jugulum replied to your post: fancy book learnin’ friday: week 14: north korea… again edition
I love Nothing to Envy for the same reasons. It’s such a good a book. (Also, I’m in my first year of a Korean undergrad and I’m already sick of Bruce Cummings!)
Yeah, I’m still surprised by how good it was, especially for a non-academic book (not that academic books are perfect, but you know). I’m really glad I read it, both because now I’ve read it but now I also have a good book to recommend whenever people ask me about North Korea (which is a lot).
And as a third year grad student, I can promise you: it doesn’t get much better with the Bruce. You had to read “Korea’s Place in the Sun,” right? That’s the problem with Bruce’s work: it’s one of the only books out there that’s a longitudinal history of the peninsula. Well, one that’s readily available. One of my friends got so fed up having to read it he started writing snarky notes back in the margins, circling things and putting smiley faces, or little “oh, Bruce :)"s next to them.
If you want a better one, I highly, highly recommend Carter Eckert’s "Korea Old and New: A History.” The first part they translated from Ki-Baik Lee’s work, and the latter things were written by Eckert, Michael Robinson, and Edward Wagner (all of whom are legit, just in case you haven’t heard of them yet). The problem with Bruce is that so much of his stuff is some of the only stuff out there on the Korean War, since that’s kind of his thing. You have people like Suh Dae-Sook who’ve written extensively about Kim Il-Sung and the founding of he DPRK and the Soviet role and all that, but you’re still gonna have to deal with Bruce’s work at every stage. Unfortunately :( I wish the future was brighter, but it only sort of is. Like, you have my grand-advisor, James Palais, who wrote extensively about the Chosŏn Dynasty, and a grip of good scholars on the colonial era, but Bruce is still one of the most prolific when it comes to the Korean War. And to his credit, he did write the first history of the war, but he also wrote it before the Soviet archives were opened. You can find good things in his work, but having to trudge through that cloud of smug self-satisfaction? I’d rather eviscerate myself with a rusty spoon.
I totally didn’t know you were K-Studies, though, that’s awesome :D What’s up, K-Studies buddy! Are you looking to focus on any specific era/subject?