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There are many excellent books that can provide readers with an overview of Korean history. If you’d like to explore these on your own, you’re welcome to do the research and provide an alternate title. Here are two that are known to be good:

  • A History of Korea by Kyung Moon Hwang
    This is a short but dense history of the Korean peninsula and its people, with a scope from prehistoric times to the mid 2010s. It attempts to be as objective and balanced as possible in presenting controversial interpretations throughout—being diligent, for instance, in noting where the official DPRK (North Korea) government’s version differs from that of the ROK (South Korea)—explaining what’s at stake and why each interpretation matters to each. Some may find the text too academic/dry, as it seems to try to present the facts in a text that’s as clear and compact as possible. ORDER THIS BOOK
  • Korea’s Place in the Sun by Bruce Cumings
    This book is longer and more detailed than the other, and its goal is less to be an objective account (an inherently problematic project to begin with) and more to be a way for Americans to understand Korean history. Non historians may find the tone more readable, as it uses a more colloquial and emotive voice. The period from industrialization to the present (including but also preceding the Japanese occupation) is particularly strong, but it’s an older volume and only covers up to the late 1990s. Because true South Korean democracy is such a recent development, and because there has been a succession in leadership in North Korea since then, there are important and well-known events that aren’t included.

Goals

To understand the broad flow of 3000+ years of Korean history: the geography and people who have lived there, the political and philosophical systems that have shaped their lives, and the economic and cultural trends that have influenced Koreans—both internally and in regards to the wider world.

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