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

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  2,106 ratings  ·  176 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
Paperback, 874 pages
Published January 10th 2006 by St. Martin's Griffin (first published October 15th 2004)
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Bradley K. Glad you asked. There have been so few challenges to the basic picture of North Korea presented by UTLCOTFL that I can say the answer is, yes, it is s…moreGlad you asked. There have been so few challenges to the basic picture of North Korea presented by UTLCOTFL that I can say the answer is, yes, it is still quite relevant and it is, as far as I know, still the first choice of anyone looking for a comprehensive history. Naturally readers lately have been asking for an update of UTLCOTFL -- the currently available edition dates to 2006. The book is so long, nearly 900 pages of small type, that it would be impractical to update it in the same volume. Instead, I have been working on two sequels to take the story into the Kim Jong-un era. The nonfiction sequel is yet to come -- I don't know enough facts about the youngest Kim to feel I'm ready to write a nonfiction sequel that's up to my standards. Keep up with my reporting and commentary for Asia Times, to which I return shortly, and we shall see where that leads. Meanwhile, Nuclear Blues, which is fiction, is just now being published. The background is factual, based on my reporting. The espionage/financial/religious thriller plot is a product of my imagination as I searched for a best-case scenario for the Korean peninsula and for the wider world. If one reads Under the Loving Care and Nuclear Blues together, in either order, I think that effort will procuce a correct understanding of the current situation. No extra charge for the entertainment value. In this way I hope that a whole new generation of good readers can benefit from the thirteen-year effort I put into writing UTLCOTFL. (less)

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Sep 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: the-far-east
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
Mar 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly
So the new Pope recently went to South Korea and, with his haloed head turned towards the North, uttered a solemn prayer for peace and reconciliation. He was probably dreaming of something similar to what his predecessor John Paul did, in Europe, bringing down communist states with papal visits and prayers said out loud among ecstatic crowds.

I do not think it'll be the same with North Korea, however. For out there, they have the same type of religions as the Pope. If Christians have the triumvir
Feb 13, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I didn't realize how HUGE this book was when I got it, but I decided to give it a go. I couldn't put it down. I've always been hungry for more information about North Korea. This book satisfied many of my curiosities, but more impressively, opened up many other areas of interest I would like to study in relation to North Korea. It's also a good mix of interviews, anecdotes and straight-up facts. Not sure this is a 5-star book for everyone, but it was for me. ...more
Aug 03, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Amanda Van Parys
Finally finished this beast, and yeah, it was worth it.

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

Jul 09, 2011 rated it it was ok
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
Apr 19, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Nov 23, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
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
Aug 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: north-korea
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
Dillon Font
Jan 12, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Matt Hooper
Mar 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Every five to ten years, the world finds itself in dire need of an expert on North Korean history and politics.

Such was the case in 1994, when war threatened to break out between the U.S. and North Korea over the latter’s nuclear weapons development program (a summit meeting between former President Jimmy Carter and Kim Il-sung resulted in a deal that temporarily reduced tensions).

Such was the case in 2000, when U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright met with Kim Jong-il to discuss mothbal
Nov 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
2 months of reading, this book was so good! I enjoyed every bit of it, and even if some say it should've been divided, this only brings into completion the years spent on gathering the material by author.
Historical part, then some political background is backed with defectors interviews - this is a lot to digest . I am amazed by the amounts of the information packed in this book.
I admit the fact author did not want to antagonize North Korea. Readers are free to analyze the stories, take their ow
An interesting but uneven account of the post-WWII history of North Korea and the Kim regime. The author has had extensive exposure to the North Korean government and has a lot of keen insights into how the government functioned or didn't function. ...more
Leib Mitchell
Nov 26, 2022 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Book Review
4 stars
Good, but QUITE lengthy

After reading this book of the history of The Kim Dynasty (aka, North Korea), my first and last thought is: I can't believe that this happened/is still happening. It seems like the events as described in any Holy Book (take your pick which one) are more probable to have occurred than these.

