A Reading List for 2013


Wondering what to read about North Korea in 2013? Some of the contributors at Sino-NK.org had a talk recently about what they read last year. Their interests are diverse, although since Sino-NK tends toward scholarly analysis, the readings each author recommends take a similar bias toward the scholarly. But they still make good recommendations for all curious readers.

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Books, books, and more books. Photo credit Wonderlane via Flickr.


The panelists were Roger Cavazos, Chris Green, Adam Cathcart, and Steven Denney. Cavazos is an associate at the Nautilus Institute; Green is the English editor of the Daily NK; Cathcart is a professor at Queen’s University Belfast; and Denney is a grad student at Seoul’s Yonsei University specializing in East Asian political economy.


As you might guess from their day jobs, they read a lot about North Korea. What looks interesting in this pile of publications? I’d like to read Rudiger Frank’s essay “The Risks of Improvisation,” which appeared on 38 North last year. According to Cathcart, it “analyzes things from within the sphere of the DPRK’s own self-image and system,” which sounds great. I would hope it might be something similar to Brian Myers’ book The Cleanest Race. Another good one looks to be North Korea: Beyond Charismatic Politics, by Kwan Hyeon-Ik and Chung Byung-Ho. This was strongly recommended by both Cavazos and Green; among other things, it “gives specific examples to help divine the seed for what some perceive as North Korea’s random policy generator.”




The peer-reviewed articles were, surprisingly, the most interesting ones for me: these were the ones that seemed to have the strongest and most personal recommendations. Cathcart recommended an article by Jennifer Lind about North Korean collapse scenarios, available at Harvard’s website for a limited time. Lind also wrote what looks to be a good article called “The Memory of Kim” about how a unified Korea might come to terms with Kim Il-Sung’s legacy.


Green recommended a speech given by former South Korean ambassador Ra Jong-Yil. It’s called The Darkness of the Heart, and it “explain[s] far, far better than any 200-page scholarly text ever could precisely why it is that the actions of the atavistic North Korean state power diminish every single one of us.” That’s probably the most exciting one of all.


I notice that I’m attracted to a certain kind of title, such as: “The Darkness of the Heart,” “The Memory of Kim,” and “The Risks of Improvisation.” I’m sure I’m limiting myself by ignoring the scintillating writing in other recommendations with names like “Democracy Without Parties?: Political Parties and Social Movements for Democratic Representation in Korea” (available in the Korea Observer’s Spring 2009 issue), but I can’t help it.


They offer many more recommendations; if you’d like more ideas, check out the full discussion at Sino-NK.org.




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