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The Koreans: Who They Are, What They Want, Where Their Future Lies
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The Koreans: Who They Are, What They Want, Where Their Future Lies

3.55  ·  Rating Details ·  268 Ratings  ·  38 Reviews
The rise of South Korea is one of the most unexpected and inspirational developments of the latter part of our century. A few decades ago, the Koreans were an impoverished, agricultural people. In one generation they came out of the fields and into Silicon Valley. In 1997, this powerhouse of a nation reeled and almost collapsed as a result of a weak financial system and he ...more
Paperback, 304 pages
Published January 17th 2004 by St. Martin's Griffin
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(showing 1-29)
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Jan 16, 2012 Buck rated it liked it
Shelves: korea
In strict geographical terms, I’ve only been in Korea for a few months now, but psychologically, I’ve been here for years. Back in Canada, I was dealing with Koreans on a daily basis. I worked for Koreans, taught Koreans, befriended Koreans, got drunk with Koreans, slept with Koreans, had screaming matches with Koreans, and was treated with baffling kindness by the very same Koreans. Somehow, these wonderful, exasperating people slowly took over my life. But they’re like that. They get under you ...more
Heather Mcgrail
Aug 02, 2008 Heather Mcgrail rated it really liked it
While this book had a few editing mistakes, this book was a tremendously insightful and readable book--this coming from someone who would rather read just about anything than something historical. The examples and analysis were very clear and clever. This is from the perspective of an Englishman, so his thoughts and perspectives on America's role in Korea's development are less biased than an American's viewpoint might be.
I'm going to add a couple of examples:
"The story of the two Koreas is not
Mar 07, 2012 Damon rated it liked it
Sure, it's dripping with stereotypes and a bit outdated, but I enjoyed it all the same. I found myself readily agreeing to Breen's guiding "insight." Well, that is until the bitter taste lingered on and on and I started thinking...

Personally I've been trying to understand Koreans for some time having lived in Korea now for just over a year. It can be unbelievably frustrating but also amazingly heartwarming at times.

One thing Breen got spot on: Korea is changing. Very fast. In fact, it probably
Nov 21, 2015 Sjp rated it it was amazing
After living in Seoul for a year I found this biog a great insight into the Koreans and their culture. A lot of the book confirmed my suspicions / observations of their mindset. Everything from corruption, education. democracy, leadership, gender roles is covered.
Stella Moon
Jul 10, 2016 Stella Moon rated it really liked it
As soon as I saw the title ‘The Koreans’, I really wanted to read this book. I have been wondering about how the Korean history, culture, and people are reflected on the ‘foreign eyes’, as I was born in Korea and raised in this country.
One thing that I’m really proud of this country is that we have always overcome difficulties then showed ‘miracles’ to the world. Korean schools have taught me that the Han Bando(Korean Peninsula) is not just a small country, and we are living in the country that
Apr 25, 2010 John rated it liked it
Shelves: asia
The Koreans is a good, if somewhat dated, read for people who want a broad overview of Korean culture. Written by a British journalist and long-time resident of South Korea, it is a sometimes fascinating, sometimes boring look into a wide range of historical, cultural, and social topics. The book really excels when it describes the motivations behind the Korean way of thinking, and really drags when it deals with Korea's long, twisted history. Not that the history isn't interesting, but Breen ru ...more
"In advance of a recent trip to Seoul, Korea, I read four books about this remarkable country. The first three were about North Korea. Nothing to Envy is an account of day-to-day life in the North pieced together by an American journalist who interviewed defectors to the South. It is gripping and tragic. You will not be able to put it down, and it will change your perspective on the world. The Aquariums of Pyongyang is a first-person account of a young boy who, simply because of his grandfather' ...more
May 06, 2012 Matthew rated it really liked it
Shelves: korea, non-fiction
One of the most fascinating, concise history texts available. Its curiously long title might come off as zealous but chalk it up to poor marketing because the book itself is a valuable piece of work that is far easier to delve into. Breen breaks each chapter down into manageable pieces that impressively read like page-turning newspaper articles and less like dry scholarly papers.

An obviously brilliant writer, Breen's journalistic fact-then-opinion approach helps to identify what is interpretatio
Dec 01, 2010 Tyson rated it really liked it
Great book if you want a quick rundown on the minds of Koreans. The book is slightly outdated as its latest edition briefly covers the events after 9/11. However, it does do a great job of attempting to understand the motivations and behavior of the Korean populace. While much of it is not new to me (I live in South Korea) it was refreshing to see that many of my observations were mirrored in the book.

