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Korea: A Walk Through the Land of Miracles

3.50  ·  Rating details ·  684 ratings  ·  92 reviews
In the late 1980s, New York Times bestselling author Simon Winchester set out on foot to discover the Republic of Korea - from its southern tip to the North Korean border - in order to set the record straight about this enigmatic and elusive land.

Fascinating for its vivid presentation of historical and geographic detail, Korea is that rare book that actually defines a nati
Paperback, 336 pages
Published May 31st 2005 by Harper Perennial (first published 1988)
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Average rating 3.50  · 
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 ·  684 ratings  ·  92 reviews

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Nov 07, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: korea
I'm glad I waited until I had been here a year to read this book. Simon Winchester writes about walking across South Korea over 20 years ago. Sometimes I glimpsed a Korea that no longer exists. South Korea is no longer under an authoritarian regime. There are not fences on all of the beaches. Jindo dogs are no longer confined to an island. A lot of what Simon saw, I see here today, which is a testament to Koreans' determination to hang onto their culture.

I have to say I was pretty offended at t
Aug 28, 2007 rated it did not like it
Shelves: travel
I liked Outposts and Fracture Zone; Korea, however, was the end of line for me. Winchester makes a repeated point of how popular he is among South Koreans by virtue of his being English; that was snotty enough by the third go-round. He managed to find one old soldier, fawningly pro-British, as though the U K had been the ones who saved South Korea. What did me in was the time he arrived at a U S base, browbeat them into letting him stay there (when they didn't have to), and then proceeded to tra ...more
Sandi (Zorena)
Feb 19, 2020 rated it did not like it
Shelves: history, asia, travel, korea
Korea: A walk through the land of miracles.

Perhaps I should have looked into more of Simon Winchester's writings. Perhaps I should have been more careful about the date the book was written. Perhaps I should have done more research on GR. But me being me I didn't do any of those things. Instead I jumped into this book without any forethought. I really wanted to know more about Korea (North and South) and a walking tour across the Southern country seemed ideal. I made a wrong choice.

Winchester is
Tom Romig
Mar 28, 2016 rated it really liked it
Simon Winchester is, as usual, a pleasure to read. The problem with the book is that it's about South Korea 30 years ago when he walked the length of the country. At that time, the "miracles" referred to in the subtitle had to do with economics, not government, which was a despotic military regime.

Even granting how long ago the book was written, it's striking how little Winchester comments on the desperate plight of women. He is, in fact, rather cavalier about the widespread prostitution he chro
Dec 30, 2015 rated it did not like it
Shelves: nonfiction, research
I learned a fair amount about Korea that I didn't know, which is the positive thing I can say about this book. But the vaguely creepy paternalistic narration was extremely off-putting - it's very much a book written by a white man with a particular (and not appealing) perspective on what Korea "truly" is. The weird overuse of the word giggling is notable and telling. Extreme lack of self-examination when it comes to the author's encounters with Korean women.
Jul 01, 2007 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
Some interesting info about the country, but it was overshadowed for me by the author's tone when it came to speaking about women and describing some aspects of Korean culture. It would have been a good book if he had left his commentary out of it.
Jan 16, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: non-fiction
This book has a precious little to recommend for itself.

It reads more like a white man's fantasy - encountering hordes of natives fascinated by his 'foreignness' , Korean girls desperate to get a piece of him and the author's own offensive viewpoints on culture.
Jan 28, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Once when I became very ill in the Peace Corps, the Medical Officer handed me Winchester's Krakatoa, and ever since I have been a huge fan of his writing. While living in Korea, I happened across this book about his walk from the South to the North in the 1980s. While it took some getting used to recognizing the old Romanization of names (he apologizes beforehand, and obviously it's not his fault), I learned so much about the peninsula's history- perhaps more so than I have learned living in the ...more
Robert Sheard
Aug 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
Simon Winchester has written about a wide range of historical subjects and has produced bestseller after bestseller. Some of his more famous works include The Professor and the Madman, Krakatoa, and The Map that Changed the World. So when I discovered recently that he wrote a book in 1988 about Korea, I thought it would be a good chance to learn a bit more about the country I’m researching.

