Monday, January 4, 2016

Book Review: The Impossible State: North Korea, Past and Future by Victor Cha

ISBN: 0061998516
Published: July 9th, 2013 (first published April 3rd, 2012)
Publisher: Ecco
Read from December 14th to 18th, 2015
Synopsis from Goodreads:
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.


While I read three books about North Korea back-to-back, this one was notably different from the other two I read. The other two books I read were focused on the personal stories of North Koreans, but this book focuses on North Korean on a broader scale. The author served in George W. Bush's White House as Director for Asian Affairs. His personal experience with North Korea while in that position is incorporated into this book as well as a wider discussion of North Korea.

The book is a great source for learning more about how North Korea operates on a more international scale instead of just within its own country. While the treatment of the North Korean people by their government is a hugely important issue and one talked about within the book, it is not the only focus within this book. I found it fascinating to learn more about how North Korea interacts with other governments and how it makes money internationally through various means, including distributing drugs to other countries that are made within North Korea.

I enjoyed learning more about so many different aspects of North Korea especially from a foreign affairs perspective. The only criticism I have of the book is that it had a tendency to get repetitive at times. There were points of the book where I felt like I was reading exactly what I had read before, and I would wonder if I had somehow wound up flipping back in the book without realizing it. That would throw me off, and I eventually took to skipping passages that I swore I had read before. I wish those sections had been trimmed down as it was unnecessary to have the same information multiple times.

Still, I would recommend this book if you're interested in learning more about North Korea. It is a good source of information and is written in a style that is easy to read when it's not repetitive.

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