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The Two Koreas: A Contemporary History
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The Two Koreas: A Contemporary History

3.88  ·  Rating Details  ·  523 Ratings  ·  49 Reviews
The struggle between the two Koreas has repeatedly claimed the headlines of the world in acts of terrorism and heroism, showdowns over nuclear weapons programs on both sides of the lines, the sudden deaths of leaders, and historic turning points in the relationship with the outside powers of Japan, Russia, and China.Don Oberdorfer lived through many of these crises as a jo ...more
Hardcover, 496 pages
Published October 5th 1997 by Basic Books (first published 1997)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,402)
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Jorge Matheos
Sep 01, 2012 Jorge Matheos rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
How can one go about writing a review for a book like this? A book on the shelves of mainstream bookstores and competing with what seems to be an ever-growing "Korea" genre in the "Asia" section of most chain bookstores or on

This might be the closest attempt at "non-biased" Western history of Modern Korea. It is a collection of facts and photos that details the evolution of Korean internal policy and foreign policy from the end of the Japanese Colonial Period until the beginnings of
This book covers Korea from 1950 to 2000. It contains a lot of facts about events. If that is what you are looking for, this is a good book for you.

I found Korea's Place in the Sun to be a better read. That book has some opinion thrown in which made it more interesting for me.

One thing On China by Henry Kissinger and this book have in common is the focus on politicians, diplomts and soldiers. Fifty years ago, these things were important, but in the last fifteen years that type of stuff takes a b
Dec 01, 2014 Harmeet rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Comprehensive and easy to read. It covers from before formation of two Koreas to present time.
It mostly covers the political and state evolution very well but not social evolution.
One thing unexpected was the realization that North Korea has managed to sustain over so many year with little political change in-spite of poor economy and strained relationship with it's communist backers. It is one of the last dark countries and could be attract business esp. with it's mineral wealth, access to oc
A. Adlilah
Jun 02, 2015 A. Adlilah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
You know what happens when you read books with the same subject probably like way too many in a row? What happens is then when you read the next book, the experience began to feel tasteless; like there was nothing new to it. I don’t mean to sound like I’m total expert on this subject, it’s just that after what probably is three books about North Korea that I’ve read, and then picking this book feels like there is nothing new. Everything feels like everything has all been said and done.

Good thing
Michelle Bourke
While in the beginning I found this history book to be more dry than others I have read to date, it soon became a page turner. An amazingly in depth background to the conflict between North and South Korea with very heavy focus on the military, diplomatic and political machinations behind each major development toward or away from peace - involving the 3 major powers of Russia, China and America - whose own relationship evolved over time and as a result, affected inter and intra-political relati ...more
Jan 13, 2009 Hotavio rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-on-asia
An interesting book on mostly the 20th century history of Korea including continual conquests of the peninsula on the part of China, Japan, Russia, and the US.
The books high points center on the topic of the Korean War and the ensuing race to fortify the southern part of the peninsula with enough nuclear weapons to blow that side of the earth off. Also interesting is the cult of personality surrounding Kim Il Sung and his son Kim Jong Il. The book gave me background on the military status quo b
Brian EVHS Ta
Apr 02, 2015 Brian EVHS Ta rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
So far reading this book completely met my expectations. The book is filled with mostly facts and real history which does get a little dry to read sometimes. Nonetheless, it is very informative and so far is great for the project i am working on. All the information seems to be accurate. Just your regular history book, nothing more.
Jul 23, 2016 Shawn rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
James Carlin has created an informative post World War II history of North and South Korea. Written primarily from a western geopolitical point of view, the book provides the reader with a solid historical context to the current situation on the Korean Peninsula. I appreciated Mr. Carlin' effort to present not only the North and South Korean perspectives, but the perspectives and influences of other key nations in the ongoing Korean tensions. I personal gained a much better understanding of how ...more
Jan 25, 2016 Ben rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Started off strong-- florid, ornate language dominated the first half of the book; Second half, I noticed, was composed mostly of dates, meeting locations, names of attendees and outcome. Regardless, a very informative book providing good insight on the relations between ROK, DPRK and U.S. involvement.
Jan 10, 2015 Brian rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
A very interesting look at the history of North and South Korea with a mix of first-hand accounts from the author. Well-written and engaging, not a difficult read for anyone interested in politics or history, and probably engaging for any casual reader.

As someone with limited knowledge of the past decade (2000-2010) of North Korea except for an impression of Kim Jong-Il as a crazy dictator ("Team America"), I came away with an impression of hope and peacefulness, and confusion about Kim Jong-Il
Satu Niskanen
Mar 31, 2016 Satu Niskanen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you want to understand North and South Korea, you want to read this book. It starts off at the end of WWII, when the peninsula was split up north and south, and moves forward in time, basically explaining why the two are the way they are now. It's an incredible read, and while I wouldn't recommend anybody read it if they weren't really invested in learning all the nitty gritty details, it is definitely my first recommendation for anybody who does.
Billie Pritchett
The Two Koreas is a contemporary history of Korea since Soviet and US involvement in the country and the subsequent separation of Korea at the 38th Parallel. The title is a little misleading since, although North and South Korea have separate and diametrically opposed governments, Korean people in the north are Korean people in the south, and Korea is basically the whole of that East Asian peninsula and some scattered islands. Whatever the case, Don Oberdorfer's book is comprehensive and the nar ...more
Jul 24, 2014 Jacob rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A great overview of modern Korea (through 1997), which is complicated to say the least. It discusses the split of the Korean peninsula, North-South development and relations, and the role other nations have played in shaping the two countries. Would recommend to others interested in the subject.
Dec 08, 2014 Walther rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very good read; Gave good historical view of the region. Very much alligns with known facts re N. Korea and S. Korea. Truely informs the reader of the long-term intentions of the N.K. regime.
Nov 03, 2013 Darren rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An excellent history of the political and military history of the Korean history since WW2. The author presents what I suspect is the least biased view of north Korea possible given the closed nature of the state and openly acknowledges many of the faults of the US involvement over the last 50 years. The text is dense with dates and names starting with Kim, but I still found it engaging, especially starting with the nuclear weapons conflict. Not being particularly conversant with politics, I fou ...more
David Sant
May 26, 2016 David Sant rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well researched and written. I would recommend to anyone who is wanting to learn more about the modern geopolitical tumult in the Korean Peninsula.
May 05, 2012 Renee rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Read Don Oberdorfer's book on my PCS plane ride to Korea in 2003. And, since I was stepping into the Navy Shop Chief's position for USFK J2 Current Analysis; I am glad I did,it is a good beginning point. It is well written and flows. He can be read by layman and more knowledgeable readers alike.

