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Kim Jong Il’s North Korea by Alison Behnke

June 22, 2008

cover of Alison Behnke\'s Kim Jong Il\'s North KoreaAlison Behnke’s Kim Jong Il’s North Korea is a fine, evenhanded introduction to both the country and its dictators. The title of the book may give the impression that it is only about Kim Jong Il and modern-day North Korea, but Behnke covers a lot more than this. Acknowledging the difficulties of gathering accurate information about the country and the Kims, Behnke begins with a brief overview of the history of the Korean Peninsula, including its subjugation by Japan and the circumstances that led to the partitioning of Korea. She then moves on to Kim Il Sung—his origins, how he gained leadership, the Korean War, and life in North Korea under his dictatorship—before covering what is known about his son, Kim Jong Il, and the younger Kim’s dictatorship. Several first-person accounts by defectors are included in the text (they are also featured in a few sidebars), but the tone of the book is for the most part factual, describing the propaganda, purges, and other ways the Kims have maintained power without embellishment. Behnke concludes with a brief discussion of what might happen next as a result of North Korea’s nuclear capabilities and the possibilities of reunification.

Many full-color pictures and graphics enhance the appeal of this book, which is a good choice for student research. It’s informative enough for most high schoolers, yet readable enough for middle schoolers. A timeline, bibliography, further reading section, source notes, and an index add to its usefulness.

Also, can I just say how great I think the covers in Lerner’s Dictatorships series are? (Well, not the Mugabe one, but definitely this and Mao Zedong’s China.) Some YA non-fiction covers just flat out suck (yes, Mason Crest, I’m looking at you), but these are so stylish! and eye-catching! All in all, this is a well-written, well-designed book.

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