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Korea

3.50  ·  Rating Details  ·  508 Ratings  ·  70 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 nation

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Paperback, 298 pages
Published June 3rd 2004 by Penguin Books Ltd (first published 1988)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,412)
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Meri
Nov 12, 2010 Meri rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: korea
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
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John
Aug 28, 2007 John rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: travel
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
Wendell
Aug 13, 2008 Wendell rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
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.
Denice
Feb 02, 2009 Denice rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Tom Romig
Apr 04, 2016 Tom Romig rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Simon Winchester is, as usual, a pleasure to read. The problem with the book is that it's about South Korea 30 years ago when he walked the length of the country. At that time, the "miracles" referred to in the subtitle had to do with economics, not government, which was a despotic military regime.

Even granting how long ago the book was written, it's striking how little Winchester comments on the desperate plight of women. He is, in fact, rather cavalier about the widespread prostitution he chro
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Linda
May 10, 2011 Linda rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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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
Daniel Gerken
Alright, but I actually don't believe much of the book. Maybe it's just Winchester's delivery, or his British background, but, for example, he never details significant language barriers with anyone he meets. He gives the impression that they all speak reasonable English. Moreover, he gives the impression that most Korean people are relatively reasonable from a Western standpoint. Based on my two plus years experience in the country, both of these scenarios are fantastic. Only once does he descr ...more
R.
Dec 30, 2015 R. rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, research
I learned a fair amount about Korea that I didn't know, which is the positive thing I can say about this book. But the vaguely creepy paternalistic narration was extremely off-putting - it's very much a book written by a white man with a particular (and not appealing) perspective on what Korea "truly" is. The weird overuse of the word giggling is notable and telling. Extreme lack of self-examination when it comes to the author's encounters with Korean women.
Margaret
Mar 12, 2016 Margaret rated it really liked it
I read this because my daughter has recently gone to live and work in South Korea for a year. Accessible material about the country is hard to come by. This book was published in 1988, but I gather it's still regarded as a useful introduction. Winchester decides to walk the length of the country, following the trail of 17th century Dutch adventurers who were held captive here. Hiking is not a Korean hobby, and his unusual idea excites the interest of people who he meets on the way. So he shares ...more
Anny
Dec 28, 2014 Anny rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: travel
A good introduction book to 1980's Korea. The author nicely tied his journey with explanation of Korea's history. Before I read this book, I've never heard of Kwangju massacre or the genius Admiral Yi or the civil wars and the dictatorship in South Korea. The people was very interesting; Hyundai have got this cradle to grave motto, where its employers were taken care by the company almost literally from cradle to grave. I also never knew that Koreans (at that time) weren't allowed to go overseas ...more
Frank Theising
I’ve spent just short of a year here in Korea and on a friend’s recommendation read this book. It provides an intriguing snapshot into 1980s Korea. A period of significant transformation for the country both politically (at the time it was still very authoritarian) and economically (the country was just beginning its impressive economic expansion). Its been interesting to see how much has changed since this book was published in 1988. The author walks the length of the country from Jeju Island i ...more
Jess Neuner
I was torn between rating this book two or three stars. I liked that I got to get a glimpse of South Korea as it was twenty years ago, when it was just beginning to go through the changes that would help shape the country into the current technological powerhouse it is now. There's also a lot of history, from Yi Soon Shin (one of my favourite historical figures) to the Gwangju Massacre, which I'd not heard of until I read this. There were a lot of fascinating titbits of information about the cou ...more
John
Dec 23, 2015 John rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: korea
I liked this book. Simon Winchester has a fantastic voice that reads like Bill Bryson crossed with a self-deluded Buddhist monk.

Probably the most fantastic aspect of the book comes from the era it was written and how foreign a place Korea seems just 30 years ago. For context: Winchester walks from the island of Jeju to Panmunjeom on the "border" with North Korea. He attempts to follow the path at out by Dutch sailors who crashed on Jeju in the seventeenth century, becoming the first westerners
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Neil Fein
Feb 13, 2010 Neil Fein rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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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
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S.
Jul 23, 2013 S. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: cheshire
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
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James
Apr 05, 2008 James rated it liked it
Shelves: reviewed
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
Nov 16, 2009 Teresa rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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Phillip
Aug 22, 2013 Phillip rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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Gail
Feb 04, 2014 Gail rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Ben
Feb 22, 2016 Ben rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Another excellent read by Simon Winchester. If you have an interest in (relatively current) South Korea then this is a very good albeit casual discussion on South Korea (and a little North Korea).

This book is a story of the author's foot journey from southern South Korea to the 38th parallel. Winchester has a little more humor in this book (styled quite dryly like Bill Bryson) and it is very educational, enlightening, and humorous.
David Jacobson
Jun 29, 2015 David Jacobson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is an evocatively written travelogue that combines the author's journey, by foot, along the length of South Korea with historical and cultural anecdotes. I read this while traveling in Korea and it complemented the trip well.

One small complaint, which applies to many books of this sort, is the inclusion of an eccentric, Western expat (in this case the character Carl Ferris Miller). While the author my find this person eminently interesting, I think meeting him only distracts from what shoul
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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
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Erik M
Oct 04, 2014 Erik M rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I consider this a prototype of his far superior later book on China, River at the Center of the World. That was a far more scholarly, balanced book. This one suffers from a noticeable lack of the latter (an unfortunate product of the time in which it was written), while giving just enough history to frustrate the reader into buying something with more depth.
Colleen
I read this book shortly after returning from 2 years in Korea. I had read other guides and books about Korea, but this book explained the reasons behind things that baffled me while I was there. Too bad I didn't read this when I was in Korea! More than a straight travel diary this book includes history and background information on the culture of Korea.
Mag
May 23, 2010 Mag rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: travel, asia, korea
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
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Michael Harris
Feb 10, 2013 Michael Harris rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jackie Bolen
May 06, 2015 Jackie Bolen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed seeing how Korea was before their rapid development.
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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 publ ...more
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