There is no shortage of books on the DPRK. Some are political in nature, dealing with the regime and the geopolitical situation in the Korean peninsula. Others, which I tend to be slightly more interested in, focus on the Korean people and their lives. Some authors have based their work strictly upon documentation and interviews of defectors, while others have actually traveled to the DPRK. I recommend the following books:

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North KoreaBarbara Demick’s excellent book focuses on the lives of six North Korean citizens over a period of 15 years which includes the “arduous march”, or the famine that plagued the 1990s. Demick’s book is based on interviews of defectors that she conducted herself as well as on historical research. Her balanced account provides great insights into the minds of the people, their difficulties and struggles while also acknowledging their moments of happiness in the DPRK.
The Aquariums of Pyongyang: Ten Years in the North Korean GulagPierre Rigoulot relates the life of Chol-hwan Kang, a North Korean citizen whose family of Japanese origin chose to emigrate to the DPRK in the 1930s under the influence of his grandmother. Years later, when Chol-hwan was a child, his entire family was deported to a remote concentration camp, under suspicion that his grandfather was an enemy of the state. The book depicts life in the camp, as well as Chol-hwan’s eventual escape.
Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the WestBlaine Harden describes the life of Shin Dong-hyuk, a North Korean born in a concentration camp, who eventually managed to escape. This is a completely unique story depicting the life of the only known defector who was born in a camp. The book focuses on Shin’s childhood and the twisted value system he inherited from his “education” as well as on his eventual escape and difficulties in adapting to normal life.
Escaping North Korea: Defiance and Hope in the World’s Most Repressive CountryFor years, Mike Kim helped North Korean defectors through an “underground railroad.” His book provides fascinating insights into the networks that surround the DPRK, from religious groups to sex traffickers. Mike Kim has himself visited the DPRK numerous times, which adds credibility to his work and stories.
A Capitalist in North KoreaI have just started reading this book by Felix Abt, a Swiss entrepreneur who worked in the DPRK for seven years. One of the few authors that has actually been to the DPRK (let alone lived there)Abt focuses on the people, providing portraits that are a far cry from the typical “automaton” pictures often projected by western media.
Only Beautiful, Please: A British Diplomat in North KoreaJohn Everard’s book focuses on his experience as the British ambassador to the DPRK. He is one of the few authors with extensive “hands-on” experience with the country. Despite being an ambassador, his relatively simple life style (riding his bike, etc.) allowed him to get a fascinating glimpse into the “real” DPRK and its people.

Feel free to browse this selection of books on


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