Read Korea's Place in the Sun: A Modern History by Bruce Cumings Online


Korea has endured a "fractured, shattered twentieth century," and this updated edition brings Bruce Cumings's leading history of the modern era into the present. The small country, overshadowed in the imperial era, crammed against great powers during the Cold War, and divided and decimated by the Korean War, has recently seen the first real hints of reunification. But posiKorea has endured a "fractured, shattered twentieth century," and this updated edition brings Bruce Cumings's leading history of the modern era into the present. The small country, overshadowed in the imperial era, crammed against great powers during the Cold War, and divided and decimated by the Korean War, has recently seen the first real hints of reunification. But positive movements forward are tempered by frustrating steps backward. In the late 1990s South Korea survived its most severe economic crisis since the Korean War, forcing a successful restructuring of its political economy. Suffering through floods, droughts, and a famine that cost the lives of millions of people, North Korea has been labeled part of an "axis of evil" by the George W. Bush administration and has renewed its nuclear threats. On both sides Korea seems poised to continue its fractured existence on into the new century, with potential ramifications for the rest of the world....

Title : Korea's Place in the Sun: A Modern History
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ISBN : 9780393327021
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 544 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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Korea's Place in the Sun: A Modern History Reviews

  • Michele
    2019-05-13 14:54

    Whenever people would ask me about my grandfather I would say he was a military man who founded the Korean Air Force, who became a diplomat and a politician in the 1960s-80s. I would say this in a very definitive voice and hope that people wouldn't ask anything specific because I had absolutely no idea - not one inkling - about Korean history! A few weeks reading this book alongside my grandfather's memoirs changed that. It also raised a whole load of questions about what's true, in politics and in family histories. I now know who my Korean drum teacher is talking about when she says that the guerilla fighter Kim Gu ('Number Nine') was an absolute hero to her generation of Korean students. I now also know that my grandfather probably would have viewed him as an enemy of the state.What does it mean to me to know more about Korean history now? I have a much better sense of where I come from, but also a sharp sense of that place as not *really* being where I come from. Where I come from is somewhere between Korea and America. I have forged an identity from an abstract notion of what it means to be Korean and the very real experience of growing up as an outsider in America. There is no history of the land where I come from because there is no land. But there is literature. Learning more about Korean history has made me want to read more Korean-American authors.Last thought - I read this book while in Morocco for three weeks. It was the perfect place to learn more about my roots, Morocco being so different from both where I grew up and where I live now. It was like being a foreigner three times removed. Perfect.

  • Nek0 Neha (BiblioNyan)
    2019-05-04 23:04

    I'm one of those weirdo types that loves reading history books, especially if they're Asian history books (I'm a dedicated Asian studies major after all). With reading an array of historical textual stuff, especially for my higher education pursuits, I can generally get a good feel for the book. In my many years of passionate sponging of information in this field, I have never encountered something that had made me physically angry at the author. Let me explain the reasoning for this rage and disgust.History books come in all shapes, sizes, and flavors. You have your analytical types that delve into the nooks and crannies of a very narrow event or time. Maybe instead of an event, the analysis will be focused on strategy or economy. Whatever the foundation of study, it has room for some subjective input. When working on such an interpretive piece, it's sometimes necessary to explain your perspective on the matter as the person conducting the analysis. I completely get that and agree with it, however...This is NOT AN ANALYTICAL HISTORY BOOK. Korea's Place in the Sun is supposed to be a book that offers us a presentation of Korea's history. There are supposed to be facts and accounts of what helped to shape the nation of Korea into what it is today. I will admit that Cumings does a fairly decent job of offering his audience the facts with great detail, even if his interpretation is terribly incorrect (which only occurs a few times in the entire 500 some odd pages). But the way he talks about other nations with spiteful beguilement, makes me sick. I know that there are books out there where as an author is providing a piece of information, they like to take a moment and describe how they acquired that information, especially if it helps the reader to better understand the culture or people that is in discussion. But never have I encountered an author who describes a situation in where he openly offends the person with whom he is speaking by belittling their culture, finds their offended reaction to be humorous, and then proceeds to add more fuel to the fire. Korea's Place in the Sundiscusses the Japanese occupation of Korea and even stipulates that Koreans migrated over to Japan in the ancient era and as such the foundation of Japanese culture is inherently Korean. Cumings provides us with evidence to support this, however. While he discusses what is known as "Japanese pride," he mentions an encounter he had with a professor in Japan where this notion of a Korean groundwork was brought up. Whether he did so intentionally or not, he ended up greatly offending the professor severely. The man ended up leaving the room and refused to answer anymore of Cumings questions. Cumings refers to this incident in the pages of his book with great mirth and while continuing with his explanation, adds this: "Maybe I deserved it, maybe not; in any case, let me say something even more offensive to Japanese sensibilities..." (38). This is not okay. There were a thousand different ways he could have continued forward, and this statement was not a good way of doing it.This isn't the first time he jabs at the Japanese (specifically Japanese pride) in his book. There are many more instances like this throughout the 500+ pages. I am a strong believer in putting aside your prejudices for professionalism, especially if you are writing an objective piece of literature for educational purposes. Poking fun at another culture, for whatever reason, is extremely uncalled for. Enjoying the fact that you brazenly disrespected another person, a professional that you approached for research purposes to write this book, is outright unacceptable. It takes away credibility, illustrates immaturity, and can be construed as unethical. I had a very difficult time reading this and actually taking most of the information at face value. Once something has been tainted with a crap attitude like this, it's extremely difficult to take it seriously. At least that is the case for me.

