Category Archives: Books

Updated ESL Textbooks for Korean College Students and Adult Learners

UPDATE (July 2015): For those interested in ordering the books but living outside of Korea, we recommend the specialists at HanBooks.com.

ESL textbooks designed specifically for Korean university students and other adult English learners – no more boring your students with a book aimed at some mythical ‘world student’; the poorly-named ‘Speaking for Everyday Life’ ESL books specifically target the interests and needs of Korean students.

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Book Review of ‘The Real North Korea: Life and Politics in the Failed Stalinist Utopia’ by Andrei Lankov

[Book Review] Lankov is one of the world’s top North Korea specialists, publishing in English or Korean, and has the rare benefit of speaking the language and having spent time studying in the North. While getting time on the ground in North Korea can be difficult, too few ‘experts’ have spent much time in either of the Koreas, or even bothered to learn the language – problems readily apparent when talking to many U.S. military, intel agency, or other denizens of government assigned to Korea issues. Given 60+ years of failure to achieve U.S. goals when it comes to the North, maybe it’s time to try learning from folks like Lankov.

The book opens with a history of the North and the ruling Kim family that builds the framework for later chapters explaining why Pyongyang makes the decisions it does (hint: it’s not cause they’re crazy). A couple of quotes that relate to the point:



“The North Korean leaders do not want reforms [AKA more trade/interaction with the outside world, as the U.S. State Dept. is forever trying to foster] because they realize that in the specific conditions produced by the division of their country, such reforms are potentially destabilizing and, if judged from the ruling elite’s point of view, constitute the surest way of political (and, perhaps, physical) suicide.” [Hardcover edition, pg. 112]. The North Korean elite “would be happy to see a North Korean economic boom – as long as they are not going to enjoy this wonderful picture through the window gate of their cell.” [Pg. 118].

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WORK HARD FOR THE KIMS! An Introduction to North Korea

UPDATE (19 FEB): The book is now (finally!) available on Kobo.

The “KIMS” in the title represent North Korea’s ruling family, in power in Pyongyang since the 40s and anxious to stay there. The images in the book introduce North Korean history, culture, and ideology by translating the country’s unique propaganda posters into English, then exploring their themes and messages.



Most of the posters used in the brief book are already here on the website, or available on the Facebook page, but the book includes additional details and explanations.

The book is currently available for download from Amazon for Kindle, Barnes and Noble for Nook, and Apple’s iBooks store. A Kobo version will be available soon. Please let me know if you’d like to see the book available in additional formats. There are no plans to publish a paperback or hardcover version at this time.

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Confront and Conceal: Obama’s Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power

[Book Review] The author, David Sanger, appears to have better access to classified information than most gov’t intel analysts; he certainly has better access to policy makers and strategists. The coverage of cyber operations, especially Stuxnet and Olympic Games, is the most powerful and revealing section of the book – given that Sanger was at the forefront of breaking these stories in the media, hardly a surprise.

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Escape from North Korea: The Untold Story of Asia’s Underground Railroad

[Book Review] I’m glad someone finally went to the trouble of researching and writing a book on the network, for obvious reasons quite secretive, which works to get North Korean defectors through China and into safety in South Korea or elsewhere.

You might ask why North Korean refugees aren’t safe once they reach China, given that China is obliged to protect the refugees by virtue of agreeing to international treaties including the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (which includes The Universal Declaration of Human Rights). Unfortunately, at least in this case, China’s government pays about as much heed to international treaties as America’s Tea Party. Instead of upholding its treaty obligations, it actively tracks, arrests, and returns the refugees to the North, where they and their families face sentencing to one of the North’s infamous gulags. Those caught helping North Korean refugees in China face, at best, expulsion from the country, at worst, years in a Chinese prison.

Given these conditions, Kirkpatrick’s choice of subtitles, “The untold story of Asia’s underground railroad,” becomes more apt. Though the book’s comparisons to the slave-era American underground railroad are occasionally jarring, suddenly transporting the reader from modern Asia to 1800s America, they serve to highlight the similar dangers faced by everyone involved.

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The Impossible State: North Korea, Past and Future

[Book Review] Surprisingly readable – I’d half-expected dense academia or right-wing politicizing (the author is a former Bush administration official), but instead found The Impossible State: North Korea, Past and Future engrossing, with a great overview of North Korea, new insights into the diplomatic make-work program 6-party talks, and solid policy takeaways on the importance of increasing outside information flow into the North.

The author pushes a theory, neojuche revivalism (“juche,” itself commonly translated as “self-reliance,” is North Korea’s governing ideology, pg. 410), which seems to have lost some saliency with the death of Kim Jong-il and the changes in personnel and governing structure taking place under his son. According to Cha, the new/updated ideology is a “return to a conservative and hard-line juche ideology of the 1950s and 1960s,” when the North was ahead of the South technologically and economically (pg. 410).

Though the theory sounds mildly interesting, North Korea’s opaqueness means it can’t really be tested, nor does it provide much policy-level utility, especially given the ongoing leadership changes.

