• The Real North Korea

  • Life and Politics in the Failed Stalinist Utopia
  • By: Andrei Lankov
  • Narrated by: Steven Roy Grimsley
  • Length: 10 hrs and 59 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Release date: 09-05-2014
  • Language: English
  • Publisher: Audible Studios
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars 4.7 (17 ratings)

Publisher's Summary

Andrei Lankov has gone where few outsiders have ever been. A native of the former Soviet Union, he lived as an exchange student in North Korea in the 1980s. He has studied it for his entire career, using his fluency in Korean and personal contacts to build a rich, nuanced understanding. In The Real North Korea, Lankov substitutes cold, clear analysis for the overheated rhetoric surrounding this opaque police state. After providing an accessible history of the nation, he turns his focus to what North Korea is, what its leadership thinks, and how its people cope with living in such an oppressive and poor place. He argues that North Korea is not irrational, and nothing shows this better than its continuing survival against all odds. A living political fossil, it clings to existence in the face of limited resources and a zombie economy, manipulating great powers despite its weakness. Its leaders are not ideological zealots or madmen, but perhaps the best practitioners of Machiavellian politics that can be found in the modern world. Even though they preside over a failed state, they have successfully used diplomacy - including nuclear threats - to extract support from other nations. But while the people in charge have been ruthless and successful in holding on to power, Lankov goes on to argue that this cannot continue forever, since the old system is slowly falling apart. In the long run, with or without reform, the regime is unsustainable. Lankov contends that reforms, if attempted, will trigger a dramatic implosion of the regime. They will not prolong its existence.
Based on vast expertise, this book reveals how average North Koreans live, how their leaders rule, and how both survive.
©2013 Andrei Lankov (P)2014 Audible Inc.
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
4 out of 5 stars
By Neuron on 29-07-2015

Broad and nuanced account of North Korea

Of all the countries in the world, North Korea must be among the worst places to be born. In terms of GDP, North Korea is as poor as Ghana. But the worst part of being born in North Korea is without doubt the brutal leadership. Kim jong un and Kim jong il before him, are prepared to do anything to save themselves from the pressures they are facing, from within their own nation as well as from the outside. They are not, as one might think, naive. Rather they know exactly what they need to do in order to stay in power. Unfortunately for the common people in North Korea, this entails a ruthless big brother society where the smallest signs of disobedience or doubt in the North Korean leadership, are severely punished.

The author, Andrei Lankov, has the right profile to tell the story of North Korea. He is a Russian citizen who has visited North Korea many times over the past 3-4 decades. He does not seem to biased in favor of any particular view, and he demolishes a number of myths and exaggerations that are popular in the west. For example, I have always thought that there was no private market in North Korea, but this is false. While North Korea, officially do not have a private market, in practice they do have a growing private market, and the people running them tends to be rich compared to other North Korean citizens. As long as these people behave according to a set of informal rules, the government, realizing their utility, leaves them and their businesses alone.

Even though Lankov exposes western exaggerations, he also describes the atrocities of the North Korean leadership and the resulting suffering that the North Korean people must consequently endure. All in all, the book provides a nuanced and multifaceted account of North Korea, from a historical and a contemporary perspective. If you want to understand this mysterious country better, this book is for you.

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9 of 9 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars
By RP on 17-03-2015

A thorough look at the puzzle that is North Korea

What made the experience of listening to The Real North Korea the most enjoyable?

What I enjoyed most was the unique perspective of its author, Andrei Lankov, who grew up in the former Soviet Union, a sometime ally of North Korea, and lived in North Korea as an exchange student. This is a clear analysis of the politics and their consequences in North Korea, backed up by personal experience and research from numerous sources to add depth and interest to this book. There is no hype or anti-east / anti-west rhetoric, just analysis of a very puzzling country.

What was the most compelling aspect of this narrative?

The author's experience is unique in that he understands the things that puzzle outsiders who lack such experience. For example, he explains why the North Korean leaders are not irrational: they merely appear that way to outsiders as they act in order to maintain power within North Korea. Despite the general repulsiveness of the Kim regime to outsiders, and their surface irrationality, the Kims are just crazy like foxes.

What does Steven Roy Grimsley bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

His intonation helps a great deal in helping the book flow, and making it easier to follow the author's tone and thread of thought in the writing. As a Korean speaker, a few incorrect pronunciations of Korea words (due to how they are romanized in print) were harder for me to follow, but were not a problem.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

It took a number of commutes home to get through this, but it was always fascinating.

Any additional comments?

I liked that the author concluded with some suggestions of how individuals can help in moving North Korea into the modern era.

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9 of 9 people found this review helpful

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
4 out of 5 stars
By Martin S. on 26-03-2017

Really quite good

I really enjoyed this book. It was very informative, explaining the political and economic issues surrounding North Korea without ever going over my head... also gave a fair account of events without ever resorting to using weasel words or out right criticism.

My only two relatively minor gripes were:

- A few times the author practically repeated a point or sentence he had already made, almost word for word

- The narrator sometimes paused excessively.

but these are very forgivable

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4 out of 5 stars
By ShaneRooney on 24-01-2017

A good political view of past, present & future

An detailed view on how NK got to where it is and what the future may hold for NK.

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