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North Korea: State of Paranoia [Kindle Edition]

Paul French

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Praise for North Korea: State of Paranoia: 'North Korea's ability to worry and shock remains perhaps the only predictable aspect of the country's behaviour. Paul French's no-nonsense approach to understanding the country's history, political system, ideology and what remains of its decimated economy is one of the best introductions to a country that does all it can to resist outside inspection and comprehension. This is the most accessible starting point for anyone wanting to understand the hermit kingdom.' Kerry Brown, professor and director, China Studies Centre, University of Sydney 'This clear-eyed overview to North Korea's modern history is packed full of fascinating detail. French ably outlines the hermit kingdom's ideology, economic system and haphazard efforts at reform, while simultaneously revealing why pickpockets target Kim Il-sung badges, what the North Korean cabinet's position is on lice and why smoking can be a small act of resistance.' Louisa Lim, Beijing correspondent, NPR Praise for Midnight in Peking: 'An engrossing whodunit... a terrific read' Sunday Times "A compelling mystery story set in a sweeping historical context full of persuasive detail and strongly drawn characters. Keeps the reader enthralled to the end." Jonathan Fenby, Author of The Penguin History of Modern China "MIDNIGHT IN PEKING takes the reader back to 1937 and the brutal unsolved murder of an English schoolgirl in a city and a country on the edge of an abyss. Paul French wonderfully evokes that place in that time and, amazingly, manages to bring some sense of closure to this long-forgotten mystery. This book is an instant true crime classic which grips and hooks from the first page to the last." David Peace, Author of the Red Riding Quartet and included in Granta's Best of Young British Novelists in 2003 "Historian French unravels a long-forgotten 1937 murder in this fascinating look at Peking (nowBeijing) on the brink of Japanese occupation. French painstakingly reconstructs the crime and depicts the suspects ... compelling evidence is coupled with a keen grasp of Chinese history in French's worthy account." Publisher's Weekly


North Korea continues to make headlines, arousing curiosity and fear in equal measure. The world’s most secretive nuclear power, it still has Gulag-style prison camps, allows no access to the Internet and bans its people from talking to foreigners without official approval. In this remarkable and eye-opening book, internationally best-selling author Paul French examines in forensic detail the history and politics of North Korea, Pyongyang’s complex relations with South Korea, Japan, China and America, and the implications of Kim Jong-un’s increasingly belligerent leadership following the death of his father, Kim Jong-il.

As an already unstable North Korea grows ever more unpredictable, antagonizing enemies and allies alike, North Korea: State of Paranoia delivers a provocative and frightening account of a potentially explosive nuclear tripwire.


  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • Dateigröße: 1034 KB
  • Seitenzahl der Print-Ausgabe: 482 Seiten
  • Verlag: Zed Books; Auflage: 3 (8. Mai 2014)
  • Verkauf durch: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Sprache: Englisch
  • Text-to-Speech (Vorlesemodus): Aktiviert
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  • Word Wise: Nicht aktiviert
  • Amazon Bestseller-Rang: #251.934 Bezahlt in Kindle-Shop (Siehe Top 100 Bezahlt in Kindle-Shop)

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Die hilfreichsten Kundenrezensionen auf (beta) 4.2 von 5 Sternen  39 Rezensionen
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3.0 von 5 Sternen Dense; Not for the Casual Reader 2. Juni 2014
Von Steven M. Anthony - Veröffentlicht auf
I received this book as a galley proofs edition from the publisher in exchange for this review.

The country of North Korea is a fascinating political and economic case study. Any author or analyst taking on the job is faced with the daunting task of accumulating information and data of reasonable reliability and/or accuracy. The author here has done an admirable job of researching and marshaling the information at his disposal. In my opinion, however, he does a poor job of organizing and presenting facts.

While he largely progresses in a linear time frame, parts of the book are organized by topic. The time frame thus becomes confusing as the author moves backward and forward through time within the same chapters, leaving me at times confused. The chapter dealing with the Korean economy is relatively dense and quite frankly, largely over my head. I’m pretty sure I could have grasped most of the theory had I been inclined to grind over it and perhaps consult other references, but that was not why I purchased the book. Some graduate level economists might enjoy and appreciate this substantial section of the book, but I suspect the author’s target audience in this regard is quite small.

