Monday 14 August 2023

Book Review: Korea: A History by Eugene Y. Park (Non-Fiction/History)

Title: Korea: A History
Author: Eugene Y. Park
Publisher: Stanford University Press
Publication Date: 2022
Pages: 600
Format: eBook
Genre: Non-Fiction/History
Source: Scribd

While popular trends, cuisine, and long-standing political tension have made Korea familiar in some ways to a vast English-speaking world, its recorded history of some two millennia remains unfamiliar to most. A History addresses general readers, providing an up-to-date, accessible overview of Korean history from antiquity to the present. Eugene Y. Park draws on original-language sources and the up-to-date synthesis of East Asian and Western-language scholarship to provide an insightful account. This book expands still-limited English-language discussions on pre-modern Korea, offering rigorous and compelling analyses of Korea's modernization while discussing daily life, ethnic minorities, LGBTQ history, and North Korean history not always included in Korea surveys. Overall, Park is able to break new ground on questions and debates that have been central to the field of Korean studies since its inception.


Korea: A History was the most comprehensive overview of Korean history I have come across so far, covering antiquity right up to the 21st century. The prose was generally interesting and there was a good smattering of illustrations throughout. The book also covered both North and South Korea as much as possible once that split occurred in the mid-20th century, so you can see in parallel the development of the two countries over the last 70 years. I read this on Scribd, but I have added it to my wishlist to buy, as I'd like to have a copy for myself. Am I rating it 5 stars then? No. It would have been a five-star read except for one thing: the romanisation. Why, oh why, did an author writing in the 2020s decide to go back to the old McCune–Reischauer romanisation system? It has so many problems. I am learning Korean, but sometimes I would see a word and wonder what it was, only to realise I did know it, I just couldn't recognise it with that awful romanisation. The revised romanisation adopted in 2000 isn't perfect either, but it is much much better and easier to read than the old system. So, I think the author's decision to adopt McCune–Reischauer for this book was misguided, and it spoilt a little what was otherwise an excellent text. Therefore, I am giving this book 4.5 stars.

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