe that it merits all of the high ratings it has received here. He does not know Korea as well as some of the other reviewers here think he does. To be sure, Oberdorfer is a compelling writer and he tells the story of North and South Korea since the 1970s with a great deal of flair. He did turn up some useful materials on American policy toward Seoul and Pyongyang during the 1980s through filing Freedom of Information Act requests. Through the use of these materials, interviews and newspaper articles, the book gives a fairly thorough if workmanlike account of Korean history from the early 1970s through the 1990s. He covers the emergence of Yusin, the Seoul Olympics, the negotiation of the Agreed Framework and other events in a fairly readable manner.

But Oberdorfer's overall knowledge of Korea and Korean history is very shallow. Oberdorfer does not speak or read Korean and he can only use Korean sources that have been translated for him. His research in Korean materials is non-existent. How can a serious expert on Korean history not cite a single Korean language source in his entire work? Those who lavish praise on the Two Korea's really need to answer this question. The author's limited knowledge of Korean history often shows in his analysis. First, his chapters on Korea before the 1970s are extremely superficial and contain very little useful information. In this sense, the book has a sort of truncated structure. Koreas history since the 1970s is incomprehensible without an understanding of the period between 1945 and 1972 when Korea was divided and the two Korean states were launched on their very different trajectories.
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17 of 22 people found the following review helpful By T. Graczewski VINE VOICE on August 26, 2007
Format: Paperback
I picked up "The Two Koreas" before leaving for my first visit to Seoul and Busan hoping to get a full picture of political and economic developments on the peninsula since the end of the Korean War. I usually pre-screen my book purchases thoroughly, but in this case chose Oberdorfer's piece simply because it appeared to be the best option available on short notice.

This isn't a bad book; but it is a bit awkward. First, the only logic to the timeframe covered (roughly 1972 to 2000) is that it cooresponds to Oberdorfer's personal experience in Korean affairs as a journalist with the Washington Post. The post-war years of the authoritarian regimes of Syngman Rhee and Kim Il Song are not discussed at all, nor are the early years of Park Chung Hee's regime in the 1960s as he laid the groundwork for the South Korean economic miracle of the late twentieth century.

Second, the weight of the narrative is heavily focused on the North Korean nuclear program and the efforts of the Clinton administration to negotiate a settlement with Pyongyang in the 1990s. Large and important swaths of Korean history in the 1970s are dealt with in a largely cursory manner, but the 1994 nuclear crisis is reconstructed in an almost hour-by-hour chronology of events. Indeed, nearly half of the book is dedicated to just a handful of events in the 1990s.

Finally, the style of "The Two Koreas" is a clumsy blend of narrative history and personal memoir cum political analysis. Oberdorfer should have pursued one of two approaches to his topic. He could have written a comprehensive contemporary narrative of post-war Korea in the spirit and style of similar endeavors by veteran foreign journalists, the most notable example being Stanley Karnow's wonderful piece on the Philippines, "In our Image.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By G. Johnston on August 19, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Once again, this book is on the State Department reading list. Oberdorfer provides a well-researched, thorough perspective on the strategic, diplomatic, economic and social implications of the ongoing relationship between the divided Korea, and the influence of relations with nations such as China, the United States and Russia. It is particularly noteworthy for the attention it focuses on the current and recent leadership in both Koreas, and the respective pedigrees of those leaders as a means to explain their allegiances and goals. A recommended read for anyone with any interest in East Asian and Pacific political affairs.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Steven D. Ward on March 30, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I looked at this book as an introduction to the broad strokes of modern Korean history, and for my purposes it worked wonderfully. I learned a lot, and the book brought a lot of new questions into my mind.

That being said, I went immediately from this book to Korea's Place in the Sun: A Modern History, Updated Edition. And I mean within a few hours of finishing The Two Koreas. Cuming's book is far more expansive and goes back farther into history, but I am very glad I read The Two Korea's first, so that I would have the big picture in mind while reading Cumings.

Also, I agree with other reviewers that said the author bringing in his personal stories got a little annoying and there could have been more natural ways to introduce the same information.

So for people just looking for a light overview of the topic, I would recommend this book. But for those looking to delve deeper into Korean politics and culture, it will not be sufficient.
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