I even learned a great deal of history that I had not known previously. If you are considering
Jan 15, 2012 Lemon rated it really liked it
If you are interested in learning about North and South Korea and, like myself, know very little, this book is a great intro. The Koreans is divided into four sections (society, history, economy, and politics) for a well-rounded overview of many aspects of Korean culture. I particularly liked Breen's storytelling style, which saved the book from becoming boring even when covering topics that were not as interesting to me. My only complaint is that this book was published in 1998 and so it's a bi ...more
This book started strongly, with accurate historic basis, but got worse as it went on. Breen seemed to lack focus or information, but either way the quality dropped off. Towards the end he was making massive cultural assumptions based on the driving style of Koreans, and was ready to tie things together in the flimsiest of ways. At times he also seemed incapable of understanding that the fact that a country doesn't do things the same as your homeland doesn't mean they are doing it incorrectly (a ...more
Dec 29, 2013 Mike rated it liked it
If you're interested in Korea this is a good book to start with. Mainly written in 1998, the book feels a little outdated now, but you will still glean important points and understandings on what makes Koreans, Korean.
What is to become of this massively successful, hugely homogenous country where 70 percent of the kids go to college? A country that leads the world in suicides, that has little influx of immigrants, and where the old people outnumber the young on a massive scale. I think Koreans s
Mar 12, 2012 Seth rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2012

I liked it, but like other reviewers have said, it is a little over simplistic.

Korean society may make no sense to western eyes, and we often try to explain away this culture shock with nice theories that wrap up the race into a neat and digestible package-- but they will shock you every time.

Having lived in Korea for two years now, I found the book helpful and would still recommend it to anyone who is here or thinking of coming here.
his is the primer for all things South Korean history during the 20th century. Starting with the history and effects of the long embedded Japanese occupation, then moving through the Korean War, the rebuilding, the Korean economic development and social & political upheaval, the Seoul Olympics which was instrumental to South Korea's rise to the global stage, and North & South relations through out. A must read.
Mr. Lipsett
Oct 03, 2011 Mr. Lipsett rated it liked it
A colleague gave me this book and while I found it interesting, I also found it quite dated and condescending. The author appears to have lived for years in Korea without trying to positively engage with people here and as a result comes across as chauvinistic and jaded. It's a pity as it doubtless obscures wise observations.
Jan 25, 2013 Heather rated it really liked it
I "read this" (actually, the previous version before 2004) while I was living in South Korea. It was a great way to understand the world around me when all the historical books that were not guidebooks seemed solely centered on military history in English and the good ones I wanted to read were in Korean.
Jan 02, 2014 Karie rated it liked it
Extremely fascinating for someone like myself living in Korea. I had so many "ooooooh" moments of understanding. Breen's writing is engaging and while wordy he rarely lost my interest. For anyone living or visiting Korea, I would recommend this book for the best overview of Korea's history and culture.
Sep 27, 2007 Angus rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Anyone curious about the history & culture of Korea
This book provided some real insights on Korean culture and the history that got it to where it is today. Not the easiest of all histories, but it was definitely a must-read for anyone who is living in Korea (as an ex-pat!)
Jun 29, 2009 Tabetha rated it really liked it
This book is great for cultural context. It's not so touristy. A little more depthy than that. It's one of the few books that relates cultural thinking to history and current context for a more modern view.
C. Adam Volle
A perfectly fine survey of Korean history and culture (especially in the 20th C.) told in the first-person, allowing its journalist author to sprinkle the book with interesting personal anecdotes and opinions formed from his own twenty-plus years in the country.
Dec 10, 2013 Joshua rated it liked it
I was given this book to read by a lecturer at university as I will hopefully be going to study in Korea. It was a pretty interesting read that didn't really cover any new historic ground, but did provide an interesting look into the Korean mindset (to grossly generalise).
Sep 06, 2012 Joshua rated it it was amazing
Must read for anyone living in Korea who does regular business with Koreans.

Oct 14, 2010 Geegee rated it liked it
Really interesting look into a country I know little about. Much more fleshed out than government produced faire (since Breen was an in-country journalist for years).
Jan 07, 2011 Rommel rated it liked it
good book to get acquainted with the Korean culture and history...however, it's entirely from a foreigner's point of view so its fairly biased.
Frank Hinton
Sep 21, 2009 Frank Hinton rated it really liked it
you want to know, you got it. a little harsh but what can you expect from a Breen.
Aug 26, 2008 Kay rated it really liked it
I still want to find a book on this topic written by a native Korean, but this was an excellent start.
Aug 05, 2015 Jeff rated it liked it
Shelves: geography
Useful, but slightly dated information.
Ruth Parkin
May 11, 2013 Ruth Parkin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well worth a read especially after living in Korea for a little while. Out of date but still had plenty of useful background and insights you would going get living in a place.
Heimir Hannesson
Apr 27, 2014 Heimir Hannesson rated it really liked it
Shelves: japan
Korea for beginners. Fantastic book, covering four wide subjects in a captivating way.
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