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The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves and Why It Matters Paperback – December 20, 2011

4.1 out of 5 stars 77 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"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

From the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Melville House; Reprint edition (December 20, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1935554344
  • ISBN-13: 978-1935554349
  • Product Dimensions: 7 x 0.7 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (77 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #70,878 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By William Alexander on February 2, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I knew that B. R. Myers was a contributing editor, I believe, for "The Atlantic," my favorite periodical. I had no idea that he was also a student of the Korean Peninsula, especially the "Hermit Kingdom" north of the 38th parallel. Christopher Hitchens reviewed this book for "Slate" today, and after catching it this morning, I drove to my local Barnes & Noble in the vague hope they might have a copy. I was shocked that they had a copy in stock. And I was not able to put this fascinating book down.

Myers objective is, by explaining North Korea in the roots of its modern past, to try to make some form recommendations as to how the world community can deal with this strange and blinkered land. His ultimate conclusion is, unfortunately, rather gloomy, arguing essentially that containment and "benevolent neglect" are the only methods to deploy against a regime that, by its own self-definition, is as fixed and unchangeable as a steel and cement mold. All this short of actual military confrontation no one exterior to North Korea wants.

But, this is not the best part of the book. Myers advances and, I think, proves that North Korea is purely a product of its all-pervasive propaganda which literally soaks every aspect of daily life, twenty-four seven, learned in part from the brutal occupation tactics of the Japanese between 1905-1945. And this propaganda supports the two pillars of this Orwellian moonscape, the military and the Kim clan, arguably the most successful crime family since the fictional Corleones. North Korea is no longer properly understood as a "communist" society.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is the rarest of books: a genuinely original analysis that demolishes most of what we thought we knew about something, in this case North Korea. For decades, virtually all of us have blithely assumed that North Korea's ideology was Juche, Stalinism, Confucianism, or some combination thereof. Myers makes a meticulously researched, closely reasoned argument that it is none of these things. On the contrary, the DPRK is an ethno-centric nationalist state led by a beloved, androgynous Parent Leader. In Pyongyang's world view, Koreans are a pure, childlike race, virtually incapable of sin, or of surviving in a world of vicious foreigners. Thankfully, the Great Leader -- the mother-like Kim Il Sung -- is there to protect them, followed by the even more maternal Kim Jong Il. These innocent people are constantly threatened, of course, by those vicious, cowardly, hook-nosed Americans, who must be resisted at all costs. This analysis is of great value in itself, but it also has important policy implications, not the least of which is that since the Americans are the mortal enemies of the Korean people, genuine compromise with them on something like the DPRK's nuclear programs is unthinkable.

Until recently, virtually the only books available in English on North Korea (or even South Korea) were the tendentious, self-indulgent polemics written by Bruce Cumings, professor of history at the University of Chicago. Cumings was largely discredited long ago, and Myers finishes the job. It is hard to imagine he will ever be taken seriously again.
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Format: Hardcover
North Korea's ideology is often mocked or dismissed but rarely examined in the west. Often it is simplified as 'Stalinist' but Stalinism refers to the oppression of the regime, not to the ideology that justifies it.

In this slim volume (169 pages plus endnotes) author BR Myers painstakingly examines how North Korean ideology evolved from the end of World War II to the present and how it affects North Korea's behavior and world view.

He explains that despite his Soviet loyalties Kim Il Sung had little knowledge of communism and when it came time to build a national ideology he turned to the one system he was familiar with, Japanese Imperialism. The comparisons between Japan's pre-war race-based ideology and North Korea's statements are striking. The legitimacy of the North Korean regime does not rest on liberating the workers of the world, quite the opposite. It builds its legitimacy on protecting the pure and innocent race of Korea and opposing the South, not because of politics, but because the South is a Yankee colony that allows its culture and blood to be defiled by foreign influences. Myer backs up this claim with citations from North Korean films, novels, posters and broadcasts - often reprinting the works for readers to see.

He believes that understanding this worldview explains some of North Korea's irrational claims and policies. It also shows why North Korea is so reluctant to liberalize along the Chinese model; any step away from its ideology of purity could remove the regime's legitimacy.

I have two frustrations with this book however. First Myers takes several shots at other scholars, these academic feuds distract from the subject.
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