Korea
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Korea

3.46 of 5 stars 3.46  ·  rating details  ·  378 ratings  ·  57 reviews
In the late 1980s, New York Times bestselling author Simon Winchester set out on foot to discover the Republic of Korea -- from its southern tip to the North Korean border -- in order to set the record straight about this enigmatic and elusive land.

Fascinating for its vivid presentation of historical and geographic detail, Korea is that rare book that actually defines a na...more
ebook, 336 pages
Published October 27th 2009 by HarperCollins e-books (first published 1988)
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Meri
I'm glad I waited until I had been here a year to read this book. Simon Winchester writes about walking across South Korea over 20 years ago. Sometimes I glimpsed a Korea that no longer exists. South Korea is no longer under an authoritarian regime. There are not fences on all of the beaches. Jindo dogs are no longer confined to an island. A lot of what Simon saw, I see here today, which is a testament to Koreans' determination to hang onto their culture.

I have to say I was pretty offended at t...more
John
I liked Outposts and Fracture Zone; Korea, however, was the end of line for me. Winchester makes a repeated point of how popular he is among South Koreans by virtue of his being English; that was snotty enough by the third go-round. He managed to find one old soldier, fawningly pro-British, as though the U K had been the ones who saved South Korea. What did me in was the time he arrived at a U S base, browbeat them into letting him stay there (when they didn't have to), and then proceeded to tra...more
Denice
Once when I became very ill in the Peace Corps, the Medical Officer handed me Winchester's Krakatoa, and ever since I have been a huge fan of his writing. While living in Korea, I happened across this book about his walk from the South to the North in the 1980s. While it took some getting used to recognizing the old Romanization of names (he apologizes beforehand, and obviously it's not his fault), I learned so much about the peninsula's history- perhaps more so than I have learned living in the...more
Linda
Simon Winchester is awesome; this we know. In this book, in particular, he does a few awesome things. Among them: walking - yes, walking! - Korea from the southern coastal town of Mokpo to the DMZ, plus a Jeju stint to kick things off; calling out governments, often the South Korean government, on their mistakes; reporting the utter vulgarity of the behavior of the majority of the U.S. armed forces stationed in Korea/anywhere; paralleling his chapters with Hendrik Hamel's 1668 account of Korea,...more
Geoffrey Rose
I just moved to South Korea and I found this book a reasonably good introduction to the country and it's culture.

A few caveats, the text was written in 1988 when South Korean's government was far more authoritarian. Thus, the contrast with the North wasn't near as striking as today. Winchester is a bit harsh at times on American imperialism (coming from a Brit, this is at times particularly rich) and seems to only encounter the most vulgar, most ignorant Americans he can find.

I also found Winch...more
Travis
Living in Korea has been great. Reading about Korea from the framework of someone who decided to walk across it was even better. I loved Winchester's use of his walk as a framework for going on all kinds of descriptive tangents about Korea: ginsing, barbershop/massage parlors, shipbuilding, food, North Korea, and most especially some of the complexity of the American Presence in Korea. It really made me want to walk across Korea, and I'm already starting to float that idea by my son. Great style...more
Wendell
Some interesting info about the country, but it was overshadowed for me by the author's tone when it came to speaking about women and describing some aspects of Korean culture. It would have been a good book if he had left his commentary out of it.
Neil Fein
Korea documents the author's walk across South Korea that retraced the route of seventeenth-century explorer Hendrick Hamel. Hamel wrote a book of his travels in the land of "Corea" that brought this mysterious land to the attention of Europe.

