Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader: North Korea and the Kim Dynasty
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Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader: North Korea and the Kim Dynasty

4.06 of 5 stars 4.06  ·  rating details  ·  1,096 ratings  ·  112 reviews
Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader offers in-depth portraits of North Korea's two ruthless and bizarrely Orwellian leaders, Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il. Lifting North Korea's curtain of self-imposed isolation, this book will take readers inside a society, that to a Westerner, will appear to be from another planet. Subsisting on a diet short on food grains and lon...more
ebook, 880 pages
Published April 1st 2007 by Thomas Dunne Books (first published October 15th 2004)
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Sandy
After I read Nothing to Envy, a book about six ordinary people in North Korea, I was even more intrigued about this secretive country. I reserved Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader at the library. I was so surprised to see a 700-page book (with 100 pages of footnotes) waiting for me. No way would I read such a thick book, but I decided to check it out anyway and maybe skim parts of it. Wrong. I am reading every page and can't wait to get back to it every chance I get. Bradley Martin is...more
Aaron Arnold
I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that most Americans think of North Korea as a wacky punchline, if they think of it at all. This is really unfortunate because North Korea has such a sad story, like Haiti-level sad. Of course, since North Korea is one of the most secretive societies on Earth, if not the most, it's difficult for anyone to really try to educate themselves on it, but Bradley Martin has done an astonishing amount of research, and if anyone qualifies as a "North Korea expert...more
Abbe
From

Under different circumstances, North Korea could be the subject of a Marx Brothers satire, with the elements of a pompous, ego-driven patriarch, a worshipful population, and a general aura of fantasy and illusion. But North Korea has a superbly equipped million-man army and an expanding nuclear weapons program. So this comprehensive examination of this totalitarian society and the two men who have dominated it is often terrifying. For a quarter century, Martin has covered North Korea while

...more
Brian
Mar 28, 2012 Brian rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Brian by: goodreads
Shelves: on-nook
(3.0) Tried to fit 3 or 4 different books into one, and it suffered

My primary criticism of this book is that Martin didn't stay focused on one project. He starts off with a tertiary source historical account of North Korea since World War II. That's fine, and he adopts a very objective tone, citing arguments on both sides of many unanswered questions (at least in the West) about North Korea's policies and leaders. We then shift into defectors' narratives, along the lines of Nothing to Envy: Ordi...more
Erik
A few months ago, I reread 1984 and wondered whether such a society could survive. The answer is yes. Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il have done it. The personality cult is indeed a cult. It's like the whole nation is David Koresh's compound. We are not going to know the full truth about North Korean life until it falls, but until that happy day, Martin has set the standard for books about this crazy country. He has synthesized everything from the ghost-written memoirs of Kim Il-Sung to the testimony...more
Nicholas
Despite being flawed in certain aspects, Martin's work is an interesting one. Even though it brings us "new" information from the northern wasteland of the Korean peninsula, at times I found this book hard to read. Is the DPRK totalitarian? Certainly. Is the DPRK's economy dead? Without question. These questions were never in doubt. To this, I feel Mr. Martin has only added a level of gossip as to why this has occured. Are defectors testimonies important? Certainly. However can a junior officer'...more
Daniel
This is an interesting read. Unfortunately, it lacks structure. The author jumps back and forth from biographies of the Kims, history of North Korea, observations and reflections from his journeys, interviews with refugees and anecdotes. Most of the chapter titles don't tell you anything at all about what the chapter is going to be about. Generally, the book follows a chronological order, but I found that there are many things in between that I was not very interested in and had rather skipped....more
Jeff
A very good book, albeit with a few flaws that keep it off my list of elite-level nonfiction. This is a topic I've wanted to learn more about for a while and certainly filled in some gaps in my historical and cultural knowledge.

As far as the nit-picking:

- I don't usually call for books to be shorter, but this one could have used a bit of trimming. I certainly wanted to read interviews with defectors, but there were so many of them that it started to become repetitive.

- I tend to like my big nonf...more
Dillon Font
This book is THICK and even at my pace, I'm only 650 pages through in about 3 weeks of reading.

