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Escape from Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West

3.99 of 5 stars 3.99  ·  rating details  ·  25,971 ratings  ·  2,988 reviews
A New York Times bestseller, the shocking story of one of the few people born in a North Korean political prison to have escaped and survived.

North Korea is isolated and hungry, bankrupt and belligerent. It is also armed with nuclear weapons. Between 150,000 and 200,000 people are being held in its political prison camps, which have existed twice as long as Stalin's Sovie
Hardcover, 205 pages
Published March 29th 2012 by Viking Adult (first published 2012)
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Nothing to Envy by Barbara DemickEscape from Camp 14 by Blaine HardenThe Aquariums of Pyongyang by Kang Chol-HwanThe Orphan Master's Son by Adam JohnsonPyongyang by Guy Delisle
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2nd out of 71 books — 304 voters
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John Green's Book Recommendations
8th out of 64 books — 90 voters

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Community Reviews

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Clif Hostetler
Ever wonder why the world didn't do more to end the horrors of Stalin's gulags or Hitler's work camps? Someday our children (or perhaps grandchildren or great-grandchildren) will ask the same question about our world today. Why doesn't the world do more to end the horrible inhumanity imposed on people in the work camps of North Korea? And the political prison camps in North Korea have existed twice as long as Stalins Soviet gulags and twelve times as long as the Nazi concentration camps, and the ...more
Petra X
Ostensibly getting rid of families, rather than individuals, considered undesirable by the regime, in actuality slave labour for the State.

A mixture of 1984, Animal Farm and the Nazi Dachau concentration camp. It is the story of North Korea and worse in every single respect than every dystopian novel you've ever read. Here, one is born, lives one's whole life and dies in a vast camp where fear rules through hunger and brutality. One man, only one, escaped and this is his story.

Not an easy book t
I think Shin's story is an important one, but the way that it's presented makes it a little tough to really connect with. Shin, born and raised in a North Korean labor camp, was the first person actually born in a camp to escape. Having had no prior knowledge of the outside world, he was raised, in his own words, as an animal, taught to rat out others, to feel little more than fear, with no affection for anyone. He does some pretty horrible things as a result and while I can logically understand ...more
When I hear the term "labor camps," I think of the Nazis. The Holocaust. Concentration camps -- something that happened decades ago and surely -- surely -- doesn't still exist. Right?

Wrong. Even though North Korea publicly insists that prison and work camps don't exist, evidence has been seen on satellite photos and on Google Earth. Additionally, numerous North Koreans who have witnessed the camps have defected and have testified to the hellish conditions there.

Shin was unlucky enough to be born
Doug Bradshaw
I rate this book five stars not because it's beautiful literature or great story telling, but because it is a huge eye opener and important information. There are approximately 200,000 prisoners kept in camps or virtual prisons in North Korea. Many of the cellmates are the children and grandchildren of people who broke "the law" in Northern Korea. The theory is that it takes at least three generations of purging to get rid of the bad seed of law breakers. The description of the horrible control ...more
Melinda Worfolk
4.5 stars.

This is an incredibly gripping book. While I was reading it, I was so immersed in the story that it took a while to come back to the real world.

I am glad I read Barbara Demick's Nothing to Envy before reading this, because I already knew how bad the situation is for ordinary citizens in North Korea, and it was all the more powerful to realize that there are people who live even worse lives in the country's prison camps.

This is the story of Shin Dong-hyuk, a young man born and raised i
Jake Miller
“High School students in America debate why President Roosevelt didn't bomb the rail lines to Hitler's camps. Their children may ask, a generation from now, why the West stared at far clearer satellite images of Kim Jong Il's camps, and did nothing.”