I enjoyed and appreciated much more the political discussion and historical perspective provided in the latter sections of the work. I was curious, however, why the discussion of almost every topic cut off abruptly during the first George W. Bush term. There is one short chapter at the end of the book which mentions the accession of Kim Jong-un, but my guess is that the book was written in 2004-2005, dusted off, brought cursorily up to date, and published recently. Barack Obama was mentioned a grand total of once within the body of the work. A book published in 2014, dealing with North Korea, should have more current information than what is contained in this book.
11 von 12 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen Ignorance, Insularity, Ideology, and Fear 17. Mai 2014
Von not a natural - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Kindle Edition
North Korea is a nation created by war. In 1945, with the end of World War II, the Korean peninsula was divided into two occupied zones, with the northern zone occupied by the Soviet Union and the U.S. occupying the south. In 1948, under the auspices of the United Nations, a government was formed in each zone, with the nature of political and economic life in each loosely reflecting that which prevailed in the occupying country. Whether or not this division resulted in the formation of two distinct nations, North Korea and South Korea, remains subject to heated contestation. Clearly, in 1950, when North Korea invaded the South, it was invoking its judgment that there was only one Korean nation, which they would unite through force. After back-and-forth victories by both sides, fighting was called to a halt with an armistice in 1953. Since such an armistice, by its nature, is merely a cessation of hostilities during which formal peace terms may be discussed, in a strictly formal sense North and South Korea are still at war, and the demilitarized zone, spanning the 38th parallel that separates them remains a tense and uncertain boundary.

Paul French's extraordinarily informative book North Korea: State of Paranoia was written in hopes of illuminating life in intensely insular North Korea, providing the context needed to understand the sometimes seemingly senseless behavior of this country toward the outside world and, insofar as we can catch an occasional glimpse across its borders, making sense of its domestic policy, as well. Fittingly, French begins his book with disclaimers as to the adequacy of the information used in writing his book. He emphasizes that North Korea is a tightly closed society, a throwback to the days before the fall of the iron curtain, and even by Cold War standards it is remarkably effective at preventing outsiders from learning much of anything about it.

Nevertheless, French manages to produce a geo-political portrait of North Korea that goes a long way toward enabling readers to understand North Korea and the way it functions as a nation and a homeland. As French forcefully reminds use, the material that went into the construction of his depiction of North Korea is meager and, in unknowably numerous ways, may be erroneous. Nevertheless, the coherence of French's characterization, along with the plausibility of his insights, both argue strongly for the veracity and value of North Korea: State of Paranoia.

The observation that I found most unexpected and interesting is that North Korea's efforts to be as secretive as possible have not only prevented outsiders from learning much about them, but they have also made North Koreans, including high-level policy makers, astonishingly ignorant of the world beyond their borders. If North Korea threw open wide and numerous exits to the nations with which it shares borders, South Korea, China, and Russia, the citizens who walked out would find themselves in places so socially and culturally different that fear of the unknown might drive them back. Given that all but the favored few would return to the most abject poverty imaginable, that's some pretty intense fear.

Perhaps the most troubling question for those leaving the North would be just how does one behave in a society where the heavy hand of the juche ideology does not prevail. For those familiar with the leadership principle that organized life in Nazi Germany, juche will be familiar, though it is harsher and much more inclusive. According to juche, as it has evolved from a mix of perversely incompatible elements of Soviet-style Marxism-Leninism and the tradition of Confucian teachings, one should welcome hardship in the name of the nation. This entails not only hunger, disease, and unremitting hard work, but unquestioning obedience to those in authority and embracing the program of the ruling party without so much as intimating alternatives. It's hard to imagine North Koreans making a go of it without ration coupons and detailed instructions as to how they should spend every minute of their time. Never having known a different way of living, the promise of a new life, one that is unmapped and misunderstood, seems terrifying, indeed.

Members of the arrogant and favored elite, however, would be more likely to be humiliated than frightened. The ignorance they have frequently displayed when soliciting foreign investments tells us a great deal about them and their crippling insularity. Their comically ill-informed and failed efforts to encourage investment zones set aside for quasi-capitalist development but without gas, electricity, and infrastructure represent a wholesale misreading of the nature of incentives expected by prospective outside investors with hard currency, and betray the ignorance and apathy of the elite.

Propped up by dwindling but valuable aid from a handful of other countries and international humanitarian organizations, North Korea deteriorates but fails to collapse, though I'm not certain what a collapsed nation looks like. In any case, North Korea's continued survival is welcomed by South Korea, China, and Russia, and wherever else a massive exodus of immigrants from an imploded North Korea might be headed. In the meantime, the North's current military first policy, which it artfully reconciles with juche, drains resources from internal development and, whatever its limitations, enables the North to play its nuclear card in remarkably effective ways. It's a sad irony of international relations that the possession of this one weapon and the rest of the world's uncertainty as to whether they'll use it in a certainly lost, even suicidal cause gives the North clout far in excess of it overall strength.

Imbued with the juche ideology, and never having known anything other than oppression, autocracy, regimentation. and total disengagement from the rest of the world, the ordinary citizenry as prospective reformers can be counted on for little more than an understandably disorganized and transient food riot. Besides, lack of adequate caloric intake and other manifestations of malnutrition to the point of near starvation face North Korean citizens with more immediate concerns than reforming their failed state.

