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The Impossible State: North Korea, Past and Future Paperback – July 9, 2013
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“An up-close, insightful portrait. . . . The Impossible State is a clearheaded, bold examination of North Korea and its future.” (Washington Post)
“Essential reading for all North Korea watchers. . . . An informative and enjoyable read.” (Library Journal (starred review))
“Cha demonstrates an intimate familiarity with the regime’s contradictions. . . . The thesis is clear: the world’s most closed-off state needs to open up to survive, but breaking its hermetic seal may well precipitate its demise.” (The New Yorker)
“An eye-opening view of the closed, repressive dictatorship of North Korea. . . . A useful, pertinent work for understanding the human story behind the headlines.” (Kirkus Reviews)
“A meaty, fast-paced portrait of North Korean society, economy, politics, and foreign policy by an expert who has studied the regime as a scholar and interacted with its officials.” (Foreign Affairs)
“Ask those who deal with national security what worries them most and at the top of the list or near it you’ll always find North Korea, a place about which we know little to nothing. That’s why Victor Cha’s book is so valuable.” (Bob Schieffer, CBS News Chief Washington Correspondent)
“The Impossible State is provocative, frightening, and never more relevant than today as an untested new leader takes charge of the world’s most unpredictable nuclear power.” (Andrea Mitchell, NBC News Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent)
From the Back Cover
In The Impossible State, seasoned international-policy expert and lauded scholar Victor Cha pulls back the curtain on provocative, isolationist North Korea, providing our best look yet at its history and the rise of the Kim family dynasty and the obsessive personality cult that empowers them. Cha illuminates the repressive regime's complex economy and culture, its appalling record of human rights abuses, and its belligerent relationship with the United States, and analyzes the regime's major security issues—from the seemingly endless war with its southern neighbor to its frightening nuclear ambitions—all in light of the destabilizing effects of Kim Jong-il's death and the transition of power to his unpredictable heir.
Ultimately, this engagingly written, authoritative, and highly accessible history warns of a regime that might be closer to its end than many might think—a political collapse for which America and its allies may be woefully unprepared.
Top customer reviews
I knew nothing of the history of North Korea or anything about its people. Even today I just thought of North Korea as a weird place with really weird leaders. And as scary because these weird people could possibly blow up a lot of the U.S.. So I was grateful to learn so much more from this book.
"The Impossible State" is not strictly speaking a linear history of North Korea. Cha moves back and forth in his narrative between the present, the recent past and the remote past, capturing the history of North Korea and the evolution of U.S. policy toward Pyongyang and its leaders. The historical narrative is detailed but accessible to the general reader. It traces how North Korea, which thanks to outside aid was both economically and militarily stronger than the South after the Korean War, but has since become a basketcase dependent on the threat of nuclear war to avoid being ignored altogether. Cha is to be praised for taking an unblinking look at why Pyongyang cannot afford to negotiate away its nuclear weapons capabilities, and why economic reform of its moribund economy might be the undoing of its authoritarian government. Cha is also clear-eyed about the potential costs to South Korea of a Korean peninsula that unifies in the manner of East and West Germany.
Cha's narrative can be repetitive in places, and he not unnaturally feels compelled to defend the record of the Bush administration in its dealings with North Korea. However, these features are minor blemishes in a very insightful book on North Korea, recommended to the general reader and the student.
My only observation is that the text reads a bit like a research paper and therefore it tends to go back and forth a bit on the same issues. And it reads long, so you need to have an interest in reading, putting it down and then reading again.
It was also a bit remarkable to read something complimentary about George Bush and foreign policy. This is not conventional wisdom, and with the passage of time perhaps he deserves a better place in history than he has been given to date.
I think the reader will readily appreciate that this is not a superficial analysis and is a worthy read for anyone who has an interest in global affairs.
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