The Two Koreas: A Contemporary History

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1999 Paperback New 0465087922. 29 oz.; 472 pages; New PB unread/unmarked slightly shopworn. The Two Koreas is the definitive text of contemporary Korean history from the hottest ... point of the Cold War to the present. Korea represents the last vestige of the Cold War. The struggle between the two Koreas has repeatedly claimed the headlines of the world with acts of terrorism, disputes over nuclear might, and ever-changing relationships of the two with the outside powers of Japan, Russia, and China. Don Oberdorfer saw many of these crises first-hand as a journalist for the Washington Post. Building on his extensive experience, many previously unavailable documents, and unparalleled access to the leadership circles in both Korean states, Oberdorfer has written a gripping narrative history of the conflict between the two Koreasand the involvement of the outside worldplacing the political tension within a historical context, looking at the democratic South and the communist North through the lens of the past tw Read more Show Less

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Ever since Korea was first divided at the end of World War II, the tension between its northern and southern halves has riveted—and threatened to embroil—the rest of the world. In this landmark history, now thoroughly revised and updated in conjunction with Korea expert Robert Carlin, veteran journalist Don Oberdorfer grippingly describes how a historically homogenous people became locked in a perpetual struggle for supremacy—and how they might yet be reconciled.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“A true public service…a clear and unpretentious journalistic narrative of the past quarter-century’s public and behind-the-scenes political and diplomatic efforts to solve the Korea question. It is a well-reported if unfinished story, well told by someone who has been a Korea-watcher for almost four decades…. Probing behind events to reveal the machinations of key politicians, generals, and bureaucrats, often re-creating the dynamics shaping their behavior, is the strength of this book…. Oberdorfer chronicles with impressive detail the pathos of the nuclear crisis and the freezing of North-South relations it precipitated. What emerges from The Two Koreas is a portrait of precisely why the peninsula is so volatile: two rivals competing for national legitimacy in a culture where compromise is tantamount to defeat…. Oberdorfer refrains from punditry and predictions, letting his powerful material tell the story.”
The Boston Globe

“[A] lucid, balanced, thoroughly credible account of the last 25 years on both sides of the armistice line.”
The New York Times Book Review

“Riveting…. The Two Koreas majestically fulfills Oberdorfer’s goal of drawing attention to the role outside powers have played in the two Koreas’ history.”
The Washington Post

“[A] gripping narrative… The Two Koreas is a masterful analysis of one of the enduring Achilles’ heels of US foreign policy.”
Los Angeles Review of Books

“This truly important work will, without question, become the standard against which other books on modern Korea will be judged.”
—Donald P. Gregg, former U.S. Ambassador to South Korea

“Oberdorfer is one of America’s keenest analysts of the international scene.”
—James A. Baker III, former U.S. Secretary of State

“[A] fine book…. [Oberdorfer’s] gripping narrative should chasten our leaders and inform our citizenry about the continuing perils and costs of America’s involvement with Korea. At a time when frivolous sensationalism dominates the media, [The Two Koreas] illustrates the virtues of a life given to honest, independent, inquiring journalism…. [It is] a detailed insider’s account of the period since President Nixon opened China…. Oberdorfer excels at weaving together the characters and events of the period (often ones that he covered as a reporter) with more recent interviews with major participants in Washington, Seoul, Pyongyang, Beijing and Tokyo. He also pays more attention than usual to the work of scholars on Korea. What results is not really the history of the two Koreas but of American relations with Korea in the last 25 years. Oberdorfer is often definitive on that subject, deploying information that even specialists do not know.”
—Bruce Cumings, The Los Angeles Times

“Though he is an old Asia hand who has made many visits to the Korean peninsula—including two to North Korea—he deliberately keeps himself out of this book. Mistrusting his impressions, Oberdorfer, a retired diplomatic correspondent for The Washington Post, researched exhaustively, conducting more than 450 interviews. The result is a comprehensive and informative…account of postwar Korean history, from the Korean War to the rise of democracy in the South to the nuclear-weapons crisis in the North.”
The Globe and Mail