  • J.M. Hushour
    2019-05-13 16:42

    For several years I've been working on a project to read a history of every country in the world (and then some), and it's often surprising how little of worth there seems to be on certain places. The Koreas is definitely one that had a stunning lack of lay scholarship available, considering the shrillness with which the peninsula is constantly evoked as, like transgender restroom freedoms, one of things that will destroy American life as we know it.It's sad, since it's a fascinating place. A weird, insular history of virtues and stubbornness vis a vis the rest of the world. It's refreshing to read about a place that well understood the value of other places (like China and Japan), but who only accommodated these to an extent that allowed Korea to, historically, anyway, retain its own internal vigor and trajectory.Cumings is often drily funny and knowledgeable all at once, which makes history more fun to the non-expert. He makes no bones about his views or his approach and this is one of the book's assets, especially when we get to the Korean War and beyond: the South behaves as shittily as the North. Many may be surprised, but South Korea, from the 50s on, beginning with Rhee, was ruled by assholish dictators who differed from the Kims in the north only by degrees of ostentation. Readers will also be surprised to learn how shittily the US behaved in South Korea, backing these dictators, while shrilly undermining every opportunity to bring peace to the peninsula.These are probably the best bits. The book bogs down some in the parts on the economy, but that's just me. That crap puts me to sleep. And there's not much on culture either (no Gangnam Style epigraphs??). Overall, I can recommend!

  • Travis
    2019-04-26 18:41

    Succinct summary of Korean history. Most helpful to me in gaining a better understanding of North Korea's current stand. They are not an "irrational" "Psychotic" state with "bizarre" behavior. Like any country, they are shaped by their history and geography. Korea has always been a minnow surrounded by whales: China, Japan, Russia. They have a long history of being invaded and a long mythology of fighting off the invasions from superior powers and demanding to "just be left alone". That is North Korea's heritage, and that is their current stance. I had heard of South Korea's rapid economic growth, but never understood how they did it. They are a complex country with love/hate relationships with Japan-who colonized them before WWII; with North Korea, who is their blood; and with the US, who is their patron saint though sometimes more patronizing thorn also. Overall the book did a great job of helping me understand that both Koreas--like any fascinating character--are both good and bad, beautiful and hideous, fearless and cowards. And for all the simplistic solutions offered in newspapers and magazines for the Korea Situation, the place is as complex and intelligent as a tiger, and potentially much more dangerous.