The trick of detachment while remaining involved in the story is something that eluded the author at this point, but the stories in this book are of a more personal nature than the historical narratives in later volumes. Despite the fact that he doesn't fla...more
Youssef
There are people in this world crazy enough to embrace ideas like walking around an entire country retracing the steps of some obscure historical figure. Language barrier, political situation, the blisters! Somehow Simon Winchester had the temerity of doing it in the 80's, from Jeju to Panmujeon, and I hate him for that.
The account of this travelogue is a fascinating read for the image it paints of Korea then. It was a very, very different time, somehow as removed from present day's Korea as th...more
Michael
the author of Krakatoa (2003) and The Professor and the Madman (1998) in 1988 took a walking tour of South Korea, and his book about it has been read 350 times.

or at least, 350 Goodreaders have chosen to rate his book.

so... if we ignore this deliberately facetious opening, we might say that Simon Winchester is just about as well known as Alan Booth, another Englishman who refused proferred car-rides and buses to walk the length of a country. Booth traveled 4000 kilometers from north Hokkaido to...more
James
Before reading this book, my understanding of Korea was as hazy as a foggy day in Seoul. Korea? Didn't they host the Olympics a few years back? And I think there was a messy war in the fifties that led to partition; the South became prosperous; the North became weird. Oh, and don't they eat dogs? Well, now the fog has cleared, and it's all thanks to Simon Winchester's absorbing and entertaining journey through this fascinating land. And yes, there are some references to canine cuisine, but more...more
Teresa
So many layers of time and perspective exist within this book: what Korea was in the 1600's during Hendrick Hamel's quest, what it was in the late 1980's as Simon Winchester took his journey, and for me what the little part of Korea that I know is now in 2007-2008. Existence and life in Korea has the same affect as the book illustrates: a blending of the traditional, the modern, and the contemporary.

Winchester uses intriguing and creative prose; I most enjoyed the portraits of people and landsc...more
Phillip
The walking tour of any length provides a more intimate exposure to the land being traversed than any conveyance might allow. Simon Winchester's account of retracing the journey of a group of Dutch sailors who were shipwrecked off the coasts of Korea in 1653 A.D. embraces not only the land, but the history and its people. As a well travelled individual he is able to equate the various regions he roams through to other world regions creating immediate images in the reader's mind.

The miracles of t...more
Gail
This travelogue written in the late 1980s tells of the author's WALK through Korea from the south up to the DMZ. His love of the country and its people are evident and a welcome dose of warmth about a country where both the weather and the people are often treated coldly. The word about the weather may be true. While this book didn't have as much substance as other of Winchesters books, I enjoyed the bits of history and tidbits about life and culture.
Mad Russian the Traveller
I liked this book, but my only regret is that it was written in the late 1980's. I would like to read something that covers the last twenty years since this book was published. For now, I'll have to content myself with Wikipedia articles and archived news reports.

The book did make me want to visit Korea. I worked for a Korean company here stateside for a short time, and I wish I had read the book before working there as it would have given me a bit more insight in how to deal with the boss. As a...more
Mag
It’s the author’s account of his journey on foot through Korea, from Jeju Island in the south to the 38 parallel, retracing the steps of seventeenth-century sailor Hendrick Hamelits who was forced to make this journey after having been shipwrecked and made the king’s captive. On his walk, Winchester was hoping to discover what was there in the Koreans that made it possible for them to recently make so much progress in so little time.
Even though the book was first published in 1984, it has lost l...more
Kristine Stevens
If you are into military history, you'll appreciate the monstrous helping of it this book dishes out. However, I was hoping for a more well-rounded reading experience. I wanted to walk with him as a person exploring his new surroundings, not listen to an military history professor's long-winded lecture as he walked.

In spots the writing was jumpy - one minute talking about the past and the next paragraph talking about the present without a clear transition. Some people just appeared and disappear...more
Michael Harris
Written in 1988, Simon Winchester walks the length of South Korea following the path of the ship wrecked sailors of the Sparrowhawk that smashed on the rocks in August of 1693. One of the crew maintained a diary of the thirteen years that they were held in "protective custody" before they escaped to Japan and caught a Dutch ship home. His walk, as always, is both a history lesson and a beautiful narrative about the current time of the people, customs and their rich history. It is also a wonderfu...more
Amanda
I found this book in the Asian History section at the public library... I'd say it's more of the travel writing genre than history, though it is fairly liberally peppered with historical context. Since it was written in 1988, it's somewhat dated. A lot has happened in Korea since then, so I found I had to skim some parts that just weren't relevant anymore. Other than that it's entertaining enough, though I'd look out for something more recent if I were making recommendations.
James
Picked this up in a used bookshop in Portland, OR many years ago. A year or two after arriving in Korea, I lent it to a univesity student, who never gave it back.

