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The Birth of Korean Cool: How One Nation is Conquering the World Through Pop Culture

3.78  ·  Rating Details  ·  911 Ratings  ·  137 Reviews

By now, everyone in the world knows the song "Gangnam Style" and Psy, an instantly recognizable star. But the song's international popularity is no passing fad. "Gangnam Style" is only one tool in South Korea's extraordinarily elaborate and effect
Paperback, 288 pages
Published August 5th 2014 by Picador
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Amar Pai
Jul 18, 2014 Amar Pai rated it it was ok
Breezy, cheesy, wheezy... it's an OK book but due to the memoir-ish nature of it, doesn't actually get into the details of Korean Cool as much as you'd expect. I mean she does get into those details, but it's all presented through this lens of personal experience that I didn't find that compelling. The whole thing just felt a little too light weight, e.g. it annoyed me that there's a chapter on "The Birth of Irony" where she argues that irony is only present in wealthy countries and Korea had to ...more
Kristian Bjørkelo
I was taken completely by surprise by The Birth of Korean Cool. I don't know what I actually expected, as one with only a passing interest in Korean pop culture. I've seen some Korean reality shows, followed some bands and drama. Mostly for the heck of it, and as a result of a general curiosity. And while I have grown critical of what I suspected was the machinations of a well oiled fabrication process, I lacked the cultural and historical context to fully comprehend it. Euny Hong has rectified ...more
a little faith
Mar 27, 2014 a little faith rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I’ve been a fan of South Korean Entertainment for around a decade and like many others around the world I’ve seen it gain popularity steadily, then rapidly and now exponentially. However trying to understand a culture through media and TV alone is unsafe, naïve and short-sighted. Euny Hong provides not only the background to South Korea’s seemingly rags to riches story but her own personal musings about how it came about for those not inclined to believe in fate.

Euny Hong’s writing style is elo
I won a copy of this through Gooreads First Reads

I really hope Hong plans to write more books in the future. Her writing makes you feel like she is sitting across the table from you and speaking to directly to you. There were only a few spots were I felt like I was actually reading a non-fiction book. Besides explaining how Korean Pop Culture has spread through out the world, she also (lightly) touches on S. Korea's economy right after the Korean War, the social changes the country has seen in j
Marina Zala
** Books 24 - 2016 **

4 of 5 stars!

Should i mention again why this books is awesome?? I doesn't learn much about South Korea and more curious the story about North Korea.. After i read this books. wow okay just wow i've got so many information that i haven't know about South Korea before especially Hallyu wave.

You can saw a lot of my status updates for this books. some facts that really overhelming me and i can get it why K-pop and hallyu wave is bigger like nowadays.

This books also already be
Jul 15, 2016 Anthony rated it really liked it
Great funny personal introduction to Hallyu Wave and "soft power" in general. I was a little bit familiar with some things from my time as a SONE, but this one really hits all the notes. It connects Korean economics, history, and geopolitics to Hallyu Wave in a serious way really well without being dull or academic. It's all framed in a bit of a way for green-eared Westerners to be like "I can't believe this!", which can be a plus or minus depending. But that's my demographic so it worked for me ...more
May 28, 2015 Simone rated it liked it
Shelves: 2015-read

From the title I expected this to be a little more research-y. It's definitely more memoir-ish. Which isn't a bad thing, I enjoyed the way Euny weaved her personal experiences in with a description of South Korea in the (roughly) last 30 years.
Aug 23, 2014 Lede rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, asia
Reading this book really did feel like sitting and talking to a friend(as one reviewer noted), listening to her snarky, but informed opinions on South Korea.

It's an entertaining way to relay information and facts; SK has been invaded 400 times over the past 5000 years but only participated in the Vietnam war, you don't want to corner someone who has a generational build up of Han and SK's may not be able to sing or dance but they WILL do that better than their arch enemies(Japanese)!

Oct 20, 2014 Steven rated it liked it
I have to say at the outset, that I found this book a thought provoking and interesting read. The author's sense of humor and personal stories alone make the book worth reading.

That being said, I found plenty of nits ripe for picking. I think most of them stemmed simply from a lack of detailed research on some of the topics. Some areas of Korean history that represent deep emotional scars are treated almost whimsically, and from the point of view of the author, someone that grew up in the lap of
Satkar Ulama
Jun 10, 2015 Satkar Ulama rated it really liked it
I am not a fan of Korean pop culture. The only Korean drama I've ever seen was Winter Sonata. And it only lasted for two episodes.

