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Korea's Place in the Sun: A Modern History

3.71  ·  Rating Details ·  518 Ratings  ·  59 Reviews
Korea has endured a "fractured, shattered twentieth century," and this updated edition brings Bruce Cumings's leading history of the modern era into the present. The small country, overshadowed in the imperial era, crammed against great powers during the Cold War, and divided and decimated by the Korean War, has recently seen the first real hints of reunification. But posi ...more
Paperback, 544 pages
Published September 17th 2005 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published 1997)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,706)
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Michele
Jan 09, 2010 Michele rated it really liked it
Shelves: korea-n, nonfiction
Whenever people would ask me about my grandfather I would say he was a military man who founded the Korean Air Force, who became a diplomat and a politician in the 1960s-80s. I would say this in a very definitive voice and hope that people wouldn't ask anything specific because I had absolutely no idea - not one inkling - about Korean history! A few weeks reading this book alongside my grandfather's memoirs changed that. It also raised a whole load of questions about what's true, in politics and ...more
Nek0 Neha (BiblioNyan)
Aug 26, 2016 Nek0 Neha (BiblioNyan) rated it did not like it
Shelves: histories
I'm one of those weirdo types that loves reading history books, especially if they're Asian history books (I'm a dedicated Asian studies major after all). With reading an array of historical textual stuff, especially for my higher education pursuits, I can generally get a good feel for the book. In my many years of passionate sponging of information in this field, I have never encountered something that had made me physically angry at the author. Let me explain the reasoning for this rage and di ...more
J.M. Hushour
May 25, 2016 J.M. Hushour rated it really liked it
For several years I've been working on a project to read a history of every country in the world (and then some), and it's often surprising how little of worth there seems to be on certain places. The Koreas is definitely one that had a stunning lack of lay scholarship available, considering the shrillness with which the peninsula is constantly evoked as, like transgender restroom freedoms, one of things that will destroy American life as we know it.
It's sad, since it's a fascinating place. A we
...more
Travis
Nov 20, 2009 Travis rated it liked it
Shelves: politics
Succinct summary of Korean history. Most helpful to me in gaining a better understanding of North Korea's current stand. They are not an "irrational" "Psychotic" state with "bizarre" behavior. Like any country, they are shaped by their history and geography. Korea has always been a minnow surrounded by whales: China, Japan, Russia. They have a long history of being invaded and a long mythology of fighting off the invasions from superior powers and demanding to "just be left alone". That is North ...more
Joseph
Aug 07, 2014 Joseph rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone interest in Korea and Koreans
This is essentially a book about Korea from 1860 to 1996. It is the best interpretive history of "modern" and contemporary Korea that I have read and as such it filled a distinct gap. Despite the focus on the last two centuries, the book does address the complexity and seeming contradictions of Korean 'culture.' The author's brief discussion of the influence of Confucianism, particularly it's emphasis on the necessity of 'remonstrance' juxtaposed with the worker howling at the moon after imbibin ...more
Angela
Jan 08, 2008 Angela rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Angela by: Sam
This is a frank, revealing, and easily-read book that takes on a lot of political hot potatoes. Korea's history in the Twentieth Century is absolutely shocking. It's also the subject of a ton of misconceptions. This book is important.
Earl Grey Tea
Apr 09, 2015 Earl Grey Tea rated it liked it
Shelves: history, korea
I have extremely mixed views about this book and it took me a long time to collect my thoughts to express my feelings. There's no doubt that Bruce Cumings is a knowledgeable professor on the subject of modern Korean history and has much to share. I definitely learn some new things even though I've been in Korea for over six years and have read twenty some-odd books about Korea at the time of the posting. I could easily see why he is sometimes called a revisionist or an apologist from his writing ...more
Dvallosiogmail.com
Jan 27, 2013 Dvallosiogmail.com rated it it was ok
In Korea’s Place in the Sun, Bruce Cumings sought to explain Korean history through a revisionist’s point of view. In many ways this books elucidates some of the problems in the traditional Korean narrative, such as the often contemptuous role of Western powers (particularly the United States) in forging a modern Korea that is divorced from the country’s traditions. Cumings expertly chronicles the peninsula’s de facto, and eventually de jure, division following World War Two, paying special atte ...more
Jack Haefner
Dec 31, 2013 Jack Haefner rated it really liked it
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Although I haven’t read many histories of Korea, I was pleased that this book departed from many of the stereotypes. A professor of mine at the Army War College continually warned us students that it takes decades of moss to grown under our feet before we should expect to see useful historical research. I think Prof Cumings’ book benefits from this distance.