  • Earl Grey Tea
    2019-05-17 18:00

    I have extremely mixed views about this book and it took me a long time to collect my thoughts to express my feelings. There's no doubt that Bruce Cumings is a knowledgeable professor on the subject of modern Korean history and has much to share. I definitely learn some new things even though I've been in Korea for over six years and have read twenty some-odd books about Korea at the time of the posting. I could easily see why he is sometimes called a revisionist or an apologist from his writing. To me, there is nothing wrong with sharing an unpopular view that differs greatly with what is accept as the standard knowledge. The thing that really turns me off about this book is Cuming's presentation of the material.What stood out to me right away was that it seems that Cumings was trying to write a book for the average reader to better understand Korea, but ended up relying too much of his academic writing styles in the creation of this book. I was able to follow along with almost all of the information in this book due to my somewhat extensive background in Korean history and Korea itself. It appears that most of the information in this book was written with the assumption that the reader already has a decent amount of knowledge of Korea. One thing that irked me was the way he offhandedly mentioned the "Chollas" in the book. For anybody not greatly familiar with Korean geography, I would suspect that they would not grasp that it is a reference to theNorthern Jeolla and Southern Jeolla provinces.In addition to this, Cumings also seems to drop the ball when using his personal experience in the book. With his years of experience living in Korea, it could have supplemented the book extremely well and had a nice personal touch. Instead, he seems to use this information as anecdotal proof at times. The most shocking part was when he was talking about the less and honorable lifestyles of Korean politicians many years ago. He listed off a long list of inappropriate actions that he saw politicians do and then made the argument that if he had seen this, then Koreans must have seen it a lot. I feel that it would've been much more appropriate to list documented examples or statistics about the short-comings of the politicians and then add his own experiences to reinforce the point. The same problem arose when he was comparing the tear gas used by American and Korean police officers. Sure, he had experienced both of them when in or around protests, but this isn't the "proof" that Koreans used stronger tear gas. What I believe would've been better was to document the chemical make up of both tear gases, showing that more of the harsher chemicals are used by Korean police, and then add his personal experience to attest to this fact.Last of all, I felt that a better title of this book could have been, "My Personal Axe to Grind with Korea's Current Place in the Sun." As I stated earlier, I think that presenting an unpopular or commonly overlooked side of a story. However, in this book, Cumings presents an extremely biased opinion when it comes to Park Chung-hee and North Korea. Park Chung-hee is an extremely controversial in modern Korean history and I was able to learn a lot about his government in this book. However, virtually all of the information that was presented in this book about him pretty much demonized him as a leader who abused the entire labor force in Korea. Even though this book was published well before the 2012 presidential elections, a balanced view point would've been much more appropriate to help understand while some people remember this leader fondly. The elderly population in 2012 played a big part in getting his daughter elected as the 11th President of South Korea. Many of these voters who lived under Park Chung-hee felt that they standard of living improved under his rule. On the opposite side of the spectrum, Cumings had almost nothing negative to say about North Korea. With no other previous knowledge of North Korea, someone might develop impression that North Korea is actually a lovely place that is just greatly misunderstood. There was quite a few pages that consisted of a philosophical thought experiment and excerpts from esoteric neo-Confucian writings in order show the reader the true nature of Kim Il-sung and his ruling styles. In addition to this, Cumings puts a lot of effort into pointing out all the faults in the West's and South Korea's diplomatic dealings with North Korea, and all the things that North has done in order to develop a peaceful relationship with the rest of the world. It's great that he is presented a side of the story that is often overlooked or ignored, but balance is needed.Despite all of this negativity that I have wrote, there was quite a bit of information that I learned. I think the biggest thing that I learned (other than negative aspects of Park Chung-hee's rule - which did a nice job of balancing the positive things I had already learned about him), was the belligerent nature of the two armies parked along the 38th Parallel in the months proceeding the outbreak of the Korean War. Cumings doesn't declare that it was the North or the South that attacked first, but he provides a lot of great information showing that this situation was a lot more complicated that what a lot of people learn about the Korean War. I feel that if Cumings would've written the rest of the book in detailed and balance manner that he showed in the discussion of the 38th Parallel before the outbreak of the war, Korea's Place in the Sun would've been a completely outstanding book.

