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Korea: The Impossible Country

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  1,195 ratings  ·  132 reviews
South Korea was "the poorest, most impossible country on the planet" when it was founded, according to an advisor to its third president. Yet, in just fifty years it has transformed itself into an economic powerhouse and a democracy that can serve as a model for other countries. How was it able to do this, despite having been sapped by almost a half-century of colonial rul ...more
Hardcover, 312 pages
Published November 10th 2012 by Tuttle Publishing
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Rebecca Radnor
Sep 27, 2013 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, korea
While this book has valuable things to offer, recognize that it's jingoistic (it is utterly devoid of any sort of critical analysis of Korean society, other than point out the obvious and therefore safe things to criticize, such as Korea's suicide rate, changing status of women, etc.) and the reader should therefore take it with a massive grain of salt -- in that respect, however, its also highly educational with regards to learning about various aspects of Korean culture.

This book is unabashed
...more
Robert
Dec 29, 2012 rated it really liked it
Korea: The impossible country by Daniel Tudor answers just about every challenge an introduction to a foreign nation one can image. It’s well-written, comprehensive (history, culture, foreign relations, politics, economy, education, family life and social mores).
In addition, Tudor’s book has the special advantage of being a recently released (2012) comment on a country that desperately needs foreign interpreters. Sandwiched between the great Asian powers (China and Japan) and divided by the 20
...more
Joseph Han
Sep 13, 2016 rated it it was ok
By observing South Korea’s narrative as an “unlikely and impressive story of nation building of the last century,” Daniel Tudor positions himself in a role of validation. The parts and chapters to this text neatly parcel Korea’s history into what becomes deemed its most identifiable characteristics, making his efforts seem anthropological, the prose functioning like a historical primer for an audience that is not very familiar with the peninsula. However, the scope of this book also at times bec ...more
Ronald Lim
Mar 31, 2013 rated it really liked it
Originally from here!

Local admirers of everything Korean may be pleased to find out that the people of the Korean peninsula share a few similar traits with those of us here in the Philippines.

Foremost of these is the concept of “jeong,” or “the invisible hug.” Defined as “feelings of fondness, caring, bonding, and attachment that develop within interpersonal relationships,” it often leads to an interdependence that results in friends, schoolmates, or coworkers looking out and supporting each oth
...more
Zahin
Oct 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I was recommended this book by Tram as a crash course of Korean culture, and it was just what I needed! I'm just at the 2 month mark of my time in Korea, and while I need a lot more time to accustom myself to the environment, this book helped me to build a deeper understanding and empathy towards Koreans, and 'the way that things work' in Korea. The book takes us through history, religion, politics, economy, music, etc and tries to intertwine these information points into insights. As with any b ...more
Chris
Dec 20, 2012 rated it liked it
A great intro to South Korea, especially if you don't know know much about it. I thought that the section on religion was well put together, as was many of the historical sections. It provides a pretty comprehensive explanation for how things came to be through both cultural and historical avenues. However, as someone with a passing knowledge of Korea I found it a bit lackluster, especially the last ~25% of the book. The sections on Korean cinema and Kpop really seemed to be rushed and almost ju ...more
Seongkyul
I distinctly remember my mother telling me in college (was it highschool? meh) that between these two most commonly read books on general Korean history (for English audience) - Tudor's and Cumings's - choose the latter because the former is relatively shallow in academic terms ("eh so-so.. geujuhgeurae"). After reading a chapter into each book, I chose this one for today (Saturday) because it felt lighter.

I still learned alot - and would definitely recommend to anyone unfamiliar with Korea. Ve
...more
Nicholas Owen
Apr 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you want to read and understand South Korea this should be your first stop. Please bear in mind that it is very pro South Korea.
Jeffrey Miller
Jan 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Korea: Up Close and Personal

When I came to Korea in 1990 to live and work, my knowledge of Korea was what I was able to glean from a South Korean Fodor’s travel guide, travel information from the Korea National Tourism Agency, a couple badly photocopied pages of firsthand experiences by English teachers at the language school I would be teaching at in southern Seoul, and a feature story in an issue of National Geographic magazine.

