1. Korea's Place in the Sun: A Modern History
by: Bruce Cumings
This was the first book I bought/read after looking for books about Korea on Amazon. It's long and academic and probably not the best choice for those looking for an introduction to Korea, however could be a good read for people who really love history. Pick up this book only after having some knowledge about Korea and/or having read some of the books below.
2. The Koreans
by: Michael Breen
This was one of the last books I've read about Korea, although I wish it were one of the first! Perhaps I'm a bit biased since I met the author and heard him speak in person, but I highly recommend this book for first-timers. The style of writing is easy to read and he approaches the culture from many different points of view presenting the positive and not so positive aspects of the culture. Definitely a book to have in your Korea collection.
3. Korea Unmasked
by: Won-Bok Rhie
This book, or more accurately, this graphic novel, was recommended to me by my colleague. Presented in comic book format, it is broken down into different sections including Korean History, Education, People, Differences between Japan/China, etc. At first I enjoyed the lightheartedness of the book, but after awhile, the Korea-centric point of view started to get a bit irritating. Patriotism is okay, but nationalism can be a bit annoying especially when you're hoping to read something without a slanted view. Still worth a look, but don't let this be your one and only view of Korean culture.
4. Nothing to Envy
by: Barbara Demick
I mentioned this book once before on my blog, but it's worth a second (and third) mentioning. It brings to life in a very real way the issues of North Koreans and their lives as defectors in the south. One of my favorite books I've read this year, beautifully written and easy to read, I'd probably put this as number two on the list after reading "The Koreans", only because I think the other book is a stronger introduction to life in the ROK, however I'd recommend this book to anyone and everyone, even those not interested in life in South Korea.
5. Tears of Blood
by: Young-Bok Yoo
I was lucky enough to hear this author speak in person as well, a former POW of North Korea, this amazing man tells his story about life during the Korean War and the rippling affects it had and continues to have on thousands of families on the Korean peninsula. Probably not the first book you should pick up, but if after reading "Nothing to Envy", you'd like to get another point of view, this would be my next recommendation.
by: Kyung-Sook Shin
My most recent read, "Please Look After Mom", is a fictional story about a Korean family in modern day Korea. It presents cultural issues such as the generation gap between those who grew up in the war and the younger Koreans growing up today. It addresses family roles and traditions in Korea as well as a more universal experience of the relationship between a child and their mother. It's a bit heart wrenching, but has received overall very good reviews.
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If I had to recommend an order for learning about Korea, I'd say start with number 2, 4, 5, 6, 3 and if you really, really want to know all the nitty-gritty details, read number 1.
Anyone read any other books about Korea you'd like to share? Or have you read any of the books on the list and disagree? I'm always open to suggestions^^!