The reader should not be surprised that Cumings has received considerable critique from many corners. But
...more
Greg Northrup
Mar 06, 2010 Greg Northrup rated it really liked it
I thought this was a great book and an excellent introduction to Korea history, albeit with a few problems. The first is that Mr. Cumings' real interest appears to be the 19th and 20th centuries, not ancient history. As a general rundown of Korean history, it serves its purpose, but the coverage of the Three Kingdoms, Silla and Koryo periods feels dispassionate and obligatory - and generally boring. Those with a particular interest in these periods (like myself) will probably find themselves sea ...more
Brendan
Jul 19, 2007 Brendan rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Condi Rice
This is, arguably, the best history of Korea currently in print. It's thorough, it's smart, it's readable, and it's provocative. Cumings is controversial for his way left of center perspective; he is often far more sympathetic to North Korea than seems warranted. But Cumings, unlike Michael Breen, for instance, really knows what he's talking about. Even when his views seem wrong, one is better off for having negotiated with them.

Keep in mind, though, that there's more to the Korean peninsula tha
...more
Jay Koester
May 12, 2014 Jay Koester rated it it was amazing
I haven't read a history book since I was last required to 20 years ago in college. But a recent visit to South Korea had me interested in learning more about the country. This was a fascinating book that was way more than a recitation of historical facts. I learned many things that changed the way I look at politics, culture, religion, as well as America's place in Korea. Highly recommended.
Mr.david
Jan 12, 2008 Mr.david rated it liked it
A straight-forward history of Korea for non-academics. Not sure I buy Cumings's revisionist take on who caused the outbreak of the Korean War--especially considering the revelations about the start of that conflict that emerged when Soviet archives were opened in the 1990s.
Philip
Feb 21, 2014 Philip rated it really liked it
Very good read for those want an in depth cause/effect of the current state of the politics on the Korean peninsula.

It shows the cultural, philosophical and political history of Korea over the last 150 years.
Tobias
Sep 21, 2015 Tobias rated it really liked it
Provocative, comprehensive history of the Koreas. Cumings obviously delights in being an iconoclast, which I think can be a useful corrective, though I think at times he goes a bit too far. I do think it's unfair for people to describe him as an apologist for the DPRK - he does try to understand how Pyongyang sees the world, but he doesn't deny the terrible abuses inflicted on the North Korean people (probably best to say that he doesn't see those abuses as the only things worth knowing about No ...more
Andres Eguiguren
May 10, 2015 Andres Eguiguren rated it liked it
I found this a little dry, though I must admit that I only read the first 85 pages (up to 1860) and I suspect Cumings is more interesting in the 20th Century chapters, which make up the bulk of the book. Although this seems to be one of the best histories available for modern Korea, I was somewhat flabbergasted that he attributes a comment about it being too early to tell about the effects of the French Revolution to Chairman Mao, when it was reportedly Zhou Enlai who made that comment. I should ...more
Eric Huynh
Jun 15, 2016 Eric Huynh rated it really liked it
Except of a book written by a former french diplomat in Seoul, there is hardly any work about Korea available in french language, furthermone none coming from the academical sector. No need to say that Bruce Cumings work was very informative to me. The first chapters are a brief summary of pre-colonization Korea, the core of the book being mostly modern Korea, from the awakening of a Korean Nationalism in the late Choseon-era until the 2000's. It retraces the japanese colonization and the change ...more
Martin Middleton
May 20, 2013 Martin Middleton rated it really liked it
A really good history of Korea overall. I found it to be balanced and comprehensive. It offers a history of Korea which is more complex and nuanced than the one western media and politicians would typically have us believe. I welcome this as I think it's a much fairer reflection of Korea and its history.

My only criticism would be that it needs more updating in some sections. Particularly the section on North Korea and also, to a lesser extent, the section on the Korean economy post 1953. That s
...more
Christopher
Jul 16, 2011 Christopher rated it liked it
Despite the relative ignorance of Korea’s history and the widespread issues of a divided Korean peninsula, there are actually quite a lot of books written on the subject. Often, these books are either remarkably narrow in scope and/or rely on only one side of the story. Bruce Cumings takes on the daunting task of a readable, comprehensive history of Korea in Korea’s Place in the Sun.

Korea’s Place in the Sun begins its study of Korean history with the near mythological stories of its settlement t
...more
Choonghwan
Apr 14, 2013 Choonghwan rated it really liked it
I am a Korean born to a south-eastern province of South Korea, raised, educated, influenced under much biases. When I was young under anti-communist and anti-North propaganda, when I was a university student under pro-North ones. Later on, confused and impenetrable I didn't care much about it. One day, I picked up this book to revisit long-forgotten history of my own country.