Nowadays, finding out information about what life is like in Korea
...more
Sungmin Kim
Mar 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I did not realise how ignorant I was about my own country. The cultural aspects described in the book was just so natural for me. I am bearly reading through the first chapter so far, but it is very interesting to read about how this culture was formed by different religions and idealologies that changed over dynasties. When I picked this book, I was actually looking forward to reading the perspective a non-Korean person. One thing that I want to point out is that in the brief history section at ...more
Rafal Pruszynski
Aug 25, 2013 rated it it was ok
I picked this up hoping it would be an interesting analysis of the country's rise from poverty, but was kind of disappointed. It would probably offer much more to someone who hasn't lived here for years. Some good information but overall a very surface level attempt to explain everything. The parts about the food and entertainment should have been jettisoned and more depth given to the economic rise.
Lee
Nov 13, 2018 rated it liked it
This book had potential. There are parts that I really liked. If you want to know you some facts about South Korea, then even my criticism (to follow) should not stop you from reading this book. Tudor is the Korea corespondent for The Economist (the greatest English-language newspaper), and that shows through.

The problem with this book is that it is supposed to be a book, but what Tudor provides is not really a book. It actually struggles with what it is trying to be. Sometimes, it feels like a
...more
Ken Watari
Apr 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
Daniel Tudor's book was very informative as I prepared for my first trip to Korea. As other reviews have mentioned, I found this book to be best understood as one that explores the Korean narrative for how Korea came to be and why Korean society is the way it is today. And, this is extremely valuable in its own right. From the book, it was a bit difficult to tease out which elements of Korean culture and society were unique to Korea, versus similar to neighboring countries.
Benjamin (The Maniac)
A must for those who think Korea is only about dramas and K-pop.
Amy Rhoda  Brown
Jan 05, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This book was recommended to me by a Korean friend as a good overview to South Korea's culture, society, and history. Since everything I know about South Korea I have learned from reading this book, talking to Koreans, and watching DKDKTV on YouTube, I can't really comment on the veracity of the content of the book, but assuming it's pretty solid, this is indeed a fine introduction to the little country that could.

Before I go on I will answer the obvious question: What makes Korea impossible? Ac
...more
Genericpie
Feb 09, 2015 rated it really liked it
I've lived in Korea for 18 months now. I arrived with a number of questions about Korean society and with each month I've lived here the number of questions has grown and grown. Why are Koreans so obsessed with education? What were the mechanics behind Korea's growth from geopolitical minnow to the world's 13th largest economy? What are the roots of the suffocating conformity that permeates so many aspects of Korean life? Why is K-Pop so ubiquitous while other genres of music are all but unknown ...more
Marcio
Oct 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I never expected this book to be such an engaging read as it turned out. Excellent for a first read on Korea, and thought-provoking even if you don't have a special interest in the country.
In the first part, it provides a glimpse of the Korean history both geopolitically and economically, as well as an overview of its people's main philosophical and religious views. It then goes on to present many cultural and economic aspects of the country.
The obsession with education and extreme competitivene
...more
Nicole
Mar 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book- this is what I'd call the perfect crash course book. This is the book for the Introduction to Korea 101 class, which gives you enough detail to get to to the upper level classes if you want to go further. It's well written and easy to read, but it does get a bit repetitive at times. It feels like a on the ground telling, not some academic retelling.

It focuses on both the positive and negative aspects of Korean history and Korean culture. It's clearly pro-Korea, but i
...more
Vivian
Jul 26, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
TLDR: If this book were a meal, it'd be at a 4-star tapas restaurant, where you're served a diverse menu of topics. Read this if your exposure to Korea is K-Pop, K-Dramas, or nothing at all. Fantastic intro for newbies like myself.

Tudor's takes a breadth-first approach and provides some general cultural context for old and new Korea. The structure is synonymous with the tapas concept: numerous small dishes, or topics, are pieced together to create an entire meal. Like a sampler for the curious.
...more
Ariel
Apr 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
Overall pretty good, but still a little basic in terms of depth. It scratches the surface of second-level analysis, but doesn't go beyond that.