But Korea: A Walk Through the Land of Miracles isn’t a traditional history text. After a handful of trips t
Carol Douglas
May 20, 2018 rated it liked it
Simon Winchester is a famous British journalist and travel writer. In this book, first published in 1988, he tells about walking the whole length of South Korea. There is a great deal of information about Korea, though some of it is now out of date. When Winchester went to South Korea, it was still a dictatorship.

He retraced the route taken by the first known Europeans to see Korea, seventeenth century Dutch seamen and merchants who had been shipwrecked and were virtual prisoners but who nevert
Frank Theising
Apr 13, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: history-world
I’ve spent just short of a year here in Korea and on a friend’s recommendation read this book. It provides an intriguing snapshot into 1980s Korea. A period of significant transformation for the country both politically (at the time it was still very authoritarian) and economically (the country was just beginning its impressive economic expansion). Its been interesting to see how much has changed since this book was published in 1988. The author walks the length of the country from Jeju Island i ...more
Mar 20, 2011 rated it really liked it
Simon Winchester is awesome; this we know. In this book, in particular, he does a few awesome things. Among them: walking - yes, walking! - Korea from the southern coastal town of Mokpo to the DMZ, plus a Jeju stint to kick things off; calling out governments, often the South Korean government, on their mistakes; reporting the utter vulgarity of the behavior of the majority of the U.S. armed forces stationed in Korea/anywhere; paralleling his chapters with Hendrik Hamel's 1668 account of Korea, ...more
Dec 05, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: the-koreas
Although this book is quite dated (the author did his walk through South Korea in the late 80s), and I've been to South Korea in the last couple years and much has changed since this book was published, this was still an enjoyable read. Part travelogue, part history lesson, part social commentary, I thought it was an interesting chronicle of a journey on foot from the southernmost point in South Korea up to the North and South Korean DMZ. I didn't particularly like the author - he seemed a bit s ...more
Geoffrey Rose
Apr 26, 2012 rated it liked it
I just moved to South Korea and I found this book a reasonably good introduction to the country and it's culture.

A few caveats, the text was written in 1988 when South Korean's government was far more authoritarian. Thus, the contrast with the North wasn't near as striking as today. Winchester is a bit harsh at times on American imperialism (coming from a Brit, this is at times particularly rich) and seems to only encounter the most vulgar, most ignorant Americans he can find.

I also found Winch
Living in Korea has been great. Reading about Korea from the framework of someone who decided to walk across it was even better. I loved Winchester's use of his walk as a framework for going on all kinds of descriptive tangents about Korea: ginsing, barbershop/massage parlors, shipbuilding, food, North Korea, and most especially some of the complexity of the American Presence in Korea. It really made me want to walk across Korea, and I'm already starting to float that idea by my son. Great style ...more
Carol Wakefield
Aug 09, 2018 rated it liked it
Not my favorite Winchester book. An interesting walk but with a heavy dose of the darker aspects of Korean history as he visits areas that more often than not were once scenes of particularly gruesome atrocities. We certainly heard about all those. In detail. And between atrocities thevillages and cities were often grim in appearance and melancholy places. Maybe someone should try the walk now. Would it all be rosier?
Mar 21, 2018 rated it it was ok
While doing some due diligence on the book before diving into it, I found in one review someone describe it as being similar to a long article in a periodical, lacking in that essential style that makes or breaks a piece of travel literature, it being concerned, principally in my mind, with the relation of the author to the place at hand, not with the place itself per se. I'd have to agree.

The premise: the author, principally a journalist (and oh, how it _shows_), is interested in Korea and dec
Jun 01, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: hardcopy
Probably won’t reread. But the tensions between moralism and rage, determined zen and stoicism, and ultimately truce and riot are everywhere in this book, not just at the Bridge of No Return and the Demilitarized Zone.

