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A Capitalist in North Korea: My Seven Years in the Hermit Kingdom

3.63  ·  Rating details ·  201 ratings  ·  50 reviews
Business in North Korea: a paradoxical and fascinating situation is interpreted by a true insider.

In 2002, the Swiss-Swedish power company ABB appointed Felix Abt its country director for North Korea. The Swiss Entrepreneur lived and worked in North Korea for seven years, one of the few foreign businessmen there. After the experience, Abt felt compelled to write A Capitali
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published August 12th 2014 by Tuttle Publishing (first published December 16th 2012)
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Jan 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people interested in North Korea, business people, people loving adventure
Recommended to Pesach by: friends who loved the book
THIS BOOK is truly different from all other North Korea books I have read so far and offers a completely new perspective from a human (and humanistic) point of view, trying to show life in the country without political or ideological coloring.

Indeed, unlike other authors Felix Abt prefers to stay apolitical and impartial when sharing his thoughts and memories of his extraordinary seven-year sojourn. His unbiased approach to North Korea is a provocation to all those who read and believe the wacky
Callimaco Genovese
Aug 31, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: my-favorites
Like probably everyone else I have been horrified and angered by what I have read of the brutal regime in North Korea. I have ranted with the best of them how the evil perpetrators of human rights violations should be brought to book for throwing a large proportion of the population into concentration camps and viciously oppressing the remainder. BUT… having just read Felix Abt’s “A Capitalist In North Korea: Seven Years in the Hermit Kingdom” I must admit to having my views rather moderated! In ...more
Jan 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Honesty Should Be Rewarded Not Punished

The same way I was tired and bored 20/30 years ago of books about how bad China and Vietnam were, how they were the devil and the real hell on earth, all because their ideas and ways of doing things did not fit with those of that of the west. Now more and more from the west are flocking to China and Vietnam in search for work, China owns a lot of America and all the lies that were written 20/30 years ago have been forgotten. North Korea will be no different
Jan 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Loved this! Far from the usual doom and gloom you can read about North Korea, this book shows a side of the country that's much more relatable for the average Westerner. Sure, the focus is mainly on life in Pyongyang, while life in the countryside is probably much harsher (the situation is pretty much the same in my native Russia), but I really enjoyed descriptions of North Koreans' daily lives and of what it's like to do business in such an environment. Highly recommended book! ...more
Jul 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I’ve read 10 North Korea books so far, but this one is the most exciting one. It also shows the many aspects of life (and business) in North Korea I did not find elsewhere. The author’s experiences as a business man there amazed me and the numerous obstacles he had to overcome were mind-boggling. This is definitely a 5-star book.
I’ve just discovered the author’s North Korea photo gallery which is the best I have seen about North Korea so far:
Feb 03, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned
Let me make one thing clear upfront: this is actually a three-star book. Sure, it's a little rambly and somewhat lacking in focus, but it's pretty well written (I'd even say very well written for a self-published tome), and more importantly, it contains a lot of information that can't be found anywhere else about the myriad little ways in which North Korea has changed since the first western books about it were written. So if that sort of thing grabs you, you really won't want to miss this book, ...more
Daniel Bellino-Zwicke
Aug 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing
It’s refreshing to find a book about North Korea that isn’t full of demonizing hyperbole. A true insight into a country that is largely misunderstood and misreported in the West. Mr Abt’s very personal experiences lend authenticity to a well-balanced account of both the bigger political and business picture in the republic, and day to day life for ‘regular’ people.
Jan Oesterreich
Aug 24, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Having read several other books on North Korea already, I found this book extremely interesting, easy readable on one hand while also offering an in-depth view on the historical, political and of course the business parameters which define the current state of this isolated country.

Felix Abt offers a well-balanced approach to explain the self-perception of the North Korean people and their country, without judging in the typical political way which we see so often with other authors. This is ju
Aug 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: exclusive
It was greatly refreshing to read a first-hand account of what is really happening inside North Korea at the moment, rather than second-hand accounts of what was happening 15 or 20 years ago. Most of what I have read previously has been coming from one viewpoint and has focused on the shockingly grim years of the 1990s, when the country was ravaged by natural disasters, famine and millions died from starvation. I found Abt’s version of contemporary North Korea and its willingness to face change ...more
Victoria Robinson
Aug 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: geography
I have read a great many biographies of trail-blazers and Felix Abt’s story of being a capitalist in that oh-so communist nation of North Korea is as intriguing and inspiring as any. His has an unwavering belief in capitalism as a potent and positive agent for change and development. I think people of any political or economic belief cannot fail to see after reading Mr Abt’s book that ‘free-enterprise’ is not necessarily a dirty word but can be a force for good under the direction of responsible ...more
Stacey Young
Aug 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing
An entirely fresh perspective on North Korea and therefore a must-read!