  • Jack Haefner
    2019-04-28 21:04

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Although I haven’t read many histories of Korea, I was pleased that this book departed from many of the stereotypes. A professor of mine at the Army War College continually warned us students that it takes decades of moss to grown under our feet before we should expect to see useful historical research. I think Prof Cumings’ book benefits from this distance. The reader should not be surprised that Cumings has received considerable critique from many corners. But I would expect this. True, as a historian he does himself no favors by writing for publications such as the New Left Review. He should be more content to state the facts, not engage in ideological battles. I’d rather have less of the Republicans vs. Democrat diatribe and stick to historical facts and tensions. The way Cumings organizes this books is helpful. It is not an A to B chronology. Instead, looks through Korean history from its cultural virtues. I know, these weasel words, but Cumings organization using this moniker helps the reader grasp a conceptual framework for best understanding the larger Korea historical landscape. But Cumings has four money paragraphs in this book. While I don’t agree with everything in these quotes, they are fertile ground for thought and discussion:“The beginning of wisdom is to recognize that the United States continues to bear the greatest responsibility for peace on the Korean peninsula and, in many ways, for failing to resolve the Korean conflict fifty years [now sixty] after it began. Nowhere else in the world has the United States backed one side of a conflict so exclusively, with such minimal contact with the other side.” (p. 505)and: “The point is not that North Korea is a nice place, or that it is beyond suspicion, or that P’yongyang has a better media policy: quite to the contrary, its policy for half a century has been to pole lie upon lie, exaggeration upon exaggeration, even when it would be more convenient and helpful to its cause to tell the truth. But that is what we have learned to expect from communist regimes. What is the excuse for a lemming-like, mimetic, and ultimately ignorant media in a raucous democracy like that in the United States, in spite of its many (regrettably post facto) protests about how the Pentagon herded the media like cattle during the Persian Gulf War?” (p. 487)And about Korean Americans during the 1992 Rodney King race riots, a tension casted by the media as white vs. black, not what was largely Latino vs. Korean-American:“Rarely if ever did any media pundit point out that the Koreans had bought their stores from African-Americans, who had bought them from Jews after the Watts riots a generation earlier; or that the Korean merchants were often the poorest segment of Korean businesspeople in the United States, doing a job and providing a service that most others would reject.” (p. 464)And last, but very importantly:“Koreans look upon Americans with far more subtlety and awareness than most of us look upon them, and they found ways to bear all the indignities that flowed from American misunderstanding with varying degrees of resignation, stubbornness, self-interest, daily resilience, or grin-and-bear-it good cheer, and usually to remain grateful to the United States for sharing its wealth and shedding blood of its soldiers on Korean soil. Rarely if ever would a Korean put an American college in a position where he might be humiliated or lose face, and therefore the brashness and vigor with which young people condemned the Yankees in the 1980s was mortifying to the older generation. But it was a sign of Korea’s return to itself, to self-awareness and assertion, and ultimately to national dignity.” (p. 388) After reading this book, I find there’s so much more I need to understand. If I think I’m lacking—and I’m an Army officer posted in Korea—I find many in the security establishment or the press know even less. From a perspective of understanding the toil or war and its human dimension, studying arcane battle details of Korean War is helpful. But it seems we do so little to understand the larger issues at play here on the Peninsula.Prof Cumings could do us a great service to update this text once more. It would be interesting hear his perspective of shifting US policy towards Korea during the OIF/OEF, end of the Six Party Talks, and DPRK tests over the last handful of years.

    2019-05-17 17:41

    In Korea’s Place in the Sun, Bruce Cumings sought to explain Korean history through a revisionist’s point of view. In many ways this books elucidates some of the problems in the traditional Korean narrative, such as the often contemptuous role of Western powers (particularly the United States) in forging a modern Korea that is divorced from the country’s traditions. Cumings expertly chronicles the peninsula’s de facto, and eventually de jure, division following World War Two, paying special attention to the role of outside powers in facilitating this split that would eventually lead to the Korean War. However, his storytelling and scholarship abilities are stained by his rabid subjectivity. The United States has undoubtedly influenced the Korean peninsula (particularly South Korea after 1945), but the latter half of this book seemed to be more of an anti-American diatribe than an academic history of modern Korea. This book’s size, scope, and scholarship would normally make it a seminal work in the field of modern Asian history. However, Cumings’ blatant rejection of any shade of objectivity should make the reader skeptical of, if not completely averse to, the author’s theses. Nonetheless, the book’s section on North Korea is both fascinating and refreshing. Cumings shows a side of North Korea that those in the West never see: a previously prosperous and industrial country ravaged not by the failings of Marxism-Leninism (the author asserts that the N. Korean system is instead a near-perfect model of a Confucian state), but instead by bad luck, famines, and negative outside influences. The author asserts that once one understands North Korea’s history, tradition, and values, then the “rogue” nation’s actions will be less unpredictable. In conclusion, although this book includes some fascinating chapters, such as the ones on North Korea and the North-South split, its academic value and prospect for being a seminal work are greatly diminished by Cumings’ subjective and spiteful approach.