No more brazen and poetic meaning could be found than reading this line from the book, once upon a time seems almost pertinent to this book. But once upon a time gives the semblance of fiction, and while this book eerily reminds one of a few George O
Michael Gerald Dealino
When North Korea ever pops up in the news, the items usually covered are about a buffoon-like dictator, the absurd show of brainwashing (real or staged) of many of its people, and the threat of it getting a nuclear bomb. But the truth is far more serious. Because the grim reality is North Korea is the world's biggest prison and the inmates are the majority of its people. It is a slave state. And the world bears a responsibility for not doing anything to liberate the oppressed North Koreans.

Ash Wednesday
Jul 25, 2014 Ash Wednesday rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: aspiring dystopian writers
Recommended to Ash Wednesday by: Petra X
”Tibetans have the Dalai Lama and Richard Gere, (the) Burmese have Aung San Suu Kyi, (the) Darfurians have Mia Farrow and George Clooney. North Koreans have no one like that.

Actually North Koreans have imgur, Dennis Rodman and Ken Jeong in Stevie Wonder glasses.

A couple of months back, Petra recommended this book to me after posting this link in Booklikes. I’m the least literate person I know when it comes to world politics but human depravity is always fascinating even within the harrow
Zöe Yu
I am surprised to find this book at the last glance to the bookstore in Hong Kong International Airport. I know it is already in my To-Read section in Goodreads. This is the only book I finished reading within 12 hours while I’m sitting next to beautiful clouds.

Barbara Demick’s Nothing to Envy introduces us how ordinary North Koreans escaped from DPRK, but Blaine Harden’s Escape from Camp 14 tells us how a criminal who was born in Camp 14 completed the mission impossible.

The world hasn't settl

Escape from Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West

Camp 14 is a North Korean labor camp (gulag) with a security level of “Total Control Zone”.

Camp 14 is as large as a city with 40,000 prisoners.

Camp 14 has the highest security level (Total Control Zone) which means whoever lives in this camp will never leave it alive. Inmates remain imprisoned until they die. There is no parole. There are no release dates. Most inmates will never make it to their
Anastasia Fitzgerald-Beaumont
A picture is worth a thousand words, even when that picture is an amateurish drawing. The drawing in question shows a fourteen-year-old boy, stripped naked and suspended above a charcoal fire. He is secured to the ceiling by a rope tied around his wrists and a chain around his ankles. As he writhed in agony away from the flames, he was secured in place by one of his tormentors by means of a steel hook through his abdomen.

The boy’s name is Shin Dong-hyuk. The time is 1996. The place is North Kor
Mo Shah
I'm split on this book.

On one hand, the subject matter is utterly compelling. Little is heard in mainstream media about these detention camps that hundreds of thousands of prisoners live in for (literally) generations. Entire Families are doomed because of the real or imagined actions of one, and apparently treason must be wiped out over three generations. So children are born in these camps between assigned parents and never learn filial love or even learn any emotional state higher than the a
Meg - A Bookish Affair
4.5. Oh man, this book is really, really good. North Korea is such a strange country. Some of the things that you hear about it sound like they'd have to be fiction. This country is still mostly a mystery to most outsiders. The government keeps a very tight rein on what information gets out about the country. This book tells the true (true being the operative word, as this story is so unbelievable) story of Shin, a young man, who has lived his entire life in Camp 14, one of the infamous work cam ...more
This was an excellent example of how severe conditions and oppression can shape a person's character. Shin, the young man who escaped from a concentration camp in North Korea, was born into the prison and has had trouble adjusting to a free life. The biggest impact that this book had on me was in showing how a single person can alter a prisoner's thinking. In this case, Shin met an old man who showed him compassion in the camp, and this was the first kindness anyone had ever taken toward him. Se ...more
“High School students in America debate why President Roosevelt didn't bomb the rail lines to Hitler's camps. Their children may ask, a generation from now, why the West stared at far clearer satellite images of Kim Jong Il's camps, and did nothing.”

This is the story of Shin, a man born and raised in a North Korean labour camp, about the worst possible place on Earth.
They work all day, they hardly eat, they are encouraged to snitch on everyone around them, especially their families.They are bra
Elizabeth B
This was not at all what I was expecting. From the marketing material, I expected a story of survival from the North Korean camps that, until now, has been largely untold. Knowing a little about the atrocities of the camp, I expect to this to be an emotionally charged book but, unfortunately, I found it quite the opposite.