It's an extremely long book, and now I see why it sat on my shelf for over four years before I got a chance to sit down to read it. (Andrei Lanko
This was the other book recommended to me at the same time as The Cleanest Race, but it took me much longer to get to just because of its size. Almost a thousand pages, though admittedly with nearly a hundred pages of footnotes, took a bit for me to work up to, but I'm glad I did and I recommend this book to anyone whose view of North Korea is formed mostly by Best Korea memes and pictures of Kim Jong-il looking at things.

The main impression that Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader gav
Wayward Child
Jan 30, 2022 rated it really liked it
There’s something in the human psyche that makes the worst of humanity so… Appealing, for the lack of a better word, something that makes the macabre and the horrific and the inhumane so finger-licking titillating. We’re slightly ashamed, naturally, because we know these people we’re interested in investigating are either evil or mentally ill, the ones who don’t deserve the attention—and, in some cases, the glorification—we give them. I suppose it’s just the way we are. The human species will al ...more
Tom M
Dec 18, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Nov 15, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: kindle
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
Feb 14, 2016 rated it really liked it
3.5 Stars. An informative look into the overall history of North Korea.

The author definitely did his research, especially into the era of Kim Il-sung, and it's interesting to see the large contrasts in leadership and governance between Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il. This in a sense was quite unexpected, as we tend to get the impression that the both leaders operated and acted in a similar fashion when this really wasn't the case at all. I also appreciated the fact that he made an effort to reduc
Mar 25, 2007 rated it really liked it
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
Sep 11, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Czarny Pies
Jun 14, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: asian-history
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
Scott Baker
Jul 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader is the most in-depth, well-researched, and comprehensive study I have read of the Kim Dynasty and North Korea. I spent 23 years with the CIA, many of those years following the regime, and can attest that there is so much propaganda, myths, and urban legends surrounding this nation and it's rulers that it is often impossible to distinguish fact from fiction. Bradley Martin has done a superior ob in doing just that. His research is impeccable, and I app ...more
Maron Anrow
Apr 13, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: kindle-bought, 2014
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
Will Ransohoff
Aug 06, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Nov 24, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, korea
Mr. Martin puts his years of writing practice to good use as he pulls together research and first-hand interviews of North Korean defectors to give readers what appears to be a solid historical account of North Korea. Always engaging, he throws in moments of humor and warmth to make this book seem much shorter than it is. Though he easily could have reduced the number of interviews he adds, at times resorting to a clunky Q/A format, Mr. Martin's writing shines and makes this book a joy to read. ...more
May 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
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32 likes · 2 comments
“In North Korea a person has two lives, natural and political. But once you get sent to a prison camp your political life is over and you have only your natural life. You’re nothing, an animal, a savage. The guards have the right to kill you without penalty because you’re just an animal. If you disobey them or talk back, the guards hit you. It’s human nature then to fight back, but if you do they’ll shoot you. In one year’s time they would stage public executions fifteen or twenty times. People who tried to escape and didn’t get far were simply shot on the spot. But if you cost the guards a lot of time and trouble before they recaptured you, they would have a public execution.” 0 likes
“In Hwang’s view, the Pyongyang leadership “used the feudalistic idea of filial piety to justify absolutism of the Great Leader. Filial piety in feudalism demands that children regard their parents as their benefactors and masters because they would not have existed without their parents. Taking care of your parents, the people who gave you life—in other words, being dutiful children—is the ultimate goal in life and the highest moral code. The state is a unity of families, and the head of all these families is none other than the king.” Hence the role that the leadership devised for Kim Il-sung: father of the people. In the same way that a person’s physical life came from his parents, his sociopolitical life came from the Great Leader. And the regime maintained that this sociopolitical life was far more precious than mere physical existence, which even animals possessed.” 0 likes
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