But I am a fan of cultural studies.

In this witty and informative book by Hong, you will discover the many stories behind Korean wave or so-called Hallyu that you enjoy through Korean drama series or Korean music outspreading everywhere. Apparently, Korean old cultural practices have formed a strong belief that most of its people bring into their daily lives as well as
Barry Welsh
Jan 05, 2015 Barry Welsh rated it really liked it
Journalist Euny Hong’s highly praised and much discussed new book is part memoir and part socio-cultural investigation into South Korea’s rise to international cultural prominence through Hallyu – The Korean Wave. In her introduction she laments that “Korea was not cool in 1985.” 1985 being the year when, as a fully Americanized 12 year old Korean-American girl, she was uprooted by her family from Chicago and taken to Seoul. Initially excited to escape America and leave behind classmates who wou ...more
Lady Jayme,
Oct 03, 2014 Lady Jayme, rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
First, watch this:

The Birth of Korean Cool: How One Nation is Conquering the World Through Pop Culture by Euny Hong.

If you own a Samsung phone or television, have listened to a K-pop song or watched a K-drama, you may have wondered how it is that South Korea has crept up on Japan as the go-to Asian nation for our electronics and pop culture. As recently as 1965, South Korea’s GDP was less than that of Ghana. Today, South Korea is the world’s fifteenth largest economy
Jul 19, 2014 Chelsea rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-reads
I received this book through a Goodreads First Reads giveaway. I have been seeing more and more Korean pop culture in the world, and personally, I love K-dramas and K-pop. These facts made me really interested in reading this book. I did not know exactly what to expect when I started reading this book and it mostly lived up to what I imagined. I loved reading about the differences in Korean culture and their pop-culture as the book progressed, and it made me think about the way that their govern ...more
Meaghan Odell
Aug 30, 2015 Meaghan Odell rated it really liked it
Fascinating read for any of you living in Korea. Hong praises the country in what others may see as heavy government intervention in "culture" and "branding," however she presents a solid argument in how the 21st century will belong to Korea.
Arifina Budi
Mar 06, 2016 Arifina Budi rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2016
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Alex Chudler
Mar 31, 2016 Alex Chudler rated it liked it
How Korea quickly changed from a poor third-world country to the current economic and pop culture powerhouse, through the intense dedication of the government and its aggressively hard-working citizens. Very interesting to learn about the origins of parts of Korean culture that are becoming so prolific here, like kimchee and k-pop.
Jury Razumau
Mar 24, 2016 Jury Razumau rated it really liked it
4.5, fascinating throughout.
Apr 19, 2016 Grace rated it really liked it
I visited Korea in the summer of 1987 (I was 12), and spent a lot of that summer at the home of my aunt at the Hyundai Apartment Complex in Apgujeong-Dong, which is a section of Gangnam. Hong describes moving to the very same complex when she was 12, in 1985. The Korea of her youth is exactly the same Korea I remembered from that summer.

I didn't return until 1998, to visit my sister. She was a finance reporter in Seoul and had her hands full reporting on the economic collapse of '97, which Hong
John Collings
Jan 08, 2016 John Collings rated it really liked it
I had heard of K-Pop before I moved to Korea, and I really thought it was just some guy dancing around the streets of Seoul that became a national craze in the United States. If I had never moved to South Korea, I probably would have continued to think of it in this fashion. I had never delved deeper into the music, and I figured it was just something for my high school students to get into for a little while, and then something more substantial would come along and they would get into that inst ...more
Charlotte H
Nov 16, 2015 Charlotte H rated it it was ok
All of Korean American journalist Euny Hong's passages, though insightful and full of interesting anecdotes about how Korean pop culture came to be what it was today, shakily straddle cultural commentary and cultural history with personal narrative.

One of the most fascinating essays in the book zooms in on "Gangnam Style" which is Korean culture's first (or at the very least famous man-baby Psy's first) stab at irony and satire. Hong notes that in Korean there's no word for "irony" or "satire"
Mark Casey
Nov 02, 2015 Mark Casey rated it really liked it
This is not the best written book in the world, nor is it what you would call scholarly or particularly well sourced.

That said, I enjoyed it a great deal as an introduction to the topic of the Korean wave in pop music, TV soap operas, video games, and movies. It is breezily written and funny at times, and an enjoyable window into Korean pop culture. I feel like I should read something a bit better sourced to get another point of view, but certainly don't regret having read this.