From the beginning we learn that Shin is an unreliable narrator. The author is quick to point this out and explain to us how Shin has changed his story repeatedly over the yea
This is an escape memoir, written with remarkable restraint by long-time journalist Blaine Harden, and based on the adventures of Shin Dong Hyuk, the first known prisoner to escape a “complete control zone”, Camp 14 in North Korea. In cool tones, Harden transcribes and probes the remembrances of Shin’s childhood and youth in Camp 14, and his subsequent escape through China to South Korea and finally, to southern California.

As remarkable as it is horrifying, the memoir describes a childhood of st
Diane S.
This was another book, that while fascinating because I didn't have much knowledge of North Korea, but horrific as well. The subject matter was at times hard to read, to think that so many people are actually living like this is heartbreaking. Even those considered higher up in the hierarchy are not well off in comparison to the rest of the world, but they do have access to rice and blankets. The only family in any way profiting is the Kim dynasty, they of course have beautiful houses and yachts ...more
4.5 stars - Incredible. I really loved it.

Throughout this harrowing memoir that reads like a nonfiction version of The Hunger Games, I had to keep reminding myself that it was a true story. It is simply unfathomable what goes on in North Korea...inconceivable that it still goes on today. While this should have been heart wrenching at times, I found myself oddly detached -- not because of the writing style, etc., but simply because it is so very hard to believe. I highly recommend this one and wi
Shin Dong-Hyuk grew up not knowing that there were other children in other places who were did not have to learn to catch and roast rats in order to keep from starving, or who were not subjected to endless hours of labor while watching for errant behavior of peers to be reported immediately in a sort of sacred duty of snitching. Such other children, however, were not born and raised completely isolated from the rest of society in the confines of Camp 14- an internment camp in the totalitarian st ...more
Although this is short in length, it is the defining work of what goes on in the North Korean Gulags (whose existence is denied vehemently by its regime). The reason that makes this story unique is, unlike other accounts of survival and escape in the past from N. Korea, our protagonist, Shin In Geun was born and 'raised' in the Camp itself. He was unaware of anything that went on in the outside world.

(view spoiler)
Perhaps even more gut-wrenching than Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea and other books describing North Korea and other scary places, Escape from Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West is the unbelievable story of a young man, born in a North Korean prison camp, who miraculously escapes and then must adjust to a life he never knew on the outside. The story is hard to believe but the author manages to corroborate much of what he learns from the ...more

My Thoughts: This was not an easy story to read; it was almost surreal but then so are stories of the torture, death and devastation of concentration camps in WWII. It is truly amazing that Shin was able to escape and even more mind boggling that this type of torture still exists in the 21st century. I'm glad I wasn't this aware of these atrocities of North Korea during the two years I lived in Seoul; I don't think I could have lived that close knowing of what was happening just over the border.
Very well told.
I struggled to rate this book. On the one hand, I felt it was a very important book to read - to bear witness, however remotely, to atrocities still occurring in North Korea today. On the other hand, this book provides no answers.

When we consider North Korea, the question often raised is why no one DOES anything to stop it? Well, the response to that is, HOW?
History tells us that when significant intervention comes from foreign interests, the result is significant damage to the c
I generally love reading stories about people's struggles in other countries; everything from escaping North Korea's camps to people captured by rebel groups. I enjoy these books because it lets you see thing's from another perspective. It lets you take a second to see all that we often take for granted. It lets you believe in happiness from the simplicity of life. Happiness exists in the small thing's we often take for granted, just most of the time we're too blind to notice it.
We all come fro
Diane D.
May 22, 2012 Diane D. rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Anyone who would like a lesson in North Korean Prison Camps
Recommended to Diane D. by: Chrissie
This was my first read on the subject of North Korea, and it was a perfect book with which to start. It is the story of Shin Dong-hyuk, his life in a North Korean political prison camp, (Camp 14), and his physical escape from North Korea on January 2, 2005. I say physical escape, because mentally one could never be free from life inside the camp which is in present day referred to as a gulag, a term once reserved for the Soviet Gulags.

