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The Korean War: A History (Modern Library Chronicles #33)

3.77  ·  Rating Details ·  351 Ratings  ·  71 Reviews

For Americans, it was a discrete conflict lasting from 1950 to 1953. But for the Asian world the Korean War was a generations-long struggle that still haunts contemporary events. With access to new evidence and secret materials from both here and abroad, including an archive of captured
Paperback, 320 pages
Published July 12th 2011 by Modern Library (first published January 1st 2010)
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Feb 07, 2013 Bennet rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
All history nerds have their obsessions and the Korean War is one of mine. Anything I have to say about the subject is going to be skewed by enthusiasm, but I bothered to get a history degree because scholarship matters to me, and Bruce Cumings is an important scholar, mostly because of what he has to say about the Korean War.

You may not agree with his interpretations of things, but you cannot fault him for the facts being what they are, and if a legitimate argument against his findings is out
Alan Jacobs
Apr 14, 2012 Alan Jacobs rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the book to read for an understanding of Korea--not just the Korean War, but Korea itself, north and south. North Korea will be much less enigmatic once you read this book. Cumings goes deep into Korean history, and especially into the Japanese occupation of Korea and Manchuria from the 1930s until the end of WWII. In Cumings' retelling, the North under Kim Il Jong was heroic in its determination to rid the country of their Japanese overlords and return to Korea to the Koreans. The South ...more
Simon Wood
Feb 14, 2015 Simon Wood rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

While reading through the reviews of Bruce Cummings "The Korean War" I noticed more than one reviewer complain that Cummings book isn't a history of the war. Up to a point they are right, it is not a conventional history of that war beyond the first thirty-seven pages of two hundred and forty-three that narrate the actions of leaders and armies from beginning to end of the "war". But it only takes a moment of reflection to realise that the remainder of the book is a
Jul 28, 2013 Nicole rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I had issues with this book. Many, many issues (though, I didn't outright hate it, I have to give it that).

The first being that, for all the title is "The Korean War", this book really isn't about the Korean War. The first chapter is a brief summary, and then they talk about the atrocities committed during the war, but it's hardly the focus of the book. While I found a great deal of what he wrote about interesting, such as pre-Korean War rebellions, that's not what I bought a book to read about,
Jun 22, 2011 Maria rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, history
This should not be the first book that you read about the Korean War. Cumings assumes that the reader has a basic understanding of events and then proceeds to explain how and why our common America understanding of this "forgotten war" is false. Very interesting but I need to read more basic historic narratives before jumping into this discussion.

What I liked: 1. 38th parallel was an imaginary boundary that we have enforced for more than 60 years. The Korean War was and is a civil war that we st
Jan 26, 2014 Steven rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've read a lot of criticism of this book and it's author in the past, so much so that I delayed reading it for a long time. I'm glad I finally read it because, while there are certainly problems with it, it certainly does fill in the gaps in the literature in regards to atrocities committed by allied, and, especially, South Korean forces.

Not too long ago I visited the POW camp on Goeje Island while on vacation and many of the things I saw there didn't make any sense, like signs explaining the p
Dan Gorman
Feb 09, 2015 Dan Gorman rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A good book, this history of the Korean War still suffers from a non-linear format, which jumps forward and backward in time to such a degree that the argument gets muddled.

Bruce Cumings is right to critique American involvement in Korea, especially the permanent military-industrial complex and forward-deployed military bases created by the Korean War. Cumings also does an admirable job of drawing out the atrocities committed by Syngman Rhee's regime and borderline-fascist youth groups in South
Mark Desrosiers
Nov 13, 2011 Mark Desrosiers rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, weaponized
Leave it to Bruce Cumings to write a history of this forgotten war where the order of battle -- the major military operations agreed upon by most historians -- occupy only the first 36 pages. The rest of the book is both a resurrection of the tragic periphery, and an argument about what this war means, for Koreans and The United States.

Facts are facts: the U.S. (and UN) intervened in a civil war occasioned by the humbling of Korea's long-time occupier, Japan. Cumings is right on the money in co
Aug 08, 2010 James rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
About the worst book I've read about the Korean war,
the author tries so hard to discredit others who have written about this war.
And the American men who fought and suffered there.

I assume the author never fulfilled his military obligation.

When GI's were dying in Asian countries,
he was probably sipping mint julips and playing with himself.

The author has a very scattered style of writing with mentions of Marilyn Monroe, Picasso, and a lot of other silly trivia.

