Thursday, December 17, 2009

Book Review: The Korean Presidents: Leadership for Nationbuilding

Title: The Korean Presidents: Leadership for Nationbuilding
Author: Choong Nam Kim
Paperback: 438 pages
Publisher: EastBridge (October 1, 2007)
ISBN-10: 1599880032
ISBN-13: 978-1599880037

This comprehensive study on the South Korean presidency might escape your radar easily but it should be given more attention. What this is is a wonderfully detailed and easy to follow timeline of each President, to include their biographical background, political career, and post-office activities. Dr. Kim has done the Korean academic community a favor by employing a skilled editor to elegantly translate this work into fluidly understandable English - a task likely not usually taken for such specified pieces of political history. In this case, the narrative is so moving that one almost forgets that it's nonfiction.

The author writes from a well-educated and truly insider Korean perspective. Dr. Kim served three South Korean presidents, and as such, graciously points out common comparisons held by various generations of Koreans. Each protagonist's interweaving story is truly appreciated for its complexity and depth. The sheer amount of Korea's political and social history revolving around the presidency is astounding. The reader gains an invaluable appreciation for the roles that each president played in their country's development.

The only perceivable faults are the curious omissions of second and fourth presidents Yun Bo-seon (윤보선) and Choi Kyu-hah (최규하), respectively. The author rationalizes that those two presidents, due to their painfully short terms and/or ineffectiveness, did not leave behind appreciatable legacies and thus, not generally regarded as having contributed to nation building. Also, the cover isn't much to look at but do not allow that to that fool you into thinking that the book isn't a verifiable gem in its own right. Lastly, the book is in need of an recent update. As it is a 2007 publication, controversial current president Lee Myung-bak (이명박) is not mentioned as is also the unfortunate passings of former presidents Kim Dae-jung (김대중) and Roh Moo-hyun (노무현).
Overall, if you are interested in Korean democracy, its history, and its people, you've found your book. Highly recommended.

- - -
I love this book like a fat kid loves cake. It's that awesome. The timeline and picture that the author paints is detailed and thorough. I encourage you to read other comments and reviews by others who have completed this incredible book. As mentioned, the author is a native Korean who had first-hand knowledge of the Blue House and is more than qualified to comment and compile information on the office of the President.

Actually, my previous entry on the Presidents of Korea is essentially a summary of this book. I wrote that article as a sort of self-imposed homework assignment. If you're thinking of picking up the book, check out that entry first. Ultimately, this book is a must have for any native English speaker looking for definitive material on the Korean Presidents.

I'd like to get in contact with the author but I can't seem to find much about him online. The only data I can seem to find on Dr. Kim is from linear notes from a pamphlet describing a lecture he gave at the East-West Center at the University of Hawaii:

Choong Nam Kim is the POSCO fellowship coordinator at the East-West Center, which he joined in 1997. He was formerly a professor in the department of social sciences, Korea Military Academy, and then a professor in the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security. He served three Korean presidents as an assistant for political affairs. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Minnesota.


Post a Comment