There is evidence that even with the military first policy in place, North Korea's armed forces are in a state of decline simply because agricultural production and other key components of the economy are in such bad condition. If high ranking officers were to stage a coup, what should we expect? Military personnel participate in all aspects of life in the North, compensating for a worsening manpower shortage. Nevertheless, given that insularity and the juche ideology have stifled the development of intellectual life and the development of science-based technology, those who would replace the current North Korean leadership may not know how to go beyond what exists. Ironically, the North's failures, at least for now, may contribute to insuring continuation of the status quo in a nation created by war and maintained by ignorance, insularity, ideology, and fear.
4 von 5 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
4.0 von 5 Sternen The Curious Land of North Korea 11. April 2014
Von Michael Griswold - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe|Vine Kundenrezension eines kostenfreien Produkts (Was ist das?)
Paul French in State of Paranoia takes the reader inside North Korea-the political, economic, and sociocultural structure of one of the most reclusive states in the world. Some of the things in this book seem absolutely bizarre such as the probation against smoking in the car because you may not be able to tell if there’s a defect with the automobile. I thought the in-depth section on the economy was particularly instructive, if maybe a little long given its sixty-nine page length. I thought this book did a really good job of putting the reader in the shoes of what life might be like for the average North Korean in a given day.

The trouble with this book or any book on North Korea that I’ve seen is that there really isn’t much to point against much of anything French says in this book since many of the books on North Korea strike along similar themes: the paranoid nature of the leadership, problems with the economy, and its’ role in the international system that has changed from the Cold War founding to present.
1 von 1 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen This Book Is a Must Read 21. November 2014
Von Thomas John - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Kindle Edition|Verifizierter Kauf
This book is a thorough and scholarly examination of North Korea. My interest in North Korea began to develop after watching the films "A State of Mind" (2004) and "Crossing the Line," (2006), both available on Netflix. From there I read some of the other more anecdotal books concerning North Korea, such as "Nothing to Envy" and "The Real North Korea: Life and Politics in the Failed Stalinist Utopia" among others.

The saying (used) to go, "all paths lead to Rome." All serious interest in North Korea will lead to this book, "North Korea: State of Paranoia." The other books were very interesting in discussing and making real the existence, and suffering, in North Korea. This book is not as anecdotal as are the other works (or films). However, this book is scholarly and comprehensive, and helps bring together the stories and observations of the other books and films into the big picture.

What has fascinated me about North Korea are two things. One is that North Korea is the only remaining Stalinist country in the world, i.e., command economy and institutionalized zenophobia. (It is also a monarchy.) The second thing is the ability of a government to thoroughly control its citizens under impoverished and oppressive conditions. This kind of country is what George Orwell had in mind in his 1984. This is a country which is a warning to us in America and elsewhere of what can be if we do not vigilantly protect our freedoms.