If you already have a pretty decent grasp of "actual" Korea through "real" experiences like Korean friends, Korean significant others, living there, etc., then this book may glue all the pieces together and then some (especially the historical and shamanistic culture parts!), but anything relating to the modern Korea you have already witnessed yourself,
...more
Benjamin Horton
Nov 18, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: country-profiles
Tudor's book is a fantastic introduction to pretty much all aspects of South Korea. Each chapter gives you a thorough grounding in its subject, while providing you with plenty of starting points for you to start researching yourself, should you wish. The prose is brisk without feeling like it's skipping anything important, and a formidable range of subjects are covered, allowing one to gain a pretty complete picture of South Korea. If I could give fractional ratings on this site, Korea: The Impo ...more
Inas Syadzwina
Apr 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Prior to reading this book, my knowledge and perception of South Korea were mostly based on the K-dramas and K-variety shows I've watched over the years -- a country that is rich in traditions. When watching these shows, there are always some pieces of cultural phenomena that are unfamiliar to me, such as bowing down to elders in New Year's Day, speaking using honorifics, to blind dating in internet cafes. Upon reading, not only that I have understood why these cultural phenomena exist, but also ...more
Kat
May 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I can't recommend this book enough. As some of the reviewers stated, it fills in huge gaps about contemporary, 21st century South Korean history. In the space of 2 generations, South Korea has gone from totally impoverished to the 11th biggest economy in the world, the 4th biggest economy in Asia, and one of the strongest democracies in the world - by some reports and statistics, even more democratic than France.

As a first generation Korean-American, I visited Seoul recently and was a) blown awa
...more
John
Feb 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
I'm curious how long the author lived in Korea and the extent of his knowledge of Korean Language.
Quite a few errors or generalizations etc that would be evident to someone who has a deeper connection to the country.

This book is a good introduction to an outline of Korean history as well as modern Korean society.
For the latter though, it's only been 5 years since the publication of the book but because of the rapid change of Korean society a fair amount of the facts or statistics are now quite
...more
Paul Lee
May 29, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: culture
As a foreign raised Korean (Gyopo) who was raised traditionally in the U.S. I was interested in reading something that gave me an overall deeper feel of my "mother country."

I think this book is good for those who are looking for a very general and overall view of Korea as a country. There were bits and pieces in here that gave me a wider perspective on Korea but definitely many of the facts I already knew due to the fact of going to Korean school in the U.S. and just being around Koreans day in
...more
Anne
Mar 04, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4.5 stars

A really helpful and accessible overview of South Korea's history and culture. The writing style was engaging, and the topics covered were relevant and of sufficient depth for an introduction. At times, Tudor's own opinions about different aspects of Korean culture (particularly film and music) colored the narrative such that it felt a bit one-sided. This book is clearly written from from the perspective of an egalitarian-minded British man who, after living in South Korea for several y
...more
Sean Binkley
Oct 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I've been living in South Korea for three years and picked up this book to try and better understand the culture of the country around me.

As the author explains in the beginning of the book, there really are not a ton of books on South Korea and South Korean culture and society.

While this perhaps isn't the most in depth book on modern South Korean history and politics (The Two Koreas is superior in that way) the author's explanations were very helpful. I especially appreciated the chapters on c
...more
Gabriel Abbott
Jan 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book offers a great basic knowledge to a variety of factors that has lead South Korea to reach its modern day position. It provides a great level of information for building a basic knowledge on each of the topics it touches upon allowing the reader to then undergo further reading around the topics they found appealed most to them. I think it is the ideal starting point for anyone looking to learn more about South Korea if not the only book a reader will need to satisfy their interest. The ...more
Hoang Tran
May 31, 2020 rated it really liked it
A pretty comprehensive insights into South Korea, a seemingly flawless and glamorous country but like every other country, it has its own problems. The book not only goes into the cultural sides of SK (Kpop, Kdrama) but also goes into other essential components that define SK such as its history as a colony, its rules and lifestyles that are heavily influenced by Confucianism, or its inherent competitiveness, its sense of close knit community that transformed SK from a deprecated country after n ...more
Cav
Korea: The Impossible Country is an in-depth look at most things Korean. Author Daniel Tudor begins with an ancient history of the Korean peninsula, and the book moves in a somewhat chronological fashion afterward.
Tudor writes about the Japanese colonial rule over Korea, the war of 1950, and subsequent partitioning of the country into South Korea below the 38th parallel, and The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) in the north.
The book continues on, talking heavily about Korean customs
...more
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Daniel Tudor is The Economist's Korea Correspondent. He was born in Manchester, England, and is a graduate of Oxford University in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics, and also holds an MBA from Manchester University. His first book, 'Korea: The Impossible Country' was released in November 2012.

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“Westernization is an often-used word in Korea, and can be applied to something considered cold, lacking in jeong, and going against traditional Korean values. To suggest that Korean households are now “Westernized,” whatever that may mean exactly, would be a gross oversimplification.” 1 likes
“An hour spent by a Korean on the study of Chinese or Japanese will yield greater progress than an hour spent on English, other things being equal.” 1 likes
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