“An authoritative and readable work of history that will inform [Oberdorfer’s] colleagues and the public at large as they watch the future of the Cold War’s last remaining division unfold…. Even for those who know a lot about recent diplomacy, Oberdorfer fills in gaps, having interviewed many key participants.”
USA Today

“[A] fine new book…. Oberdorfer is the sort of well-informed and conscientious journalist with a lifetime of experience that academic specialists can learn a lot from, and general readers will find this a lively, interesting, accessible, and satisfying book. It is not quite a contemporary history of the two Koreas (there are only a few Korean voices, and large swaths of domestic Korean history are left out), but it is the best history of the past 30 years of American-Korean relations…. Oberdorfer pens remarkably accurate portraits of a string of South Korean presidents…. The Two Koreas should give pause to those who think we should fight wars to keep the instruments of war out of the wrong hands.”
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

“A most timely book to understand what could happen if North Korea implodes or attacks South Korea.”
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“Oberdorfer, veteran Washington Post diplomatic correspondent who has met every South Korean president on their home ground and every North Korean foreign minister during their annual trips to the United States, does an excellent job of filling in the blanks in our knowledge of events from 1953 until today…. The picture Oberdorfer presents is by no means a clear view of sweetness and light and democracy on our side, and communist tyranny and terror on their side.”
Florida Times-Union

“A fine overview of Korea’s recent past.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Combining the depth and authority of a first-rate textbook with the readability of a good novel, [The Two Koreas] has proven to be a wonderful teaching tool for instructors and students alike.”
—Carter J. Eckert, Professor of Korean History, Harvard University

“A useful primer on policy.”
The Weekend Australian

“Packed with great details and anecdotes which bring the whole extraordinary saga [of the two Koreas] to life… [Oberdorfer] is particularly good at detailing how the South gained the military and economic upper hand from the 1980s onwards as the North’s communist backers deserted it. He sheds much light on how the Soviet Union stepped in to bankroll Kim Il-sung after China reduced its support under new leader Deng Xiaoping. And how with the Soviet Union’s collapse seven years ago, North Korea, refusing to contemplate reforms, went into economic free-fall…. Oberdorfer’s description of the friendship forged between [Carter and Il-sung]…is worth the price of the book alone…. [A] skillful mixture of reportage and history which opens the door to understanding what will happen next.”
South China Morning Post (Hong Kong)

“Engrossing, informative, wise. A rare achievement, the best account yet of a tragically divided country.”
—Ezra Vogel, Director, Asia Center, Harvard University

“Award-winning contemporary history from a veteran correspondent whose contacts book is as fat as the Old Testament. Here he traces the last 50 years of divided Korea, a tragic situation that we have all too readily learned to live with. With expert knowledge of both sides of the DMZ, Oberdorfer is able to trace common currents of Koreanness that unite the two halves. The real strength of the book is in its meticulous research about how other countries have treated Korea, a natural emphasis in the case of a country crucial to the security interests of Japan, China, Russia and the United States…. Oberdorfer…stitch[es] together a wonderful tapestry of fact and anecdote, all impeccably sourced to firsthand information from key players like Gorbachev and George Schultz. Journalism is known as the first draft of history, but this will probably stand unchallenged.”
The Daily Yomiuri (Tokyo)

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465087921
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 1/17/1999
  • Edition description: Older Edition
  • Pages: 472
  • Lexile: 1480L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.21 (h) x 1.27 (d)

Meet the Author

Don Oberdorfer wrote for the Washington Post for twenty-five years, and is currently Chairman of the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins’ School of Advanced International Studies. He lives in Washington, D.C.

Robert Carlin is a Visiting Fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University and former chief of the Northeast Asia Division in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research, U.S. Department of State. He lives in Washington, D.C.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 8, 2001

    Excellent insight into contemporary Korea

    The author has a long history with Korea as a newspaper reporter. He has personally interviewed a vast majority of the people who were influential in shaping the major events of Korean history from the end of the Korean War until the present. He also offers some interesting insight into enigmatic North Korea. If you are looking for Korean War history, look elsewhere. If you're looking for modern Korean history, I can't think of a single better source.

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