He does the usual MacArthur ba
Jul 16, 2013 S. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: hookah
one can imagine the steel nerves
required of leaders in Pyongyang, observing
a lone B-29 simulating the attack lines that
had resulted in the devastation of Hiroshima
and Nagasaki just six years earlier, each time
unsure of whether the bomb was real or a

with lines like this, we call Bruce Cumings a "pinko" or "Commie" and return to our mint juleps on dis heah hot suh-thern daye.

ah have read three accounts of thuh korean woah ... and this is the mos' leftie of them.

are you a communist sir? are y
Lauren Albert
Other reviewers have already pointed out that the title is a misnomer. While Cumings manages to cover the history of the war (as well as the pre- and post- history), it is definitely not a straight narrative history.

The book is a revisionist look at the "forgotten war" which tries to show the darker side (atrocities by our soldiers and allies) of our participation rather than just that of the North Koreans. I don't know enough about the events to judge his point of view but I found it interesti
Alyson Hagy
I am still sorting through my thoughts about this book. I have read perhaps ten other books about the Korean War (including the Halberstam book, The Coldest War), but Cumings has pressed me to rethink some of the conclusions I may have drawn from those more "traditional" (and American-centered) volumes. I knew nothing about the extended bombing campaign against North Korea. I knew little about the tangled history of poor relations between Japan and Korea. I did know a few isolated facts about th ...more
E. Kahn
Mar 08, 2015 E. Kahn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As almost every other reviewer has noted, this book is not a history of the Korean War, despite the title. It's more of a collection of historical essays on the Korean War, focusing largely on atrocities committed by US and ROK forces on South Korean civilians and the lack of balance in what little there is written about the war. Cumings is not shy about his political sympathies, which will turn off many readers.

That said, every horrifying event presented in the book is backed up by thorough res
Salvatore Leone
Nov 09, 2012 Salvatore Leone rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An engrossing, complete history of the war. For those interested, I would recommend this very highly.
Andrew Carr
I recently visited South Korea, and to help orientate me towards this new destination, I headed to a bookshop to help get a sense of the place. I often think bookstores tell much about a country. Are they looking only for their own stories (America) or keen to learn how to engage others (Taiwan), are they focused on escapism (Australia) or do they want to learn how to succeed and get rich (Singapore). These are just one side to any culture, but where else can you directly see what the people wan ...more
Alex Napoli
Cumings' book is valuable in that it challenges preconceived notions of The Korean War—countering the narrative that has been spoon-fed to most US and ROK citizens. Most have been taught that The Korean War was a UN intervention against an aggressive North Korea. This narrative makes sense as we consider the two Koreas today. The South has "flourished" into what one might call, somewhat problematically, a functioning democratic nation, whereas the North has seemingly become an abusive regime. Ho ...more
Dec 23, 2010 Ilya rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: cold-war
At the close of the Pacific War, it became clear that Japan would soon surrender, and its colony Korea would have to be occupied jointly by the Soviet Union and the United States (FDR's idea of a four-power trusteeship over the country died with him). The day after Nagasaki, Dean Rusk and another official decided to split the country in half along the 38th parallel, leaving the capital Seoul in the American half; the next day, the Soviets agreed. Both occupying powers set up governments in their ...more
Jan 31, 2016 Ramon4 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, non-fiction, own
An interesting but disturbing book. I thought the book would be a military history, but instead it turned out to be a revisionist political history. Cumings main point is that Americans have always misunderstood the war, thinking that it was something that started in 1950 and ended in a stalemate in 1953. Cumings says that this is incorrect. Korea, he says, was engaged in a civil war that began in 1932, and was still going on in 1950, and is still going on today.

The basis of this war was the Jap
Jun 26, 2013 Avempace rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Korean War: A History by Bruce Cumings is essential reading for those interested in the origins of the Korean war and its current trajectory. It is a historical essay that not only delves into the roots of the conflict and its evolution in the 1930s and 40s, but also in dwells on the US political and domestic scene, including McCarthyism, and how it shaped the view of the conflict to this date. There are many remarkable insights that come form this book, the first being the origins of the co ...more
A good history from a left-liberal perspective

The bipartisan mythologizing? It all centers around how, when, where and why the Korean War started.