If you are seriously interested in North Korea, this book is a must read.
4.0 von 5 Sternen A Well-Reasoned Analysis of a Mysterious Nation 1. Februar 2015
Von Stan Prager - Veröffentlicht auf
Despite my own conceit that I possess a fairly broad understanding of international politics and geography, the truth is that like most Americans I know next to nothing about North Korea, a bitter enemy of the United States for more than sixty years and perhaps the final remaining domino of the Cold War era. Thus, I was pleased when North Korea: State of Paranoia by Paul French came to me through an early reviewers program. (Note: the copy I read is actually a pre-publication edition of uncorrected page proofs.)
Paul French is a British author of books of Chinese and North Korean history, and is considered a leading expert on North Korea. I am not familiar with his previous works, but North Korea: State of Paranoia reads much like a highly-detailed government report, albeit an extremely well-written one, focused almost entirely on the economic history of North Korea, which is essentially an account of decline and descent to economic collapse and ruin. His thesis argues that it is this failed economy that has defined North Korea’s relationships with friends and foes alike throughout its existence and in the contemporary world serves as the pivot point for its nuclear brinksmanship. I feel that it is definitely the quality of the prose that carries the book, for the overwhelming amount of data presented by French in the course of more than four hundred pages would otherwise be a terrible burden for all but the most dedicated students of the topic.
French neatly traces the history of North Korea under its multigenerational dynasty of the three Kim’s, its unique guiding ideology known as “Juche” – an unlikely and sometimes conflicting blend of Marxist-Leninism, Maoism and Confucianism – and its stubborn adherence to an economic model unwaveringly devoted to a planned, centralized economy that yet has never paid dividends to a nation ever on the brink of widespread famine and disaster. It is also a history of Cold War alliances with the USSR and the People’s Republic of China, and hostility to the United States and South Korea -- the other half of a divided nation that it once tried to conquer and absorb in the Korean War that brought the Americans and Mao’s China in on opposite sides. The USSR is now a memory, China has gone capitalist, South Korea is an Asian economic giant, but some six decades after that conflict went from hot to mostly cold, rifles still point warily at one another across the no man’s land of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and North Korea recklessly and inconsistently rattles a nuclear saber under the nervous glare of the United States, which still has thousands of American boots on the ground on one side of the DMZ. The failed economy, tenaciously clinging to a long obsolete planned socialist model, remains according to French the core of North Korean woes and the key to understanding its isolation, its rigidly closed society, its paranoia and its advertised nuclear threat.
The author reveals that not only do few outsiders know more than a very little about the almost inaccessible nation, the North Koreans themselves have been sequestered from the world for so long that they have nothing to juxtapose against their own bleak hardscrabble existence. French makes the point that whereas the economically disadvantaged and politically controlled citizens of the former USSR and the eastern European socialist republics could clearly glean that life was far better and freer in the West, the average North Korean has scant exposure to anything beyond the closed borders of their pariah nation.
We learn also from French that North Korea has been, at least since the uneasy truce that brought the Korean War to its close, largely an afterthought in American foreign policy characterized by benign neglect at best -- that has only loomed large briefly from time to time as one of the various dysfunctional Kim’s has surfaced to threaten open hostilities to various neighbors. As famine and the chronic brink of absolute collapse of the state into mass starvation has become the status quo, North Korea has learned that the only way to successfully engage the international community is through an ever-lengthening shadow of belligerence that essentially results in a temporary backing off in exchange for food relief from the outside. The reader is reminded of a dog who only gets fed if he bares his teeth. Amazingly, this strategy has continued to bear fruit – pun fully intended – through a string of administrations in Washington, although there were some attempts at longer-range engagement during the Clinton years that offered certain unrealized potential. It should surprise no one that as bad as things were in the North Korean-American relationship, it was the Bush Administration’s tactless approach that derailed whatever hoped-for agreements had lurked tenuously on the horizon. George W. Bush and his team of incompetents – who could hardly carry a cup of coffee across a carpet without spilling it – in another uninspired celebration of the boneheaded, provoked the North Koreans, by branding them as one of the hyperbolic “axis of evil” triad, to abandon their inflammatory rhetoric and actually detonate a nuclear weapon, in response to which the resolute Bush team did … well … nothing. Under Obama, it seems that our current foreign policy is to ignore Kim3, so the more things change the more they stay the same. It is a bit disappointing that French does not devote more time to the contemporary political climate and to address that detonation of a bomb as a certain game-changer, but perhaps because it has failed to manifest itself as such in international politics he feels it unworthy of special attention. In this, I am not sure that I agree.
French’s analysis does make clear that there are really very few options available to policymakers. Kim’s habit of holding the international community hostage with nuclear threats in order to obtain food for a near-starving population seems ludicrous on the face of it, but it is not entirely irrational. I recall reading of British anger in World War I at the American sponsored program led by the young Herbert Hoover to feed the famished in occupied Belgium; the Brits noted coldly but accurately that this benefited the German belligerents, as well. While right-wingers can decry propping up a hostile regime with food, would it serve anyone’s interests if the mass-starvation of millions of people was allowed to come to pass – especially because that regime is both paranoid and nuclear-armed, and therefore potentially unstable?
As noted earlier, this book reads very much like an institutional report, so it is pregnant in details. Conspicuous in its absence is any human element to the narrative. There is a little bit more than a biographical sketch of the first Kim -- Kim il-sung, the founder of this bizarre nation -- but beyond that it is difficult to get a feel for the North Korean people, the elite or the peasantry. It is an isolated society, to be sure, but there have been refugees and defectors, so it should have been possible to add real people to the plot. What is not lacking throughout the book are acronyms -- hundreds of acronyms -- of agencies, organizations, and the like, which underscores that sense of reading a report. Perhaps these acronyms are essential to this type of study, but I found at least some of these superfluous and could not help feeling that French delighted a bit too much in their use. Fortunately, a convenient alphabetical index of translated acronyms is included at the front of the book, but there are after all far too many to memorize and even a handy key such as this cannot help but disrupt the narrative flow.
Certain shortcomings aside, French is to be credited as a fine writer whose narrative is never permitted to turn dull even though it contains all of the ingredients of the potentially ponderous. As I turned the final pages, I was pleased that I had read it and would definitely recommend it. I owe a debt to French: because of his reasoned analysis I now feel capable to form opinions and hold an intelligent conversation about North Korea with some sense of confidence.
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