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The Great Leader and the Fighter Pilot: The True Story of the Tyrant Who Created North Korea and The Young Lieutenant Who Stole His Way to Freedom
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The Great Leader and the Fighter Pilot: The True Story of the Tyrant Who Created North Korea and The Young Lieutenant Who Stole His Way to Freedom

4.03  ·  Rating details ·  1,305 ratings  ·  198 reviews
From the New York Times bestselling author of Escape From Camp 14, Blaine Harden tells the riveting story of Kim Il Sung's rise to power, and the brave North Korean fighter pilot who escaped the prison state and delivered the first MiG-15 into American hands

In The Great Leader and the Fighter Pilot, New York Times bestselling author Blaine Harden tells the riveting story o
Hardcover, 290 pages
Published March 17th 2015 by Viking (first published January 1st 2015)
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Nov 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
I won this through Goodreads first-read in exchange for an honest review.

North Korea has been intriguing me for about 3 years now. So much so that I've created a "north-korea" folder because I've been reading so much about it. There are some interesting reads in that folder but none in which I learned as much as I did in this book.

It's sorta like The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America in that it alternates between two stories. The first is the hi
May 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2020
The Great Leader and the Fighter Pilot goes into great detail about Kim Il Sung's life, how he came into power, and North Korea's early history. Alongside that, we learn of No Kum-sok— now known as Kenneth H. Rowe— who risked his life to escape Kim's tyranny.

This probably won't be very entertaining if you're not very interested in the Korean war, the "hermit kingdom" known as North Korea, or just dictatorships in general, but I thought it was good. Very thorough and clearly well-researched.

Nov 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
Anybody at all interested in the Korean War should read this book! Quite an eye-opener. The author reveals the cover-ups and lies made by Americans, Koreans, the Soviets and the Chinese. This is not just a biography of Kim Il-sung and No Kum Sok!

I didn't read this for the excitement of the tale, but rather for the facts. I am satisfied. I learned a lot. The presentation is clear. The language is journalistic, but occasionally employed to increase suspense.

I did not enjoy the narration by Mark B

Blaine Harden has achieved the inconceivable by writing The Great Leader and the Fighter Pilot: The True Story of the Tyrant Who Created North Korea and The Young Lieutenant Who Stole His Way to Freedom. This book is a perfect blend of popular and academic history, something very rare a book can claim to be nowadays. And I am not saying this just to impress the potential readers. Having read more than a dozen books on North Korea in the past couple of years, I have found that most books were eit
Mar 17, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I'm going to be honest here and admit I know very little about the history of Korea and its place in the modern world. There are times I would even mix up which Korea (North or South) was the Democratic nation and which was Communist. Probably because I was doing the same thing with Vietnam. I found out about this book earlier in 2015 and discovered that the history of Kim Il-Sung's ascension story was juxtaposed against that of a North Korean Air Force pilot attempting to defect and I was sold. ...more
Oct 14, 2015 rated it it was ok
His neighbors in South Daytona, Florida know him as Kenneth H. Rowe. In the early 1950’s, he was known by his fellow pilots in the North Korean air force as No Kum Sok. We know him today as the man who landed his Soviet-made MiG-15 at an American air base in South Korea, just days before the end of the Korean conflict.

Five years and eight months in the planning, Lieutenant No Kum Sok made his daring seventeen- minute flight into American air space not knowing that the USA had promised to pay th
Oct 27, 2014 rated it liked it
Really goodreads? Really? I'm not one of the half-star complainers, but I just can't get to four on this while three is too low.

All the action here is in the last third, which deals with a defection. Leading up to that are the parallel lives of Kim Il Sung and No Kum Sok during the birth of North Korea. This is interesting, but eventually drags. Could the No's defection have been told with more detail? Maybe. But information about North Korea is scant. Unearthing accurate detail about it sixty y
Lindsey Mooridian
Aug 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing
The best elucidation of the Korean War that I've come across. While the author transitions skillfully between the life of dictator Kim Il Sung and fighter pilot No Kum Sok, you get a clear, thorough perspective on an incredible story. When a book sparks an interest in war planes into a tree-hugging hippie like me, it's gotta be good. ...more
Aug 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: north-korea
When North Korean fighter pilot No Kum Sok landed his MiG-15 fighter plane on South Korean soil looking to defect to the United States, little did he know just how arduous his journey for citizenship in the West would become. The Great Leader and the Fighter Pilot by Blaine Harden was a rather interesting read that highlighted a lesser known story in both U.S. and North Korean history. What the book does great is illustrate a great deal of aviation/fighter pilot history with the Korean war as a ...more
I received this book as part of GoodReads First Reads giveaway.

