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The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves and Why It Matters Hardcover – January 26, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
A particularly nasty strain of racist propaganda has enabled North Korea's dictatorship to maintain power, according to this fascinating cultural survey. An American-born, South Korea-based instructor of North Korean literature, Myers (A Reader's Manifesto) combines his cultural and linguistic fluency with sharp analysis to throw light on one of the world's most closed-off cultures. Examining North Korean books, news broadcasts, and films, Myers finds that the country's supremacist propaganda can be traced to imperial Japan, which sought to convince Koreans that they were part of the "world's purest race." Myers acidly discredits Western interpretations of North Korea as "hard-line communist" or "Confucian," noting the prevalence of maternal rather than paternal imagery and the societal scorn for the former Soviet bloc. Esoteric cultural markers-e.g., the heavy use of flashbacks in film and literature-are mined for compelling clues to the North Korean sensibility. Myers' greatest feat is his explanation of how the regime has maintained power despite its failures in almost every area of governance-how it has convinced average North Korean citizens that shipments of U.S. food aid, for example, are actually reparations for past "Yankee" crimes. A sharp and smart introduction to one of the world's most secretive societies.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
"Electrifying... finely argued and brilliantly written." —Christopher Hitchens, Slate
"Provocative... A fascinating analysis." —Dwight Garner, The New York Times
"[A] scary... close reading of domestic propaganda [that] goes a long way toward explaining the erratic behavior and seemingly bizarre thought processes of Dear Leader Kim Jong Il." —The Wall Street Journal
"Myers' book is worth buying and reading." —The Quarterly Review
"The definitive book on the subject." —The Atlantic
"There are few books that can give the world a peek into the Hermit Kingdom.The Cleanest Race provides a reason to care about how those in North Korea see themselves and the West. It is possibly the best addition to that small library of books on North Korean ideology."
—Andrei Lankov, Far Eastern Economic Review
"Myers renders great service to the global foreign policy establishment with his lucid and well documented profile of the North Korean polity. If only it were made mandatory reading for all the stakeholder leaders, particularly the American establishment, who feel compelled to deal politically with North Korea. Maybe then, Myers' wisdom might lead them to adopt the only possibly policy toward North Korea that will work: that of 'benign neglect.'"
—Mike Gravel, US Senate 1969-1981
"In his new survey of North Korean propaganda, The Cleanest Race, B.R. Myers insists that the ongoing support of the North Korean public for the regime doesn't reflect any great faith in communism. Instead, he argues, it is rooted in a kind of paranoid racial nationalism adapted from the Japanese fascism that flourished before World War II.... Myers feels that the racialism at the heart of the regime's ideology will sustain it even as it fails to provide the prosperity it promises."
—Laura Miller, Salon.com
"The text offers a clear picture of the peculiar worldview of this profoundly inward-facing country, its character and continuous subtle alterations, and its under-appreciated ramifications in world affairs." —Reference & Research Book News
Top customer reviews
I found the first part boring and felt it lead to nowhere but after about 1/3rd of the book it became very interesting. I found it interesting, well written and definitely another take on why - and I believe it.
Lastly, I really enjoyed the writers tongue-in-cheek way of writing. It is seriously subtle.
At the core of the book is Meyers' thoughtful examination of decades of North Korean propaganda, from its founding by Kim Il Sung in 1945 right up to 2009 reports of Kim Jong Il's ill-health, concerns about a possible succession crisis, and relations with the US. Meyers' thesis is that the ideological basis of the North Korean state is paranoid rascist nationalism. He argues that outsider observers who see North Korea as the last Stalinist state or as an amalgam of Confuscism and Socialism may misunderstand Pyongyang's motives and actions. His conclusions bode poorly for current denuclearization talks with Pyongyang.
Propaganda is notoriously difficult to disect from the outside, especially when a pragmatic state plays one theme to its citizens and another to its enemies. Experienced observers of North Korea may therefore find much of interest in the book without necessarily agreeing with the author's every conclusion. "The Cleanest Race" is highly recommended to students of the Pyongyang regime as an insightful look at a closed society.