  • Joseph
    2019-04-21 20:37

    This is essentially a book about Korea from 1860 to 1996. It is the best interpretive history of "modern" and contemporary Korea that I have read and as such it filled a distinct gap. Despite the focus on the last two centuries, the book does address the complexity and seeming contradictions of Korean 'culture.' The author's brief discussion of the influence of Confucianism, particularly it's emphasis on the necessity of 'remonstrance' juxtaposed with the worker howling at the moon after imbibing too much makkolli (wheat/rice wine) is classic and to the point. As Cumings notes "Mind is mind-and-heart or sim, a visceral knowledge that joins thought with emotion ...." I bought it over ten years ago and I find myself going back to it as a reference. Besides being a history of Korea it addresses Korean Americans. It is especially valuable for its recounting of Korean American relations. I'm reviewing it because Evan Thomas declared that Josef Stalin was "the leader most responsible for the conflict" when referring to Eisenhower's ending the fighting in the Korean War. That unsubstantiated and invalid allegation made me return to it for a quick refresher. Too bad Evan Thomas didn't consult this book. I also like the book because Cumings writes with 'flair' and style. Nick Kristof was right when he noted that this book is "cantankerous and fascinating. Indeed it is rather like Korea itself." Having been married to a woman who was born in Korea in 1944 and was a refugee during the Korean War, I totally agree with that sentiment. This is the real Korea not the homogenized Korea of the Kimchi Chronicles.

  • Angela
    2019-05-15 19:39

    This is a frank, revealing, and easily-read book that takes on a lot of political hot potatoes. Korea's history in the Twentieth Century is absolutely shocking. It's also the subject of a ton of misconceptions. This book is important.

  • Greg Northrup
    2019-05-18 15:02

    I thought this was a great book and an excellent introduction to Korea history, albeit with a few problems. The first is that Mr. Cumings' real interest appears to be the 19th and 20th centuries, not ancient history. As a general rundown of Korean history, it serves its purpose, but the coverage of the Three Kingdoms, Silla and Koryo periods feels dispassionate and obligatory - and generally boring. Those with a particular interest in these periods (like myself) will probably find themselves searching for further reading. In contrast, the writing ramps up with the decline and fall of the Choson dynasty in the late 19th century, the Japanese occupation and forward. The second "problem" I had - and it certainly didn't affect the readability of the book - is Mr. Cumings' constant delight in playing the devil's advocate to typical Western conceptions of recent Korean history. In short, this amounts to meticulously accounting for the atrocities of the South Korea's military dictators (fair enough), and generally playing down or giving cursory mention to those of the North. I'm sure Mr. Cumings would counter by stating that his goal was not to add to the already voluminous extant literature on North Korea's status as perhaps the worst place on planet Earth, but merely to explain the context and circumstances surrounding its existence. If that's the case, fine, but the reader may find some portions frustrating going, to say the least. There is no general overview or analysis of North Korea's vast prison system, merely begrudging asides (as if to pull his readers back from the precipice of incredulity) such in discussing the numbers of political prisoners: "if and when the regime falls, we will probably learn of larger numbers and various unimaginable atrocities, as with the other communist states." Cumings generally treats international outrage as old hat and so much misinformed hysteria. He spends a entire chapter on the nuclear dilemma (castigating the Bush administration at length) without giving any mention humanitarian nightmare which has always been inextricable from the American position on the nuclear issue (at least this has always been my impression). In the end, however, one comes away with an understanding why the North does what it does, as well as a multifaceted understanding of the forces at play. For that, it is recommended. But, as always, read critically.

  • Brendan
    2019-05-09 16:59

    This is, arguably, the best history of Korea currently in print. It's thorough, it's smart, it's readable, and it's provocative. Cumings is controversial for his way left of center perspective; he is often far more sympathetic to North Korea than seems warranted. But Cumings, unlike Michael Breen, for instance, really knows what he's talking about. Even when his views seem wrong, one is better off for having negotiated with them.Keep in mind, though, that there's more to the Korean peninsula than Kim Jong Il. The South is worth studying, too -- its people, its history. These are the people who really have something to lose if there is confrontation with the North. It behooves us to treat them as if they are more than bit actors on the stage.

  • Jay Koester
    2019-05-19 18:59

    I haven't read a history book since I was last required to 20 years ago in college. But a recent visit to South Korea had me interested in learning more about the country. This was a fascinating book that was way more than a recitation of historical facts. I learned many things that changed the way I look at politics, culture, religion, as well as America's place in Korea. Highly recommended.

  • Mr.david
    2019-05-09 16:35

    A straight-forward history of Korea for non-academics. Not sure I buy Cumings's revisionist take on who caused the outbreak of the Korean War--especially considering the revelations about the start of that conflict that emerged when Soviet archives were opened in the 1990s.

  • Teresa Thompson Arcangel
    2019-05-03 17:45

    I had to read this book for a college course, but I am so grateful that I was introduced to it. It is very readable - not dry at all, in my view. I regret that I loaned it to someone and never saw it again. I guess he liked it too.