This book actually tells two intertwined stories. The first is how Kim Il Sung first rose to power from being a guerrilla fighter against the Japanese to being North Korea's Great Leader and Eternal President (seriously, the man's been dead 10 years and he's still the Eternal President). The second is that of No Kim-sok, a lieutenant in North Korea's air force during the Korean war who defected by stealing a fighter jet and flying to
Ireney Berezniak
I have been just a little obsessed with North Korea for the past few years, and having read Blaine Harden's other title on a related subject, Escape from Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West, which I quite enjoyed, I was anticipating another quality read from his latest endeavour. I was not disappointed. The fighter pilot who is the subject of this title is No Kum Sok, who has since assumed the name of Kenneth Rowe, and has apparently enjoyed Harden's exc ...more
Mar 14, 2015 rated it really liked it
I absolutely fell in love with Mr. Harden's novel, Escape From Camp 14. It was a riveting read. I could not stop reading the book. So you could say I was excited and intrigued to read Mr. Harden's next novel. Why this book was not a one seat read like the prior novel, it was still a very great read. I like reading military books. Yet it seems that most of my reading is during the WWII time period. I am not that familiar with the Korean War. So this book was a good eye opener to this particular w ...more
Randal White
Apr 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I really, really enjoyed Mr. Harden's earlier work, Escape From Camp 14. Therefore, I was looking forward to reading this, his next effort. I'm happy to report that he didn't disappoint! Fascinating book. Had a hard time putting it down. Makes you wonder, how in the world can the world stand by and let these madmen rule the poor North Korean people? Way to go, Mr. Harden, job extremely well done! ...more
Jul 09, 2021 rated it it was amazing
An Autobiographical account of the defection of North Korean pilot No Kum-sok and Kim Il-sung's rise to power. It also covers the Korean war, with particular attention given to the aerial conflict.

The decision to tell these two stories together is an inspired one. The way the lives of No and Kim compare and contrast lends a fascinating context to the historical events outlined in the book. Of particular interest is how their families were differently impacted by the Japanese occupation of Korea
May 07, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2021-buys
This book tells the story of the fighter pilot, No Kum Sok, who for years pretended to worship The Great Leader and the regime in order to buy his ticket to freedom.

What’s interesting about this book aside from No’s personal story is the chronicled rise of Kim Il Sung and and the accounts of the Korean War.

It reads like a thriller, like a good fiction book yet it’s the recounting of true events, I guess that’s the most fascinating part for me.

It was a different story from the ones I’m usually
More pop history than most other books in this category, but it’s still an interesting way to tell this story. Telling the story of the Korean War partly from the perspective of a daring defector is an unique angle. If you know more than a few things about the North, the pacing feels off; which makes sense, since he’s trying to fit all of it neatly into the fighter jet defection story,
NonFiction 24/7
Dec 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Great book about part of history that really doesn't get taught.
Chris Thompson
Aug 27, 2021 rated it really liked it
This really gave great insights into the history of North Korea! Great book!
May 18, 2022 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Nice combination of story of one pilot on the background of the build of the dictature and Korean war.
Jan 17, 2015 rated it really liked it
Thank you to Goodreads for the ACR copy of this book. In exchange, I offer my unbiased review:

Like the purported satellite image of North Korea at night – much about that country is shrouded in dark and mystery. The Great Leader and the Fighter Pilot by Blaine Harden (author of Escape from Camp 14) does a great job of shedding light on his subject. The book is full of factual information but it is told in a manner that makes it compelling and completely readable rather than dry.
The reader is in
I WON THIS BOOK AS PART OF A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY. That being said, my review will be absolutely honest.

*This review may contain VERY minor spoilers*

I've long been fascinated by North Korea and have read a great deal about the world's most closed and xenophobic nation; however, I was not as familiar with the personal history of Kim Il sung, especially his actions during the Korean War.

