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Korea's Place in the Sun: A Modern History
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Korea's Place in the Sun: A Modern History

3.74 of 5 stars 3.74  ·  rating details  ·  359 ratings  ·  48 reviews
Bruce Cumings's rich narrative focuses on Korea's fractured, shattered, twentieth-century history. In 1910 Korea lost its centuries-old independence, and it remained an exploited colony of Japan until 1945. Then came national division, political turmoil, a devastating war, and the death and dislocation of millions, all of which left Korea still divided and in desperate pov ...more
Paperback, 542 pages
Published September 17th 2005 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published 1997)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,117)
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Michele
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
Travis
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 5 of 5 stars  ·  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 5 of 5 stars  ·  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.
Jack Haefner
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
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 4 of 5 stars
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
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
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
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.
Martin Middleton
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
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
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
Dvallosiogmail.com
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
Don
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
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
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
Ariadne
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
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
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 Charles Kim
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
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
Nurkholis
Jika nongkrong di city hall Seoul atau Yeudongpo, pukul 12.00 sampai pukul 01.00 siang dijam kerja, maka pemandangan sebagai kota sibuk tergambar dengan jelas. para pekerja dengan pakaian perlente berhamburan dan memadati setiap sudut jalan, taman, restoran dan lorong untuk istirahat sejenak. gambaran ini yang terakhir ini belum ditulis oleh Bruce dalam Korea's palce in the sun, yang lebih fokus pada Korea dimasa suram sampai, pemisahan korea menjadi utara selatan, peranan US dan juga Uni Sovyet ...more
Terri
Apr 07, 2008 Terri marked it as to-read
i am so incredibly blessed. in one meeting today, i sat in the company of business team members from korea, poland, cairo, kenya and sa. how amazing....and here in atlanta!! anyways...*sigh* the team lead in korea invited me to visit with his team in late april, early may, so i am headed back to my birthplace - a land known to me only by pictures.... i very much look forward to it.

to prep myself, i've ordered this and if you all have any other recommendations on general culture, history, etc...
...more
Clytee
For a (LONG) history, this book was very readable. Took me a long time to get through the 500 pages, I started before we went to Korea to pick up Carrie, our missionary daughter, read it there, read it after! I was determined to finish, and I did. Helped me to understand Korea and Koreans much better, and it was interesting. Sometimes a little too detailed on individual politicians, but the other parts were great. If anyone wants to try to really understand this fascinating place, I highly recom ...more
Kristofer
At times Korea's Place in the Sun feels like a text book - there's nothing wrong with that - but then it also reads as a popular history book. Cumings is clearly a leading Korean historian; a survey of Korean history or a multi-volume book would have been better.
Bill
Interesting subject, with some interesting sections and observations, but the book is hampered by 1) the author's chattiness and too-close relationship with the nation; 2) the lack of a central structure for the book. A history can meander all it likes, so long as it hangs off of a clearly defined, solid structure — which is not present here. It does, however, leave me with the desire to find another history/overview of Korea.
Dave Clark
The history of Korea within the past 150 years has been shaped by rapid and sweeping movements, revolutions, and war. Cummings provides a revisionist narrative of this complex and dynamic history. He clearly has an aversion for US involvement on the peninsula, but he makes no attempt to hide this from the reader. Overall, it was a noble effort to capture a rich, complex and evolving interpretation of modern Korean history.
morning Os
I enjoyed the book but it gives tooooo much detail to 1945-1953 (especially the Korean War). This is understandable because of the author's specialty, but it's exhausting. Overall it provokes many interesting questions, whether you agree with his own arguments or not. According to premodern Korean history scholars, the first two chapters have many factual errors.
Mark
I'm having a real hard time getting through this book. It offers an incredibly detailed history of Korea -- unfortunately, a little too detailed. It drags on and on, and really makes me think that the professor/author likes to hear himself pontificate a little too much for my taste. Nevertheless, I haven't given up on it completely.
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Topics that don't get enough attention 1 1 Apr 03, 2014 08:52AM  
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The Korean War: A History North Korea: Another Country The Origins of the Korean War, Volume I: Liberation and the Emergence of Separate Regimes, 1945-1947 Dominion from Sea to Sea: Pacific Ascendancy and American Power The Origins of the Korean War, Volume II: The Roaring of the Cataract, 1947-1950

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