Why is K-pop so
Apr 19, 2015 Skye rated it really liked it
I RECOMMEND THIS BOOK. Very interesting cultural insights, and the author was funny, and provided recent examples that made it easy to follow (ie. 'cute singer equivalent to Harry Styles' etc etc).

This book covered the Hallyu wave and how it came about, touching on the strategies the Korean govt comes up with to boost the economy and also Korean culture. I don't watch K drama or soaps so this was enlightening for me. (Yes but to take everything with a pinch of salt too.)

Shocking facts:
What is K
Uwe Hook
Dec 29, 2014 Uwe Hook rated it really liked it
This book is about the ascent of the South Korean culture, extending from the lows of the 1980's to the latest explosion of Korean culture throughout the world. KPop, Psy's Gangnam Style, and the widespread popularity of Korean dramas are just some of the hot topics that Hong covers in an engaging and interesting way. Hong was born in the U.S. then moved to Korea in the 1980's. This gives her a somewhat unique point-of-view, as she describes how the government of South Korea focuses many of its ...more
Dec 16, 2014 Christine rated it really liked it
The Birth of Korean Cool (Euny Hong) is about the rise of Korean culture on a global scale, and it really put a lot of Kpop, movies, academics, etc. in perspective.

Granted, the author might be somewhat biased. She's speaking mainly from personal experience, and she had an obvious disdain for many Korean customs and traditions. But the way she provided the cultural and historical context for Korea's relationship with the rest of the world was very informative. The way she put together quotes from
Oct 04, 2014 Ed rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I want to go and stay in South Korea next year so I figured it would benefit me to learn about more about the country before I go!

This book is about how (South) Korea went from one of the world's poorest countries to one of its richest in the space of about 50 years. Hong argues that this success is largely a result of the Korean government's investment in pop culture - K-pop, K-dramas, k-movies, video games - as well as in companies like Samsung, and notably in how it made these products appeal
Sep 04, 2014 Joux rated it it was amazing
Although I have spent a fair amount of time studying about Korean society and culture, this book was very articulate in terms of presenting different themes and characteristics of Korea as shown through Hallyu. The names of the people interviewed were not new to me, but I appreciated the semi-journalistic/sociological approach to get proper sources. The book to me didn't need proper referencing that much (Although it did have a few citations) as the anecdotal and observational story telling was ...more
Aug 21, 2014 Comrade_Bazarov rated it liked it
Interesting book covering the remarkable transformation of Korea from relative poverty (in the 1980's) to a major Asian economy now. The author is a Korean American who moved back to Korea with her parents in 1985, to the (in)famous Gangnam neighborhood of Seoul.

Her main thesis is that 'han' (a Korean term roughly meaning the collective fury against fate) and national shame are the two biggest factors in transforming Korea. These two qualities compelled the government to function as a giant cor
Billie Pritchett
Apr 02, 2016 Billie Pritchett rated it it was amazing
Shelves: korea
Euny Hong's The Birth of Korean Cool: How One Nation is Conquering the World Through Pop Culture is about how a large new one of Korea's major new exports is its pop culture. The pop culture is over a billion dollar industry, and the Korean government very self-consciously tries to encourage the rest of the world to learn about the Korean culture. It is also part of a larger plan to change Korea from being a learning economy to a creative economy. That means that whereas in the past Korea learne ...more
Aug 13, 2014 Patrik rated it really liked it
Great book about South Korea! I hesitate to give it five stars because the material often come across as Euny Hong's personal opinion and experience. But I like her opinion and I think she is correct. After reading the book I understand Korea and the many Koreans I know and have known better, including my wife! Korea is an amazing country - the changes that have taken place over the last 20-30 years are truly spectacular (the time frame of the book).

Hong makes a good argument that these changes
Aug 09, 2014 Elizabeth rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-reads
This book was provided by Good Reads' First Reads program in exchange for an honest review.

For some Americans, Psy was their first introduction to Korean pop culture. However, Korea has been aggressively marketing K-pop to the world for the last couple of decades. Euny Hong chronicles the infiltration of Korean music, film, food, and technology across the East and attempts to break into the West in her book "The Birth of Korean Cool: How One Nation is Conquering the World Through Pop Culture."

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“You may have an iPhone, for example, but its microchips are made by Apple’s biggest competitor—the Korean electronics company Samsung.” 1 likes
“Irony is that special privilege of wealthy nations;” 1 likes
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