The study of the building of his cult of personality as well as his complete incompetence when it came to waging
Dec 15, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-reads
I received this book as a First Reads giveaway. I've always been fascinated by North Korea but before reading this I knew next to nothing about how Kim Il Sung came to power. I previously read and very much enjoyed the author's other book on North Korea, Escape From Camp 14, so I had high expectations.

This book had a very interesting premise - weaving the story of Kim Il Sung's rise to power with that of a young man who joins North Korea's fledgling armed forces, trains to become a skilled fight
May 11, 2015 rated it liked it
I came close to not checking this out from my public library. I was concerned that it would be too steeped in military historical details and jargon which I wouldn't understand. Glad I changed my mind. It's a very human story told quite well and set well in its historical context.

The author bounces back and forth between telling a somewhat simplified version of Kim Il Sung's rise to power in North Korea and the very personalized account of No Kum Sok, a hastily trained fighter pilot who gathered
Jeff Lanter
Nov 27, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
My grandfather served in Korea and I never really learned much about his experiences or the war itself. While this book does not rectify that, it is a fascinating glimpse into a forgotten war by the United States. It chronicles the story of a fighter pilot who famously defected from North Korea in spectacular fashion. Stealing one of the prized MiGs and landing it in South Korea. It fascinated the media even if the pilot was not rewarded as much as he should have been. Alongside this narrative, ...more
Jan 31, 2015 rated it really liked it
When I won this ARC from a Goodreads Giveaway, my thought was that I would read it, review it, and then give it to my brother, who loves war history. Now I'm pretty sure I will just let him borrow it.

I went into this book knowing next to nothing about the Korean War, making this a sobering and eye-opening read. Its writing style feels closer to a novel than it to a textbook, but it is certainly full of extensive research. Shortcomings on both sides of the war are given the same scrutiny. This i
Feb 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I really loved this. Harden does a fantastic job of telling an engaging, "Reader's Digest" version of the Korean War and Kim Il Sung's rise to power. So many history books try to impress with their page count, but Harden goes the opposite direction; he tackles the highlights and keeps his story moving.

I had expected Harden to use the story of No Kum Sok's defection from the North as a gimmick (i.e., boring war history gets livened up by a heroic escape). But, that wasn't the case at all. Instea
Feisty Harriet
Sep 22, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: korea
I have read a lot about current conditions in North Korea, but this part-bio of Kim Il-Sung, part history of the Korean War, and part-bio of No Kum-Sok, a young Korean fighter pilot who defected with an intact Soviet MiG, something American intelligence had been trying to get their hands on for years. I think Harden did a great job of going back and forth between the two characters and their histories and backgrounds, as well as the time they were contemporaries, with No Kum-Sok fighting in Kim ...more
Dec 20, 2014 rated it really liked it
This book was an interesting and easy read, without the heavy political jargon. It provides a good background about how North Korea came to be with a unique view of the Korean War from the view of the North Korean Air Force. While the book is about war and defection, the author does not point fingers at any side but gives each side's perspective. However, I would have liked it if the author had gone into more depth about the war and Kim Il Sung.

I was given this book as a Goodreads giveaway, how
Theresa Pollara
Jan 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I received a copy of the novel for free.

Usually there are historians or there are novelists. It is rare for the two to come together. This author has accomplished that rare merger. The author's style moves like a novel and yet has the historical accuracy denoting extensive research. The result is a must have book for war historians and those interested in the Korean war and it's current echoes.

The ONLY addition which would make this tome better would be the inclusion of a map of Asia with an ins
Feb 01, 2015 rated it really liked it
This doesn't have the drama of Hillenbrand's Unbroken but the story of No Kum Sok's defection from North Korea in a Soviet MiG-15 showcases the same kind of courage and resilience. It presents a good overview of the brutal dictatorship of Kim Il Sung and the atrocities committed by both sides during the Korean War. Overall, very informative and inspirational.

I received this book for free through Goodreads First Reads program.
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Harden is an author and journalist who worked for The Washington Post for 28 years as a correspondent in Africa, Eastern Europe and Asia, as well as in New York and Seattle. He was also a national correspondent for The New York Times and writer for the Times Magazine. He has contributed to The Economist and PBS Frontline.

Harden's newest book, "Murder at the Mission: A Frontier Killing, Its Legacy

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