Title: Korea: The Impossible Country
Author(s): Daniel Tudor
Apple Books Link
It’s harder than one might think to find an English-language history book about Korea that (a) goes into reasonable depth about the topics discussed, (b) is not an academic work, and (c) is not ideologically skewed. Many readings of modern Korean history are either very pro-U.S., bolster a right-wing nationalist interpretation of events, or, commonly, both. For those in search of a fair-minded, nuanced modern history of South Korea aimed at a general audience, I would highly suggest Korea: The Impossible Country.
Full disclosure: the author is an acquaintance of mine. But when I first picked up this book, I didn’t actually look at who wrote it until I was a third of the way through it. I was shocked to see that I actually knew the author personally! (Luckily, I had finished enough of it to have some general thoughts about it.)
My girlfriend finds the name of the book to be a bit corny. Perhaps she’s correct, but the title actually comes from a quotation of an advisor to former dictator Park Chung-Hee (박정희), who is still a controversial figure to this very day. The book handles this controversial leader in a way that neither paints over his atrocities, nor fails to mention why he is nonetheless beloved by many to this day.
Korean phrases in the book are Romanized and translated into English, but I wish that they were also listed in Korean as well, so that Korean language learners could dig a bit deeper into some of the concepts.
For people interested in a basic history of South Korea, this probably goes into a bit more depth than you want. But for people who are interested in South Korea and want to dig a bit deeper, this is an excellent starting point. I was lucky to have been able to study so much about Korea during my undergraduate years, but I will definitely recommending this book to people in the future.