In a series of essays, Cumings' central themes are:
1. The "Korean War" goes back before 1950, ultimately to Kim Il Sung and others fighting guerrila war in northern Korea and mainly in Manchuria/Manchukuo against Japanese imperialists, then facing a post-1945 South Korea with much of its leadership consisting of collaborators with the Jaapanese.
2. Kim
David Roberts
May 20, 2014 David Roberts rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The book I read to research this post was The Korean War: A History by Robert Cumings which is an excellent book which I bought from kindle. This book was written by an American author about a war that was largely fought by America although other nations like Britain & China were involved. The roots of the war go back to the Japanese invasion of China & Korea around 1910 which the west welcomed because they thought it would help modernize Korea. Of course Japan had a brutal and totalitar ...more
Josh Liller
"Gooks, napalm, rapes, whores, an unreliable ally, a cunning enemy, fundamentally untrained GIs fighting a war their top generals barely understood, fragging of officers, contempt for the know-nothing civilians back home, devilish battles indescribable even to loved ones, press handouts from...headquarters apparently scripted by comedians or lunatics, an ostensible vision of bringing freedom and liberty to a sordid dictatorship..." Vietnam? Korea.

The title of this book is misleading. It would be
Jan 31, 2016 Patrick rated it it was ok
Shelves: korean-history
This book is many things, few of them well thought out or properly explained. It is a brief history of Korea under Japanese imperialism, a history of American politics under McCarthyism, a literary study of some war literature, and an attack on the historiography of the Korean War. But it's not really a history of the Korean War. Cumings says all he wants about the war in the first forty pages, then he lapses into thoughts on Nietzsche, memory, and the nature of reconciliation. He spends close t ...more
Robert P. Hoffman
Mar 05, 2016 Robert P. Hoffman rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The author shows how the Korean War arose from what happened in the 1930s when Japan took over Korea. After the defeat of Japan and the U.S. dividing up Korea, many leaders in the South were people who had worked with the Japanese occupiers. Many of the groups in North Korea and leftist groups in the South were composed of people who had fought against the Japanese. During WWII the groups were terrorized by the Japanese.

The North feared that the South would seek to invade the North and place peo
Mary Warnement
Nov 23, 2015 Mary Warnement rated it it was amazing
Shelves: subway, history, korea
Cumings concludes that the Korean War made America what it is today: "refractory" (207-208, 211). He takes a close look at the causes and conditions of the war and does not shirk from pointing out where the US blundered, chose the wrong side, or behaved in an outright reprehensible way. Not a flattering assessment; I don't have the language skills to assess the original sources, but I am convinced by his argument. Cumings seems even-handed, even when he clearly wants to point out the excessivene ...more
Oct 27, 2010 Tripp rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ah, here is a revisionists delight. While I overall recommend the book, there are two somewhat significant complaints to address.

The first is the title, which is inappropriate. The book should really be called Things You Did Not Know About The Korean War. It focuses on the aspects of the war, often challenging to read as an American, that are less often discussed.

The second is that the author goes more than a little easy on the North Koreans in the book. Charges that he is an apologist are a tad
Richard Macquarrie
Aug 23, 2014 Richard Macquarrie rated it did not like it
Shelves: books-i-rated
This book was informative about mostly ghastly and terrible war crimes that were committed during the Korean war. It did not go in depth about the actual battles or the White House strategy of the war as I was hoping. It was clearly written by a hard core liberal with a lot of anger built up for his own country. The book demonized the South Koreans and the Americans in the war while trying to make Kim Il Sung look not so bad. The most damning part of the book was when he stated and I'm paraphras ...more
Lisa Houlihan
This was a difficult book for me, dense and scholarly and filled with unfamiliar names. But it was engaging: not a military history but one from all sides, political and economic and literary and aware of the rest of the world. Of *course* Truman got flak for "losing" China to communism, and of course this affected his decisions about Korea; I knew when the Chinese Communist Revolution ended but had never (?!) consciously associated 1948 with 1950. I had vague knowledge that Japan occupied Korea ...more
Tristan Anderson
Sep 07, 2016 Tristan Anderson rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Horrible. The book is so revisionist and liberal biased, it is not even readable. It is written like the U.S. is a bunch of horrible satanic monsters, while the North Koreans and Chinese are little angels. Hell, it even compares the U.S. to Nazi Germany in World War II, and not in a good way. Do not get this book if you want an ACCURATE understanding of the Korean War. Look for one actually written by a veteran who served in Korea, not a book by a professor in a college who has never even seen w ...more
Apr 27, 2013 Tom rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Pretty good and readable. Cumings establishes pretty clearly what the Korean war was all about: the US intervened to suppress an anticolonial uprising (in the north and the south) and to prop up a ruthless dictator. It was, in that sense, a prelude to the Vietnam War, but also in its own right a truly horrifying slaughter of innocents. Most of the massacres were committed by the southern side and by the US (which carpet bombed the north); but Cumings doesn't diminish the atrocities committed by ...more
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