Regardless of whether you know/have an interest in Korea/Asia, the details it discusses on a closed, hermetic regime is a fascinating read
Will Ransohoff
Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader is a very comprehensive book about the Kim dynasty in North Korea. Starting with Kim Il-Sung's childhood in China, it goes through the tail end of Kim Jong-Il's reign. It doesn't cover the current leader, Kim Jong-Un, but it is a great resource for the country's modern history up to the twenty-first century.

It's also a pretty long book; the author has a good voice and rarely drags his feet, but it can still get a little dry. Still, there was a lot of...more
Jenny
Excellently researched, good interviews, but too many topics all jumbled up. The historical aspects of this very long book were outstanding and something I had not seen. (I read/watch a lot about DPRK) but Mr. Martin probably should have written two to three different volumes. One for the Kim's history, one for the stories of the individual defectors (many of which have been told in their own books,) and one for his own interpretation of the hows, whys and whens of the North Korean future. There...more
A. Adlilah
OH GOOD GOD! NEVER IN MY LIFE HAVE I THOUGHT THAT I WOULD FINISHED THIS BOOK. I SWEAR TO GOD.

Honestly I don’t know what to make of this book, the first time I saw this book I was so eager to read it, and when I read it I felt like ‘meh~’. Then the more I read the book the more I regret the choice. I don’t know, maybe this is more because I’m too lazy to grasp the book or the writing just suck so bad. I mean, compared to Victor Cha’s The Impossible State this book sucks so bad. I just couldn’t ke...more
Maron Anrow
It took me over a year to read this book. Bradley Martin was thorough in his research and writing! The book began with information about Kim Il-sung (starting with his childhood) and the Korean war, and then the subsequent chapters spanned many decades, switching between between politics, human rights, and economics. I learned a ton. The book was well written and interesting overall, although I liked the chapters with defector testimony the most. One defector (quoted in this book) said it well:...more
Czarny Pies
Aug 30, 2014 Czarny Pies rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in Korea
Shelves: asian-literature
Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader is journalism not history.
Journalists write books based on interviews with liars. Historians write based on unreliable archives. In the case of North Korea, it is impossible to write history and one must rely on journalism.

Writing history on communist regimes is next to impossible. All forms of media are heavily censored. Statistics are falsified. Internal discussions amongst politicians are never documented. What journalists can do is interview defec...more
Chris
Jam-packed with information, so it is hard to get through (a good 'bathroom book'); but I definitely learned as much about the Kims and North Korea as I possibly could without actually visiting the peninsula. How interesting that a tiny, otherwise inconsequential nation can keep great powers tied up in knots (and, unlike Al Qaeda, without ever leaving home). Dealing with DPRK is a real catch-22: the strategy of squeezing them through sanctions, thinking/hoping that they will collapse is laughabl...more
Paul
Unless you, like me, are concerned about renewed war on the Korean Peninsula and curious about the ability of the ruling Kim dynasty to stay in power while they imprison, starve, and kill their people, you will find this an intimidating, even forbidding read. At 849 pages (with acknowledgments and index) it rivals William Shirer's Rise and Fall of the Third Reich for buik. Shirer, at least, had some facts to work with. The Nazis had been defeated, and the Allies had access to voluminous records....more
Tom M
The book was an interesting look into many aspects of North Korea. The author presents a mostly non-biased view to all things North Korea.

Martin begins his book around roughly 1900 with early history of Kim Hyong-jik, the father of KIm Il-sung then proceeds with the history of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il. From there, the book bounces around from defector testimony of daily life, politics, matters of economy, and daily troubles of North Koreans from peasants to the elite. The reader is bound to l...more
Joe
It has been two months to the day that I started this massive book and I now know more about the dictators that I could have imagined or frankly desired to. The research involved in writing a book of this size must be breathtaking but the result is the finest book I have read about a foreigh country. Martin presents us with a full history of the Korea we all know from it's original Japanese invasion, the Japanese defeat in the war, and the division of Korea at the 38th Parallel. The North under...more
Josh Miller
Considering the recent crisis on the Korean Peninsula, I wanted to learn more about North Korea, likely the most secretive state on earth. The Kim dynasty in the DPRK (Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea) has done what George Orwell could only dream of: creating a harsh nanny state that dominates the will, ideas, education, religion, and economic lives of its 20-25 million subjugates.

