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Kim Jong-Il: North Korea's Dear Leader Hardcover – January 29, 2004

3.2 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"The only comfort to be had from the new batch of Korea books is provided by Breen's biography of Kim Jong Il, which details a hedonistic streak as wide as the DMZ." (Atlantic Monthly, September 2004)

"...a breezy and gossipy account of the life of the Dear Leader, who has been variously portrayed in the West..." (Sunday Telegraph, 22 February 2004)

"...he interestingly draws on some psychological profiles and a few accounts of those that have met him [Kim Jong Il]..." (Spectator, 28 February 2004)

"...immensely knowledgeable..." (The Herald, Glasgow, 6 March 2004)

From the Inside Flap

North Korea has been described by experts as the most dangerous country in the world. The only Asian state on US President George W. Bush's famous "Axis of Evil", it stands threateningly outside the community of nations.

For most of the world, communism is now ancient history. But in North Korea, it is still very much alive. Indeed, the communist personality cult that still holds the country together is arguably more fanatical than any other before it.

The unlikely object of worship for the country's 23 million people is Kim Jong-il, the pudgy and reclusive son of former dictator, Kim Il-sung. Little is known about Kim in the fraternity of international leaders, except for one rather disturbing fact: under his leadership, his country has become the first to withdraw from the international system of controls on nuclear weapons, which has put Kim Jong-il on a collision course with the United States.

What makes this especially remarkable and worrying is that this country with aspirations to become a nuclear power, has all but collapsed economically. Its people are so impoverished and malno urished that they are, on average, several inches shorter and many pounds lighter than people of the same age living across the demilitarized border in rival South Korea.

Kim Jong-il is the one fat man in the whole country.

How long can he continue in power? What stops his regime from collapsing politically? Will his reign end in nuclear warfare or will he go quietly? Or will he surprise us all and start true reconciliation between the two halves of the Korean peninsular? The answers, Michael Breen argues in this fascinating and colourful portrait, all lie with Kim Jong-il.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 200 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1st edition (January 29, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0470821310
  • ISBN-13: 978-0470821312
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 0.9 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,318,339 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Michael Breen is well qualified to write about the Korean peninsular, having lived in Seoul for many years, and visiting North Korea several times. Although no scholar (he is a former journalist) Breen is also the author of "The Koreans - Who they are, what they want, where their future lies", an excellent commentary on South Korea.

Access to NK is well controlled, and highly fettered; much of Breen's book is based on testimony of NK defectors to the South and conversations with other visitors to the state. Breen has never interviewed the Dear Leader, (although he did meet the Great Leader and relates that he felt that the GL must have been struggling with flatulence!) journalists, especially foreign journalists, being treated with suspicion in North Korea. So in this respect, there is nothing really substantial to the book, and Breen has merely gathered and compiled a series of anecdotes and known facts about the Dear Leader, and added his interpretation of the man. However, I would stress that the lack of hard facts reflect more on the subject of the book, than the author: Breen literally does not have much to work with.

Breen discusses Kim Jong-il's early upbringing, quoting from school reports supposedly cited in official books about the Dear Leader. What rapidly comes through from the quotes that Breen uses, much (or all) of the state's writings about its leader smacks of brownnosing and trying to put a positive spin on events.

The section about Kim Jong-il's adult life is much more based on hearsay - as Breen acknowledges, there are large sections of the Dear Leader's life about which very little is known.
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Format: Hardcover
Although Breen, I'm sure, is a fine journalist, this particular work is little more than a compliation of Kim Jong-il news wire snippets and passages from memoirs. Breen offers little in the way of biography other than material provided by DPRK itself. Granted, Kim Jong-il is enigmatic, however Breen's work would have been substantially furhtered had he persued his psycho-political research. The author's brief passages subjecting Kim Jong-il to J.D. Barber's The Presidential Character methodology was clever and thought provoking. Had he been able to move his argument further in that direction, perhaps drawing new scholarship into the picture, a clearer picture of Kim Jong-il would appear. Still, Breen's descriptions of his own travels through North Korea were enlightening. As it is indeed, "the hermit kingdom" any description of the North proves intersting. In conclusion, for a good compliaiton of Kim Jong-il info, Breen serves well, but if one is looking for a more indepth biography, it would likely be best to look elsewhere.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Breen's outline of the Dear Leader is approriate for the bizzare, often silly nature of his subject. The author moves back and forth between academic and personal observations, happily mocking the disgusting powers that be in North Korea.
I agree with the review who did not like the "Is Kim Jong-Il evil?" chapter. It seemed like filler at one point. I also felt that the end of the book lacked some of the witty writing I found in the very well done introductory part.
All in all an enjoyable read- worth the cash for a few insights into a fascinating (but disturbing character).
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Format: Hardcover
Source material in English about a young, reclusive, foreign dictator is far from plentiful and usually biased. This makes Michael Breen’s Kim Jong-il unusually useful today; Kim is in the forefront of the news, and the western public is almost frantically searching for information about him.
It also means that the biography has limitations, for it is forced to rely on the research and thinking of the author. Breen is one of the few westerners who live in the area (South Korea, in his case) and has often visited North Korea as a journalist in recent years. He has become a management consultant to companies dealing with this fanatically communist nation.
In his preface, Breen warns that North Korea has become what one U.S. diplomat “dubbed an intelligence black-hole.” “Information and mobility are so restricted that local citizens don’t know what’s going on outside and no-one knows what’s going on inside.”
Breen’s objective is to fill the gap. His chapter headings describe his direction: Going Nuclear; Is Kim Jong-il Evil?; Country of the Lie; Collision Course; and so on. His relatively short selected bibliography includes translations, publications in Korean, and an unpublished manuscript.
Time after time, Breen refers to the mysterious in a cultural belief, political situation, or traditional attitude he confronted in North Korea. Sometimes he attempts to analyze it, sometimes not. What is most helpful to the outsider is to recognize it and try to act accordingly.
Breen emphasizes linguistic differences. However, Dear Leader, Dear Educator—the constant use of the phrase, as critics of the book may point out, misleads readers, for the expression is false and numbing to the western mind.
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