The book’s strength is in highlighting the importance of using “all means possible to increase the flow of information from the outside world into North Korea” (pg. 461). Since, “without control of information, there is no [North Korean] ideology,” which means there is no North Korea (pg. 461).

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Nation Building in South Korea: Koreans, Americans, and the Making of a Democracy

[Book Review] Wonky, but surprisingly readable – Nation Building in South Korea: Koreans, Americans, and the Making of a Democracy traces the history of U.S. “nation building,” or “stand back and let the Koreans do their thing – ing” in South Korea.

For a book in English, it contains a surprisingly large amount of the Korean perspective in building their nation into the success that it is today. Still, it seems too heavily focused on the U.S. role, while underplaying the role of the South Koreans. Perhaps a more reflective title would be The U.S. Role in South Korean Nation Building.



Either way, the book is an informative, readable history on U.S. – Korea relations and Korean development.

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North Korean Propaganda Posters

UPDATE (JUL 2015): It’s been a while, but just added about a dozen new posters and images to the Facebook page, plus posted a couple below.

UPDATE (DEC 2014): I added some new posters below (including a translation of the Korean on the movie poster promoting ‘The Interview’) and to the Facebook page. As always, thanks for stopping by and let me know if you have any posters you’d like translated.

UPDATE (JAN 2014): The propaganda posters and English translations have now been compiled into a brief ebook introducing North Korean history, culture, and ideology – WORK HARD FOR THE KIMS!, available now on Amazon, iBooks/iTunes, Nook, and Kobo. The images and translations in the book are from those below and on the Facebook page. Please let me know of other images you’d like to see translated.

UPDATES (9 Dec 2013, 25 Apr, 18 Jan, 7 Dec 2012, 15 Nov, 18 Oct): More images have been uploaded. Please feel free to suggest additional images you’d like to have translated.

In what will hopefully be an ongoing project, I’ve posted a few North Korean propaganda posters, with rough translations, to the Facebook page. Once there, click the photo to read the translation and related comments.
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The Ugly American

[Book Review] Stunning that a book written in 1958 about Vietnam and SE Asia is still so dead-on accurate. Reading it, you’d never know it wasn’t written last week about Iraq or Afghanistan.

A collection of semi-fictional vignettes about Americans working in the made-up SE Asian country of Sarkhan (read: Vietnam), anyone with a hint of overseas experience, or even time working with the U.S. government, will quickly (and in many cases, depressingly) recognize the various archetypes of Americans abroad illustrated here. The authors reportedly based many of the characters on real people they’d met while overseas. A quick bit of Googling sheds light on the origin of many of them.

A quick, enjoyable read – whether a story at a time, or the whole book. Highly recommended, especially for those heading overseas, or to DC, to work with the U.S. government and/or military.

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콩글리시 to English (Konglish to English)

My new book, 콩글리시 to English (Konglish to English), is finally out and available for download from iTunes. Written partially in Korean, the book is designed to help address common problems faced by Korean learners of English, plus those who teach them.

I set up a separate section of the blog, KONGLISH / 콩글리시, to focus on Konglish-related writing, including excerpts from the book. Having researched and written on Konglish since the late 90s, I have a fair grounding in the subject, but am always open to learning more – please post comments below or in a related post.

콩글리시 to English (Konglish to English)

Another goal in writing the book, as I blogged about in the Digital Publishing category (above), was to learn how to use Apple’s new iBooks Author program, and then compare it with Adobe’s Creative Suite, InDesign, and Captivate. While the Apple product, all of six months old, lacks many of the capabilities of the much-older Adobe programs, it also lacks their price (Author is free) and steep learning curve. You can be up and productively writing in Author in minutes (provided you own a Mac – there is, as yet, no Windows version), something that cannot be said for those new to, or only mildly familiar with, the Adobe monstrosities.

Having used the product for six months and found it generally user-friendly, practical, and simple, if occasionally buggy and odd (as blogged about in previous postings), I am curious to see what Apple makes of Author. Will it follow iTunes in eventually expanding to Windows? Will Apple allow authors to publish to platforms (i.e. Kindle and Nook) outside of iTunes and iPad? Will Apple finally stop putting that irritating little ‘i’ in front of iEverything iIt iMakes?

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  • Niche topic but useful info - Diplomats and Deceit: North Korea’s Criminal Activities in Africa https://t.co/oYiP4GKzAF - posted on 20/10/2017

  • Headline is off, plus some confusion over terms in the text, but interesting article overall. https://t.co/twHzyYFEGB - posted on 18/10/2017

  • Well done by VOA on the message and Robow quotes and pics: Death Toll Tops 300 From Mogadishu Blast https://t.co/uqsKzltksZ - posted on 17/10/2017

  • Interesting examination of the counter-productivity of sanctions: Engagement, Not Sanctions, Deserves Second Chance https://t.co/xvqD59tFI4 - posted on 16/10/2017

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