Due to incessant geopolitical upheavals across and nearby Korean peninsula in the 19th and 20th century – forced opening
...more
Don
Aug 13, 2012 Don rated it liked it
Shelves: korea, history
As a one-volume history of Korea, this should be treated as the introduction it is. Cumings clearly intended the book to be read by the "Average American Joe" on the street; if you are not that, you might find yourself disengaging with his narrative a few times in the course of your reading.

Cumings is evidently stronger on the topics of the Korean War and the things that happened after it. Considering how much time everything before the Korean War took up and how much that shaped Korea, it deser
...more
Matthew
May 06, 2012 Matthew rated it liked it
Shelves: korea, non-fiction
Selectively detailed almost to a fault. Korea's Place in the Sun is an incredibly long read that I was hungry for but unfortunately, it's also overwhelmingly subjective at times. I strongly recommend familiarizing yourself with ancient and modern Korean history prior to reading this book because Cumings doesn't slow down for the casual reader. Recommended for anyone interested in more than a intro course on Korean history. However, be forewarned that this particular author is controversially sub ...more
shay
May 08, 2009 shay rated it really liked it
Excellent information presenting a multifaceted historical narrative. While the writing is generally good, it's not exactly top-notch and more importantly, it can be rather poorly organized and unclear in its structure when it got down to the facts in the uniquely-titled chapters, which was confusing.

All of a sudden, he'd be dropping these terms and names like he'd introduced them before, so much wikipedia-ing was necessary for me as a novice to Korean history. This author assumes the reader ha
...more
Douglas Grant
Dec 06, 2015 Douglas Grant rated it really liked it
Very good book on modern Korean history with many first hand accounts especially the Koreans in America chapters. If you need a good general history of modern Korean attitudes, ideas, politics this would be a great start!
Patrick
Sep 23, 2016 Patrick rated it really liked it
An excellent introduction into contemporary Korean history, politics and society. It appears that the destiny of modern Korean, as well as what it means to be "Korean", has been very much shaped by external forces. It gives us much background into a country that is such an economic superpower in today's world.
Ariadne
Feb 03, 2015 Ariadne rated it liked it
Shelves: read-once, korea
Disclaimer: Haven't yet finished, but have read many parts out of sequence. Generally agree with other reviewers that it's:

A) one of the better books on Korean history
B) somewhat dry and long-winded, and particularly focused on author's pet topics (politicians of modern South Korea, details of Korean War, etc.)
C) perhaps not the best source for information on the early history of the peninsula (still haven't found a really good book for that, unfortunately, but I'm looking)

Bottom line: if you ca
...more
Suzanne
Jun 16, 2013 Suzanne rated it liked it
I read this book as a supplement to a class I audited this spring on Korean History and Culture. While I agree with the previous reviewers that the book glanced over the early Chosun Dynasty and pre-1905 eras, it did provide a lot of details regarding the Japanese Occupation, Korean War, and post-Korea War eras. Sometimes I felt that the author was too biased in his reporting of facts and history, so I would be a bit critical while reading this book. However, I do feel that it is a worthwhile bo ...more
Michael
Apr 30, 2012 Michael rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was the centerpiece book for a college course I took in junior year of college. I had always had an interest in Korea ever since my father did a 12 month military tour there when I was six years old. As happened many times in college, taking a non-major course required me to pay more attention to it. The course also had me read "Native Son," a wonderful novel. Bruce Cummings is able to bring history, Korea's strong Confucian roots, and its part in Japanese colonialism to bear as a means to ...more
Jieun "June" Kim
Jun 22, 2013 Jieun "June" Kim rated it it was ok
Shelves: your-oriental
What struck me was only one chapter, American's Koreans in this book. I fully understand what a Spanish-American teacher assumed. She thinks that a student named John Kim sitting in her class is Japanese; further, an African-American or Jewish-American student sitting next to him will say he's Chinese. I stop and keep thinking the response that he is Korean is not quite right. Maybe John might not really doesn't care about himself mirrored by them as an Chinese or Japanese. As Bruce remarks, bec ...more
Gary
Jun 30, 2009 Gary rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
I am loving this book and I am only finishing the first chapter, Virtues.

So many books on Korea speak about the country and its culture as if the Koreans were Chinese or only known through their coping with the Korean war or struggles with Japan.

I have been looking for a book about Korea and about Koreans. And Bruce Cummings attempts to do this.

The first chapter handles the history prior to the modern era. Korea had its own history and culture, something quite unique: a history I have been inter
...more
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