Stylistically this is a beautiful book. And it is well researched enough to give the new comer to this area of interest a solid foundation. I do wish that he had made more use of contemporary Korean writ
Stephen Mozug
The book does a good job detailing United States policy towards North and South Korea since World War II.
May 08, 2016 Brittany rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you want to read only one book, but get a well-rounded view of the Korean Peninsula, this is the book for you. This book goes into great depth on the modern history of the two Koreas in a more unbiased way than most western books tend to do. It shows the rational thought of presumed crazy and irrational dictators and how neither side is perfect. This book will help you better understand a complex situation through its thorough and easy to read narrative. I strongly suggest this to anyone want ...more
Sep 15, 2010 Aaron rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very worthwhile review. The subject matter, a modern history of Korea's relationship with the world and between its divided halves, is too little known to most Americans. The author's knowledge of the subject is deep and wide, given his exposure to Korean politics over many years as a journalist with access to political leadership. And his research is well-sourced and documented. The book gave me not only an understanding of Korea as I traveled there on business, but also a deeper sense of how ...more
Oct 05, 2011 Bender rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was hopeful that this book would be more about the day to day lives of Koreans, North Koreans in particular. Instead, the book is full of policy minutiae from the 70s to late 90s, some of which is interesting, most of which is not. Still, I came away knowing things I didn't know, even having spent a year in Korea, such as the assasination of the South's president by its CIA director. While well-written and informative, I wouldn't recommend this to someone unless they had an insane amount of in ...more
Nick Woodall
Excellent history! This is a great read to understand North and South Korea and the tenuous relationship they maintain.
C. Adam Volle
Like the newspaper articles that Oberdorfer wrote for a quarter-century about this part of the world, this summary of the two Koreas' political history since 1971 is concise, informative, and features a lot of (exclusive!) quotes by the officials involved, but it's also low on context and a tad dry.
James Kim
Nov 16, 2012 James Kim rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: General readers, ethnic overseas koreans, anyone curious
For those of you who want a short review. This book is great for general readers that maybe just want a glimpse into Korea since the end of WWII and how the North-South divide happened. Oberdorfer is a former Washington Post correspondent and had a lot of access to Korean-American circles. So he offers a lot and writes it pretty clearly. Not overly political descriptions, which may be a good thing or bad thing depending on what you're looking for. Enjoy, keep up the historical consciousness!
Aug 18, 2015 James rated it liked it
Oberdorfer writes here a comprehensive and detailed modern history of North and South Korea, their relations both domestic and foreign, and the transformations both countries have undergone since the Second World War.

Though this book is somewhat outdated, particularly concerning North Korean leadership changes, it is still a useful scholarly resource to obtain an understanding of twentieth century Korean history, regardless of which Korea one is interested in.
Jun 22, 2008 Matthew rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in the Korea and its history
Shelves: misc-non-fiction
A dense and informative read, surprisingly captivating at times given its really just a long, detailed description of consecutive and simultaneous events. Its clearly written, though, with sharply described characters and well-argued insights. Certainly helps to illuminate the nuances of South Korea's relationship with the US -- makes it a little easier to understand the rabid anti-US beef protests -- and also helps to color one's view of North Korea.
Feb 02, 2012 Debra rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting read about the relations between North Korea, South Korea, as well as with the US, Russia, China, and Japan. It gets a little frustrating and tiresome to read-- policies go back and forth so many times that it's hard to keep track of. Yet, I learned a lot and found the information fascinating. The version I've read ends at about 2000- it'd be great to read some more recent history of the Two Koreas.
Although I've just started this book, I am really liking it so far. Again, I am surprised at how ignorant I have been about the effects of the United States' foreign policies and "meddling/helping" (depending on the perspective) around the world. Hindsight is always 20-20 but still it is heart-breaking to read about some of the effects of decisions made without enough thought for the consequences to others.
Sivasothi N.
Jun 19, 2016 Sivasothi N. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An excellent introduction to post-war Korea, a still-divided relic of the Cold War. Oberdorfer remarks that nicely independent Korea was too small to claim a voice in its own fate, determined by the intents of US, China, USSR and Japan, and in a time when events elsewhere has great impact on outcomes. I felt compelled to read this again during a visit there, and it certainly is compelling reading.
Apr 03, 2011 Michael rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Easily the most readable history book I have ever come across. The book covers the Korea peninsula from the Korea War till about 2003. It also gives a great deal of focus on the actions of foreign powers that have shaped the region during that time. I know none of you care to read this, but if any of you care to understand the Korean question, this would be the first book I would recommend you to read.
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