The book opens by telling us that Shin’s earliest memory is
One of the hardest books I've read in a long time. Not because of the language; because of the subject matter. Escape from Camp 14 tells the story of a boy born in a slave camp for political prisoners due to the transgressions of his uncle, never able to be loved by his family (slao prisoners), routinely tortured, and taught that the only way to survive was to be a snitch and bully. It tells his story as the only prisoner to ever escape and trek to China, then South Korea, and finally America, w ...more
Jul 04, 2013 Malbadeen rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: my son now, my daughter when she's a little older
When I'm feeling sage and up to the task of raising my kids to be open minded, compassionate people, I remind them that "you just never know". You never know what someone's life story is and you should never makes assumptions because some of the crazy shit people have been through will shock you! I leave out the "shit" part when I talk with my kids, but that's the general idea.

And then when I'm feeling sage and patriotich, I remind them that we have a ton of flaws here in the United States and I
Jeff Taylor
True rating: 4.5 stars

Think of all the worse things from the all best dystopian novels that you've read......and now imagine they are real, have happened to someone and continue to happen to thousands more people everyday......yeah, it's a bit much to come to grips with for me as well.

This true story read so much like a fictional dystopian that I had to remind myself several times that it wasn't, so as to let the reality of it to sink in. Even then I felt as if the magnitude of the atrocities t
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  • The Aquariums of Pyongyang: Ten Years in the North Korean Gulag
  • North of the DMZ: Essays on Daily Life in North Korea
  • This is Paradise!: My North Korean Childhood
  • The Reluctant Communist: My Desertion, Court-Martial, and Forty-Year Imprisonment in North Korea
  • Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader: North Korea and the Kim Dynasty
  • The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves and Why It Matters
  • Escape from North Korea: The Untold Story of Asia's Underground Railroad
  • Somewhere Inside: One Sister's Captivity in North Korea and the Other's Fight to Bring Her Home
  • Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea
  • Long Road Home: Testimony of a North Korean Camp Survivor
  • Korea's Place in the Sun: A Modern History
  • The Tears of My Soul: The True Story of a North Korean Spy
  • Dear Leader: Poet, Spy, Escapee--A Look Inside North Korea
  • The Impossible State: North Korea, Past and Future
  • The Hidden People of North Korea: Everyday Life in the Hermit Kingdom
  • Survival in the Killing Fields
  • Only Beautiful, Please: A British Diplomat in North Korea
  • The Memoirs of Lady Hyegyŏng: The Autobiographical Writings of a Crown Princess of Eighteenth-Century Korea
Harden is an author and journalist who reports for PBS Frontline and contributes to The Economist. He worked for The Washington Post as a correspondent in Africa, Eastern Europe and Asia, as well as in New York and Seattle. He was also a national correspondent for The New York Times and writer for the Times Magazine.

Harden's most recent book is "Escape From Camp 14." He is also the author of "A Ri
More about Blaine Harden...
A River Lost: The Life and Death of the Columbia Africa: Dispatches from a Fragile Continent The Great Leader and the Fighter Pilot: The True Story of the Tyrant Who Created North Korea and The Young Lieutenant Who Stole His Way to Freedom Escape from Camp 14 by

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“I am evolving from being an animal,' he said. 'But it is going very, very slowly. Sometime I try to cry and laugh like other people, just to see if it feels like anything. Yet tears don't come. Laughter doesn't come.” 23 likes
“High School students in America debate why President Roosevelt didn't bomb the rail lines to Hitler's camps. Their children may ask, a generation from now, why the West stared at far clearer satellite images of Kim Jong Il's camps, and did nothing.” 10 likes
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