“A Capitalist in North Korea: My Seven Years in the Hermit Kingdom” by Felix Abt has its detractors and you may not agree with everything (or anything) he says, but there is no doubt that this is a book written from a unique first-hand experience as a "capitalist" in an arch communist country and I believe it deserves to be read for that reason as much as any other.
Merci Cormier
Aug 31, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: globe-read
Felix Abt is a true pioneer and his chronicle of serially setting up enterprises in a communist country, and not just a n y communist country but t h a t communist country, should be an inspiration to any ‘capitalist’ who feels ground down by his own daily trials and tribulations!
Aug 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
North Korea has been in the news a lot recently. Of course, much of the attention has been negative and rightly so--it's sort of a mess, one with threats of missile launches, nuclear weapons, and allegations of serious human rights violations. I was curious to read about the country and its people from the perspective of someone who had once, at least sort of, been an insider. I found it here! Felix Abt has written a comprehensive, honest piece about life in North Korea. He truly seems to write ...more
Jul 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I’ve always admired adventurers and pioneers and here I came across an amazing one penetrating fortress North Korea. Until now I’ve read only about starvation and concentration camps and was made believe that’s about all the ‘Hermit Kingdom’ is about, but the “Capitalist in North Korea” opened my eyes and showed me that most “Ordinary Lives in North Korea” are not as horrific as I’ve been told before. It’s a must-read for everybody seriously interested in this country.
Bruno Ferri
Aug 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If it does nothing else “A Capitalist In North Korea” confirms that man is by nature a trader. That even under the strictest state controls private enterprises will emerge and people will find ways of eking out their existence by buying and selling. I was fascinated by this first-hand account of what is happening in North Korea and found the daring exploits of Felix Abt in the face of all kinds of difficulties truly inspiring.
Kathryn Broderick
Nov 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
There are many who, on a relentless diet of Western condemnation of all things North Korean, cannot stomach any view that does not unequivocally vilify the country. It seems to those with this mind-set that anyone, even if they roundly criticize the country’s governance, are characterized as having been blindly taken in by propaganda or labeled as a stooge or apologist if they attempt to cast an accurate light on the actual, contemporary state of affairs in the country rather than unconditionall ...more
Kodzo Selormey
Mar 29, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ebooks
I am not sure who Mr Abt has written this book for. He seems to assume that the reader will have no knowledge of North Korea, its history and people other than what they get from the Television news and therefore the message throughout the book is North Korea isn't that bad. The people aren't all crazy and the government stupid.

The other message that comes across loud and clear is that people should have listened more to Felix when he told them stuff.

All of this gives the book a tone of mother
James Hanson
Nov 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I thoroughly recommend this book as a very accessible and believable account of what life in North Korea is really like. The author, Felix Abt, does not try to put a gloss on the failings of the totalitarian regime, but you feel you are finally getting a balanced view of what is really happening behind all the secrecy. As he points out much of what we have heard before only looks at a particularly difficult period in North Korea in the 1990s (20 years ago) and nearly all reporting since then has ...more
Ryan Rommann
Feb 07, 2015 rated it it was ok
This book is close to being North Korean propaganda. There is virtually no criticism of the DPRK government, but rather Abt blames everything on Western sanctions that have arisen only because the DPRK is trying to defend itself from an "imperialist US." Even the language and word choice is alarmingly close to that approved by the WPK, with a hint of reverence for "the Dear Leader."