I recall liking the book, as it was one my first tastes of Korea before setting foot here. It also made me feel like I knew a bit about Korea before I came. I felt familiar with places, food, history, and other cultural novelties. In short, it eased my introduction to Korea back in the 90s.
Jason
I picked up this book after reading the "Professor and the Madman". I was completely fascinated by "Professor". I was not as enthralled in "Korea". In this book Mr. Winchester chronicles his journey across Korea. He does include some interesting stories, and I did learn a great deal about attitudes of Koreans towards foreigners and the historical significance of the Korean Civil War. If you enjoy travellogs, you might enjoy this book.
Anna
I wanted to like this book. It read smoothly, it had tidbits of historical knowledge and geographical inquiry. However, the narrator's dalliances with prostitutes and occasionally offensive viewpoints made it really difficult to want to keep reading his words. Halfway into the book, I just didn't want to continue anymore. I'm sure the rest of it was an interesting view into Korea, I just wish it was done by someone else.
Monica
"Engaging, informed, and humorous" this is not. No real insights beyond the typical here. Winchester makes his touristness and foreigness clear instead of immersing through the culture. He observes, but doesn't dwell. His frequent allusions to the experiences of a 17th century traveler only exacerbates the distance between author and subject. It's hard to get a sense of involvement, making this book easily irrelevant.
Frances Bland
I loved reading about Korea as it was. Being stationed at Kunsan AB, I have first-hand knowledge of some of the arrogance and ignorance surrounding these bases as a whole. Luckily, many American military members are starting to see the beauty of Korea and are getting out to see it. This book made me wish I could walk all of those miles and see Korea in its full beauty.
Catherine
When I initially heard about this book, I wasn't going to read it because it was described as outdated. A Korean-American friend, who is teaching English in Korea, convinced me that I needed to read it. While it is definitely outdated (written in the mid-80s), it's a fascinating look at how vastly different South Korea was just a short time ago.
Melly
a British journalist walks from the southernmost tip of Korea all the way to the DMZ. Interesting, insightful, full of historical tidbits, and an appreciation of a people and their culture.

There is a slight stereotypical white male response to a few scenarios (I get the feeling he has a bit of an Asian woman fetish) but overall a good book.
Karie
I read this book in preparation to move to Korea for a year. For my purposes, it was worth the read. I solid overview of the many facets of life in South Korea. It provided a good starting point of what to read and research next. The writing was a little boring at times and and perhaps a little biased toward an English way of life.
Lena
This book was not great, but it wasn't bad. I became sick of the author's multiple encounters with young women. I found it rather offensive and unnecessary to add. The details of Korean history, especially of the Korean War, he added were interesting and probably the only thing that kept me from putting the book down.
Mr. Lipsett
An enjoyable rambling about a rambling from one end of South Korea to another, seemingly in the mid-1980s. Age does not wither it, but rather makes it feel a bit like a time capsule. Winchester's writing is witty, engaging, and often warm. Not a contemporary book but an enjoyable sepia photograph in prose.
Melvin
If I weren't living in Korea I probably wouldn't have liked this book very much. As it was, it explained some things I hadn't figured out yet, told some stories I wouldn't have heard about otherwise and made me want to ask Koreans on the subway with me, "Is this true?" But alas, I don't speak Korean.
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14053
Simon Winchester, OBE, is a British writer, journalist and broadcaster who resides in the United States. Through his career at The Guardian, Winchester covered numerous significant events including Bloody Sunday and the Watergate Scandal. As an author, Simon Winchester has written or contributed to over a dozen nonfiction books and authored one novel and his articles appear in several travel publi...more
More about Simon Winchester...
The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded The Map That Changed the World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology A Crack in the Edge of the World The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary

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