In no nation on earth has history accelerated with such speed as in Korea. A medieval dynasty at the end of the 19th century, it underwent a traumatic colonization, then, in its hour of liberation was divided by the great powers at the end of World War II. Devastated by a fratricidal war, the peninsula has remained divided ever since.
South Korea is the greatest national success story of the 20th century. From the ashes of war, it transformed itself, against the odds – and against much advice – into an industrial powerhouse and thriving democracy. Now a high-tech wonderland, it is undergoing social and cultural transformations that add further layers to its dynamic DNA.
North Korea is an economic, social and political disaster, successful only at totalitarianism. Having transmogrified from a blood-and-iron communist dictatorship into a bizarre, neo-fascist monarchy, it is a black hole at the heart of Asia. Engulfed by paranoia, the regime presides over a malnourished populace, a 1.1 million man army and a nuclear arsenal. From nuclear missiles to Samsung smartphones; from assassins to salarymen; from Kim Il-sung to Psy; this is the extraordinary story of the flashpoint peninsula that dominates talk in boardrooms and newsrooms. Korea, the author argues, provides two stark benchmarks for national development: Epic success and catastrophic failure. And its final chapter has yet to be written.