  • Philip
    2019-04-24 15:59

    Very good read for those want an in depth cause/effect of the current state of the politics on the Korean peninsula. It shows the cultural, philosophical and political history of Korea over the last 150 years.

  • Jacob van Berkel
    2019-05-07 15:02

    A modern history indeed, perhaps too much so. The focus of this book is on the years 1945-98, anything before (and, in the 2005 updated edition, after) is glossed over. For instance. Among the things I was hoping to clarify for myself by reading this book was the 1895 murder of Queen Min by Japanese troops. The book disappointed me in this regard. It basically merely mentioned it. It provided some hows, although it didn't mention (say) the Black Ocean Society, but almost no whys and thenwhats. At best it provided me with enough background knowledge for me to go and research it further.So, read it for the period 1945-98 is what I'm saying. Especially the years 1945-53 are told at length. For everything before or after, maybe read something else.

  • TS Allen
    2019-05-17 19:59

    Sweeping and provocative. An essential starting point.

  • Eric Tsui
    2019-04-23 16:39

    The author is a bit harsh against ROK and United States, while tend to be sympathetic toward DPRK. Probably it is caused by his past experiences under Park Chung-hee's dictatorship.

  • Hunter Marston
    2019-05-16 17:34

    This book was a bit of a dense tome, but a very valuable read for better understanding modern Korea and its history.

  • Christopher
    2019-05-04 22:43

    Despite the relative ignorance of Korea’s history and the widespread issues of a divided Korean peninsula, there are actually quite a lot of books written on the subject. Often, these books are either remarkably narrow in scope and/or rely on only one side of the story. Bruce Cumings takes on the daunting task of a readable, comprehensive history of Korea in Korea’s Place in the Sun.Korea’s Place in the Sun begins its study of Korean history with the near mythological stories of its settlement thousands of years ago and ends with an update on the status of inter-Korean relations up to 2005, including the North Korean nuclear crisis. Cumings succeeds in writing a comfortable amount on most of the pertinent topics in Korean history. Of course, most of these topics (South Korean economic development, North Korean nuclearization, the Korean War-to name a few) are better served by a more thorough treatment, but Cumings’ comprehensive account is altogether satisfying.Bruce Cumings has a reputation for being a revisionist liberal with a distinct North Korean bias. While there is no doubt that his perspective doesn’t fall in line with any standard ROK, DPRK, or US historical study, I felt that there was a great deal of balancing done in his history. Rather than rely on US media accounts of the situation in North Korea or other forms of propaganda, he cites more concrete evidence of the real situation in the North (although his data seems stronger for conditions in the North prior to Kim Il-Sung’s death in 1994). Make no mistake; Korea’s Place in the Sun is not a traditional, hard-line account. It will challenge your beliefs and perceptions, but it will also provide a variety of evidence.One thing I enjoyed about Cumings’ layout of the book is the use of footnotes rather than endnotes. It boggles my mind when historical books don’t use footnotes and force you to constantly flip to the back of the book to receive a more elaborate explanation. Often, the reader will just ignore the endnotes. In this case, Cumings provides his citations and elaborations as immediately accessible footnotes so that you know immediately where he is getting his information and what he means. This undoubtedly makes for a more thoroughly informative read.Korea’s Place in the Sun is not a wholly positive reading experience, however. The earlier sections on ancient history of course lack a good deal of evidence, as expected. But this section is also much duller to read due to Cumings’ writing style which evinces a feeling he is not wholly emotionally invested in the topic. In comparison, a more circumspect yet compelling treatment is available in Michael Breen’s The Koreans. The result of this is the first hundred to two-hundred pages are kind of a slog. On the other hand, Cumings truly shines when he tackles the subject of South Korean economic growth. His mastery of East Asian political economy is clearly evident in this section and he quite capably describes a complex economic system in fairly simple terms. If you studied principles of economics, you will find Cumings’ explanations familiar and accessible.Although Korea’s Place in the Sun was updated in 2005, I found the added information to feel ‘tacked on’ rather than carefully redefining the entire work. For example, the economic sections don’t contain much analysis after the IMF crisis in 1997. There is definitely more information on inter-Korean relations since 1997, however, which provides a cursory look at how the political climate in the region has changed. Also, despite this being an updated edition, I frequently came across typographical errors and other blemishes that indicated to me the lack of thorough editing.Overall, I found Korea’s Place in the Sun by Bruce Cumings to be an informative read. At times the writing would be dull, but this was compensated by shining moments in other parts of the book. Don’t be so quick to discredit Cumings for being liberal or revisionist: let him challenge you and make your own decisions. I would look forward to another updated edition that weighs in on how things have changed since 2005.