Much like William Shirer from "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich", Martin is his best when he lets the event...more
Greg Talbot
Martin's acknowledgements at the end of his book and inclusion of voices (defectors, US analysts) and perspectives, gives it a complexity that adds humanity, and pulls slightly on veil of the Kim-Jong-Sung/Kim-Jung-IL dynasty. There is a clear split (around the page 100 mark) where the novel goes from an observing historical voice, to a more personal narration voice. By entwining himself in the book, his visits, his role with the ping-pong tournament in 1979, he loses a sense of unity. Curiously...more
Catherine
Phew. I can't believe I finally finished this monster of a book!

It is 700+ pages of small font plus another 100+ of footnotes.
The book is written by an American journalist who has been to North Korea four times since 1979, and has lived much of that time in Asia. I chose this book (not having noted the length...) because I wanted to understand more about the Korean conflict, about the Korean war and how North Korea became so isolated. I was also interested in learning more about life under the K...more
Stefanie
This is a good informative book about North Korean history, economy, politics and especially the Kim family up to the year 2004. It gave me many insights, I had not had before. It also thoroughly tried my patience. The first seven to ten chapters seemed to drag out endlessly in a much too detailed description of the Korean War and the utterly irrelevant experiences of the author's uncle as an American soldier in it. Add to that a much too detailed account of Kim Il-sungs early life as a partisan...more
Tom
In response to a question of "How in the world did Kim Il-Sung go from a nationalist dupe of the USSR to becoming the godfather of a personality cult that has now lasted more than a half century, a friend promised that this book would provide me the best available insights into the dynamics of North Korea. Martin's book delivers on that promise, at least to the extent that any book can capture life above the 38th parallel.

The details of the Kim's regime are vivid, though the interviews with defe...more
Michael Sylvester
Bradley Martin offers a number of insights here, yet the most surprising and least intended is to demonstrate the value of an editor. Martin urgently needed the loving care of fatherly editor to give his book some direction and structure. As it stands, Loving Care offers a wealth of information, but it is poorly organized. The initial narrative of the rise of Kim Il Sung gives way to what appears to be a reporter’s notebook. The endless transcripts of defector interviews were surely great raw ma...more
Kyle
Interesting, comprehensive history of North Korea under the Kims. I'm kind of fascinated by North Korea, not least because so much of what people "know" about the country is based on guesswork and unreliable testimony. This is a long book, written over many years, and some parts are more interesting than others - all told, I felt like the parts about North Korea before Kim Il-Sung's death were more interesting than the later parts of the book about the 1990s famine and the greater economic freed...more
Justin
Jun 20, 2007 Justin rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: North Korea Nerds
This book was probably straight up the most interesting book I've read on North Korea to date. It's also not at all academic, and maybe that's why. Bradley Martin compiles a couple decades of covering North Korea for various publications into a huge compendium of everything you'd want to know about the Kims and more. Because cult-of-personality Kim (both Il Sung and Jong Il) worship is pretty much the state-sanctioned religion of North Korea, Martin writes the story of the Kims as the story of N...more
Evan
Other reviewers have done a great job of extolling this book's virtues, and there are many. For the prospective reader, I would add that this book is an extremely astute study of the sociocultural motion of North Korea from the end of Japanese colonialism to the 21st century. It de-emphasizes military affairs, which is a smart choice, because information about those is probably almost impossible to come by, and because that situation means nothing without the context of the political Petri dish...more
Todd
By the standards of contemporary histories, this is a flawed work. But its flaws reflect the 60 years of isolation and self-aggrandizement more particular weaknesses of the author.

Simply put, there is no adequate base of academic works from which to write a comprehensive political history of North Korea. So Mr. Martin should be forgiven for quoting and being less than successful at dissecting the alternate-histories written and disseminated by the regime. Similarly, Mr. Martin should be forgiven...more
caitlin
This was both an interesting and a deeply flawed book. Martin has obviously spent a large portion of his life studying, visiting, and analyzing North Korea. His knowledge is unquestionable and the many interviews does with defectors lend the book a sometimes chilling account of life for those who fall afoul of the system.

But it's always difficult to tell the history of another people and culture. Martin struggles with whether he wants to remain old-school (detached, separated, impartial) or if...more
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