Abt did spend seven years in a slightly larger bubble than the one experienced by insulated foreign tourists. That
Nov 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A Capitalist in North Korea: Seven Years in the Hermit Kingdom” is a well constructed account of conditions in present day North Korea by a man with the cojones ‘to boldly go’ where few capitalists have gone before. And I use the sci-fi allusion quite deliberately as setting up and running capitalist enterprises in such a staunchly socialist, anti-free enterprise (at the time, although as we learn from Mr Abt things are changing) environment is about as alien as setting up a fast-food outlet on ...more
Peter Mckinskey
Jul 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book had my interest from the start. It is a combination of true life stories and realistic descriptions of the life of North Koreans. The pace is enjoyable, and the length of the book is perfect. Felix Abt did a great job of accomplishing what he had saw and learn while he was trying to do business in North Korea. This book is somewhat refreshing as a contrast to the doom and gloom of nearly every other DPRK-based book I've seen, which focus so heavily on refugees and political prisoners. ...more
Alek Sigley
Oct 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Much of the English language literature on North Korea is little more than polemics. Whether journalism, academic texts (often written by armchair academics who don't speak any Korean), memoirs, or fiction, these writings merely stereotype North Korea as the irrational, despotic "other" to the West's rational and ordered self. They are also inextricably linked to the US and its allies' policies of isolating the North, serving as the ideological rationalisation for such policies by portraying Nor ...more
Maureen Brault
Nov 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating and eye opening book from start to finish. Please read this if your idea of North Korea is that everything about it is bad and evil. Felix Abt’s wonderfully informed version of real life in North Korea challenges nearly everything you will have read about the country before. I was fascinated not only with his stories of trying to set up and run all sorts of businesses, but also with the anecdotes about everyday life in North Korea. You really get to see how people actually live day ...more
Aug 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
The thing that drew me to reading this book was the topic. I thought it would be a fascinating look into a country I knew virtually nothing about. And it was fascinating. I learned a lot and was surprised a few times too. It's not all about business though, there are plenty of personal experiences shared. Good read. My only complaint is that some of the stories felt "short". Full Disclosure: I won this book in a giveaway! ...more
Oct 27, 2017 rated it it was ok
I like the idea of this book much more than it's implementation. I enjoy anything that looks at North Korea from more than a military perspective, but it felt a little bit to me like Abt drank the regime's Kool-Aid and portrayed only the better side of things. Equally frustrating and entwined with this issue was that he was reporting anecdotes from the most privileged part of society and extrapolating to suggest that all of society was like the small bubble that he lived in. While he acknowledge ...more
May 02, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: korea
This should have been a really good insightful book. The tone was very annoying. Felix seems to be the only person who knows or understands anything. The insights might also have been good if more timely. Much would seem to have changed. I persevered through approximately the first half then just skimmed the second half. Uncomfortable with how "pro-North Korea" he seemed to be, that is so much at odds with other reads, accounts and lectures. But it is another perspective on a country few have vi ...more
Suzanne Jernigan
Nov 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: goodread
I am full of admiration for Felix Abt, not only for his courage in being the ‘Capitalist in North Korea’ , but also for writing a book that clearly flies in the face of just about everything else we have read in the West about the ‘hermit kingdom’. This is a book you must read if you want to understand exactly what North Korea is all about, warts and all: put your prejudices to one side and be prepared to have your pre-conceptions turned on their head.
TS Allen
Nov 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: korea
A totally unique window on North Korea. Abt forced me to re-consider many my assumptions about the country's people, especially about their education, personal motivation and work ethic. ...more
Apr 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
"It's a dream that hasn't been quite realized, but I remain optimistic. If the New York Philharmonic could be so well received in North Korea, then I place my hope in the coming winds of change."

This is the book which will surely be hated by most Western media which promote the common narrative of North Korea as a country which follow military-first policy (songun) and starving its own people in order to build its nuclear arms. And not to mention to how most media outlets and international NGOs
R Reddebrek
Jul 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
This an interesting if at times very strange read, its easily the most economic history I've found in one source on North Korea that isn't just statistical charts on steel production and kilowatt usage per year.

I was worried by the title that this would be a short vanity project and ode to greed that a lot of autobiographical sketches by businessmen turn out to be. But apart from a handful of overly optimistic statements about trade being the ultimately driver of reform and improvements it doesn
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☆ Felix Abt is a serial entrepreneur and, occasionally, a coach, trainer and consultant. During his career, he has been developing and managing a variety of businesses in different countries. He worked as a senior executive at multinational corporations such as the ABB Group, a global leader in automation and power technologies, the F. Hoffmann-La Roche Group, a global leader in healthcare, and th ...more

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Why not focus on some serious family drama? Not yours, of course, but a fictional family whose story you can follow through the generations of...
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“When does a wife know that her husband is cheating on her? When he starts complaining about the lack of water as he wants to have two showers a week.” This was one of the many popular jokes.” 0 likes
“Yet skirts are getting shorter, and more women can be seen in Pyongyang now with high heels. The change must be shocking to people in the more conservative countryside, where high heels continue to be associated with prostitution.” 0 likes
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