  • Billie Pritchett
    2019-05-05 18:58

    Bruce Cumings' Korea's Place in the Sun is a good secondary source on Korea. It's described as a modern history on its cover but the earliest chapters deal with Korea's ancient history. In the later chapter, Cumings divides chapters to talk of both modern South Korea and North Korea, as well as what life has been like for Koreans living in the United States.If you're looking for other great books on Korea, I'd also recommend A History of Korea: An Episodic Narrative, Asia's Unknown Uprisings: Volume 1, and The Two Koreas: A Contemporary History. Some good books on North Korea in particular are The Impossible State: North Korea, Past and Future, Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader, and A Kim Jong-Il Production: The Extraordinary True Story of a Kidnapped Filmmaker, His Star Actress, and a Young Dictator's Rise to Power. As for books on Korean life, economics, and culture, some other good titles include Ethnic Nationalism in Korea, The Birth of Korean Cool: How One Nation Is Conquering the World Through Pop Culture, The Korean State and Social Policy: How South Korea Lifted Itself from Poverty and Dictatorship to Affluence and Democracy, and Asia's Next Giant: Korea and Late Industrialisation.

  • Marcel Patulacci
    2019-04-27 20:54

    Except of a book written by a former french diplomat in Seoul, there is hardly any work about Korea available in french language, furthermone none coming from the academical sector. No need to say that Bruce Cumings work was very informative to me. The first chapters are a brief summary of pre-colonization Korea, the core of the book being mostly modern Korea, from the awakening of a Korean Nationalism in the late Choseon-era until the 2000's. It retraces the japanese colonization and the changes they enforced on Korea, the chaotic times between the independence and the korean civil war with the formation of two antagonistic regimes at both sides of the 38th parallel. The Korean conflict is not so much explained in details. In other words, you won't get a military history with precise accounts of the battles, it rather remains in the political sphere. The rest of the book focused in the one hand on the long and troublesome south korean journey to democracy and development, in the other hand on the logic and the structure of the North Korean regime. Kudo to the author for his impartiality, instead of demonizing Pyongyang's regime, Cumings fairly explains North Korea's behavior, among other things the often omitted pressure and challenges emanating sometimes from Seoul, more often from Washington (Cumings is also very critical towards his own country in the korean situation). A part is also dedicated to the korean immigration in the USA and its history. I don't know if this chapter is really justified into this book , but anyway it is still informative. There are certainly more detailed works about Korean history, more specifical for certain precise periods, but this one will give you a great survey, if you are totally ignorant on the topic. Moreover, though I am in no way related to Korea, I found it touching and enjoyable the affection of Cumings demonstrates in his work for korean people, while remaining, in my perspective, fair.

  • Matthew
    2019-05-02 18:42

    Selectively detailed almost to a fault. Korea's Place in the Sun is an incredibly long read that I was hungry for but unfortunately, it's also overwhelmingly subjective at times. I strongly recommend familiarizing yourself with ancient and modern Korean history prior to reading this book because Cumings doesn't slow down for the casual reader. Recommended for anyone interested in more than a intro course on Korean history. However, be forewarned that this particular author is controversially subjective in his selective (mis)interpretations of Korean history. His obvious North Korean apologetic stance aside, Cumings makes especially moving descriptions of the Korean war and demystifies the so-called Miracle on the Han economic movement into practical terms. His coverage of the Korean War is eye-opening and certainly the highlight of the book as it is one of his strengths. Ironically, though, I prefer his coverage of the Korean War in this book rather than his most recent title.However biased it may be, this book is exactly what it claims to be: a one volume course on Korean history. it just may not be the most well-agreed upon history out there. Get ready for a level of detail that borders so much on muck-racking that might scare you. Take notes because Mr. Cumings is not afraid to cite his sources, although you might be wondering where the balance is in his arguments.