Korea in the eighties was a place that can’t let go of its anger. It’s monks have retired to the mists. Thousands died in civil war. Thousands died in civil unrest. She is tired and longs for resolution and peace for her children.

Nick Woodall
Apr 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I love everything Simon Winchester writes. This is his journey walking from south to north in Korea. He chronicles everything he sees and relates it to the history of Korea. A very effective way to teach history. Obviously, he is stopped at the border and is not allowed into North Korea, so we don't get his vantage point of North Korea. A good read!
Dec 06, 2018 rated it liked it
Probably my least favourite of Winchester's books. Hard to explain why, he just seemed to fail to evoke Korea as well as he does China or other places he travels to.
Not bad per se, he's just set the bar very high with his other books
Jul 12, 2020 rated it did not like it
Having enjoyed Winchester's Krakatoa, I went in with great expectations that were quickly dashed. Will seek a different book that is not paternalistic and orientalizing, and that does not merely rely on English speaking foreigners living in Korea to offer a more nuanced read into Korean culture.
Oct 25, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good, but may be a little dated
Peter McDermott
Nov 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
Korean travelog written before the Economic Miracle was really complete None the less interesting for that though.
Beth Evans
Feb 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
fascinating insight into a) Korea wider than Seoul, and b) Korea 30 years ago. I wish I could speak to Simon to see what he thinks now
Sep 20, 2020 rated it really liked it
An oddly enjoyable book as the author decided to walk from one end of Korea to another. Random facts and encounters ensue, some fascinating, others less so.
Apr 02, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed
Before reading this book, my understanding of Korea was as hazy as a foggy day in Seoul. Korea? Didn't they host the Olympics a few years back? And I think there was a messy war in the fifties that led to partition; the South became prosperous; the North became weird. Oh, and don't they eat dogs? Well, now the fog has cleared, and it's all thanks to Simon Winchester's absorbing and entertaining journey through this fascinating land. And yes, there are some references to canine cuisine, but more ...more
Jul 23, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: cheshire
the author of Krakatoa (2003) and The Professor and the Madman (1998) in 1988 took a walking tour of South Korea, and his book about it has been read 350 times.

or at least, 350 Goodreaders have chosen to rate his book.

so... if we ignore this deliberately facetious opening, we might say that Simon Winchester is just about as well known as Alan Booth, another Englishman who refused proferred car-rides and buses to walk the length of a country. Booth traveled 4000 kilometers from north Hokkaido to
Nov 12, 2012 rated it liked it
There are people in this world crazy enough to embrace ideas like walking around an entire country retracing the steps of some obscure historical figure. Language barrier, political situation, the blisters! Somehow Simon Winchester had the temerity of doing it in the 80's, from Jeju to Panmujeon, and I hate him for that.
The account of this travelogue is a fascinating read for the image it paints of Korea then. It was a very, very different time, somehow as removed from present day's Korea as th
John Eliade
Apr 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: korea
I liked this book. Simon Winchester has a fantastic voice that reads like Bill Bryson crossed with a self-deluded Buddhist monk.

Probably the most fantastic aspect of the book comes from the era it was written and how foreign a place Korea seems just 30 years ago. For context: Winchester walks from the island of Jeju to Panmunjeom on the "border" with North Korea. He attempts to follow the path at out by Dutch sailors who crashed on Jeju in the seventeenth century, becoming the first westerners
Oct 01, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, travel, korea
Having lived in Korea for over a year now, it's pretty interesting to read a book written about the country in the late 80s. There was plenty I could recognize, but what was more interesting was how much the country has changed since then. It's no longer a dictatorship. Bad things won't happen to you if you criticize the president...least I hope not, because the kids I teach frequently do. The foreign military presence seems to have been scaled back a lot since the 80s - I've never seen a unifor ...more
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Simon Winchester, OBE, is a British writer, journalist and broadcaster who resides in the United States. Through his career at The Guardian, Winchester covered numerous significant events including Bloody Sunday and the Watergate Scandal. As an author, Simon Winchester has written or contributed to over a dozen nonfiction books and authored one novel, and his articles appear in several travel publ ...more

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