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Isolated, Complex, and Volatile

map of North Korea from Central Intelligence Agency World Factbook
map of North Korea from Central Intelligence Agency World Factbook

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Most of us know very little about North Korea. Now under the control of a new young leader, the threat of nuclear capability makes it necessary for us to learn as much as we can about this troubled nation. Included in this list are works of culture, history and memoir which shed light on the inner workings of North Korea, its leadership and its citizens.

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The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See themselves and Why it Matters

cover photo: The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See themselves and Why it Matters by B. R. Myers

An American-born South Korea-based instructor of North Korean literature, Myers combines his cultural and linguistic fluency with sharp analysis to throw light on one the world's most closed-off cultures.

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Escape from Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West

cover photo: Escape from Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West by Blaine Harden

With a protagonist born into a life of backbreaking labor, cutthroat rivalries, and a nearly complete absence of human affection, Harden's book reads like a dystopian thriller. But this isn't fiction - it's the biography of Shin Dong-hyuk, the only known person born into one of North Korea's secretive prison labor camps who has managed to escape and now lives in the U.S.

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Escape from North Korea: The Untold Story of Asia's Underground Railroad

cover photo: Escape from North Korea: The Untold Story of Asia's Underground Railroad by Melanie Kirkpatrick

Tales of escape from the brutal Kim dynasty moved former Wall Street Journal staffer Kirkpatrick to create this vivid account of North Koreans who dared to make the leap for liberty.

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The Hidden People of North Korea: Everyday Life in the Hermit Kingdom

cover photo: The Hidden People of North Korea: Everyday Life in the Hermit Kingdom by Ralph C. Hassig

This unique book provides a comprehensive overview of all aspects of life in North Korea today. Drawing on decades of insider knowledge and experience, noted experts Ralph Hassig and Kongdan Oh explore a world few outsiders can imagine.

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The Impossible State: North Korea, Past and Future

cover photo: The Impossible State: North Korea, Past and Future by Victor D. Cha

The definitive account of North Korea, its veiled past and uncertain future, from the former Director for Asian Affairs at the National Security Council.

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Meltdown: The Inside Story of the North Korean Nuclear Crisis

cover photo: Meltdown: The Inside Story of the North Korean Nuclear Crisis by Mike Chinoy

Mike Chinoy provides a blow-by-blow account that takes readers behind the scenes of secret diplomatic meetings, disputed intelligence reports, and Washington turf battles as well as inside the mysterious world of North Korea.

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Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea

cover photo: Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick

For most Americans, North Korea, one of the last Communist dictatorships, is a totalitarian menace but socially a great blank space. Demick, a Los Angeles Times reporter based first in Seoul and now in Beijing, fills this void with well-rounded life stories based on seven years of interviews with individuals who escaped to South Korea or China.

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The Orphan Master's Son: A Novel

cover photo: The Orphan Master's Son: A Novel by Adam Johnson

Winner of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize and numerous other awards.

In this epic, critically acclaimed tour de force, Adam Johnson provides a riveting portrait of a world rife with hunger, corruption, and casual cruelty but also camaraderie, stolen moments of beauty, and love.

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Somewhere Inside: One Sister's Captivity in North Korea and the Other's Fight to Bring Her Home

cover photo: Somewhere Inside: One Sister's Captivity in North Korea and the Other's Fight to Bring Her Home by Laura Ling

This memoir alternates between the sisters, with Laura recalling the escalating peril of her capture and imprisonment and Lisa recalling heightened worries as weeks dragged into months. A riveting story of captivity and the enduring faith, determination, and love of two sisters.

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Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader: North Korea and the Kim Dynasty

cover photo: Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader: North Korea and the Kim Dynasty by Bradley K. Martin

Lifting North Korea's curtain of self-imposed isolation, this book will take readers inside a society, that to a Westerner, will appear to be from another planet.

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The World is Bigger Now: An American Journalist's Release from Captivity in North Korea

catalog link: The World is Bigger Now: An American Journalist's Release from Captivity in North Korea by Euna Lee

In this stunning first book, film editor Lee recounts the months she spent in a North Korean prison during the spring and summer of 2009.

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