  • Choonghwan
    2019-05-12 22:52

    I am a Korean born to a south-eastern province of South Korea, raised, educated, influenced under much biases. When I was young under anti-communist and anti-North propaganda, when I was a university student under pro-North ones. Later on, confused and impenetrable I didn't care much about it. One day, I picked up this book to revisit long-forgotten history of my own country. Due to incessant geopolitical upheavals across and nearby Korean peninsula in the 19th and 20th century – forced opening up of countries, clashes big powers, colonization and independence, civil wars, division of countries, cold wars, there are still too much raw enmities, disbelief, denials of modern history of Korea as it is. It is virtually impossible to fully detach your political and ideological standing from current affairs to judge objectively and, therefore, reconcile and move forward. I am confident that this book serves the purpose of mutual understanding greatly with ample evidences and down-to-earth common sense – when things are as murky as North and South Korea, common sense matters as much. I hope Korea does not remain the last bastion of 20th century follies and ignorance.

  • Don
    2019-04-29 15:54

    As a one-volume history of Korea, this should be treated as the introduction it is. Cumings clearly intended the book to be read by the "Average American Joe" on the street; if you are not that, you might find yourself disengaging with his narrative a few times in the course of your reading.Cumings is evidently stronger on the topics of the Korean War and the things that happened after it. Considering how much time everything before the Korean War took up and how much that shaped Korea, it deserved more space than it did in this book, and certainly more space than the Korean War on.Cumings also cited more foreign sources than Korean primary ones which was somewhat worrisome.But where Cumings is strong, he really is strong. While he might have presented some of North Korea's statistics without question it enough, he was thoughtful and his point came across: that North Korea is not what the "Average American Joe" thinks at all. Neither is South Korea. And for starting an "Average American Joe" by questioning his assumptions, this book is gold.

  • shay
    2019-04-28 18:50

    Excellent information presenting a multifaceted historical narrative. While the writing is generally good, it's not exactly top-notch and more importantly, it can be rather poorly organized and unclear in its structure when it got down to the facts in the uniquely-titled chapters, which was confusing. All of a sudden, he'd be dropping these terms and names like he'd introduced them before, so much wikipedia-ing was necessary for me as a novice to Korean history. This author assumes the reader has some sort of previous knowledge/experience with the major characters and players in the history of Korea and Asia, but I frankly admit that this was not the case with me. It was a little irritating - this is supposed to be my resource to learn about Korea, not a puzzle book. But still, the information it provides is quite excellent and even though the author assumes (perhaps inaccurately) knowledge of world affairs, it is fairly simple and well-put.

  • Suzanne
    2019-05-01 18:36

    I read this book as a supplement to a class I audited this spring on Korean History and Culture. While I agree with the previous reviewers that the book glanced over the early Chosun Dynasty and pre-1905 eras, it did provide a lot of details regarding the Japanese Occupation, Korean War, and post-Korea War eras. Sometimes I felt that the author was too biased in his reporting of facts and history, so I would be a bit critical while reading this book. However, I do feel that it is a worthwhile book to read if you are interested in learning more about modern Korean history and culture. (Warning: This book is at least 15 years old, though.)

  • Andres Eguiguren
    2019-05-04 14:57

    I found this a little dry, though I must admit that I only read the first 85 pages (up to 1860) and I suspect Cumings is more interesting in the 20th Century chapters, which make up the bulk of the book. Although this seems to be one of the best histories available for modern Korea, I was somewhat flabbergasted that he attributes a comment about it being too early to tell about the effects of the French Revolution to Chairman Mao, when it was reportedly Zhou Enlai who made that comment. I should give the rest of the book a chance at some point, but now that my trip to South Korea is over I find myself pulled in other directions in terms of my reading!

  • Ariadne
    2019-05-02 14:55

    Disclaimer: Haven't yet finished, but have read many parts out of sequence. Generally agree with other reviewers that it's:A) one of the better books on Korean historyB) somewhat dry and long-winded, and particularly focused on author's pet topics (politicians of modern South Korea, details of Korean War, etc.)C) perhaps not the best source for information on the early history of the peninsula (still haven't found a really good book for that, unfortunately, but I'm looking)Bottom line: if you can make it through, there is a great deal of worthy material here. It's also generally accessible and seems reasonably authoritative, at least to the inexpert eye.

  • Tobias
    2019-04-21 19:48

    Provocative, comprehensive history of the Koreas. Cumings obviously delights in being an iconoclast, which I think can be a useful corrective, though I think at times he goes a bit too far. I do think it's unfair for people to describe him as an apologist for the DPRK - he does try to understand how Pyongyang sees the world, but he doesn't deny the terrible abuses inflicted on the North Korean people (probably best to say that he doesn't see those abuses as the only things worth knowing about North Korea). Meanwhile, while the anecdotes about his personal experiences in Korea offer something a bit different, they don't always serve the narrative terribly well.