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The Koreas: A Global Studies Handbook

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ISBN: 1-57607-277-0

Reviewed by Alejandro Echevarria

“You know, Korea’s the most interesting of the Asian cultures.” The author’s preface invites the reader to explore one of the richest, and most often ignored, cultures in East Asia. Many educators have left Korea out of their curricula mainly due to the lack of available material. This ambitious book seeks to remedy this problem by providing a general introduction to Korea through history, contemporary culture, and its economic and political development since 1945. Mary Connor has succeeded in providing a succinct, well written, and surprisingly easy to use reference book. The book is mainly appropriate for secondary and post-secondary schools and would be a valuable addition to any library collection. However, The Koreas is not just for teachers and students; it’s for businesspeople, travelers, and those curious about the relationship between the United States and South Korea.

Within the postwar period, Korea has often been overshadowed by the political and economic power of both China and Japan. For most westerners, Korea has conjured up images of a far-away place besieged by Cold War politics and tensions best forgotten. Indeed, even the Korean War (1950–53) has been labeled the “Forgotten War.” It’s no wonder that when one looks through world history textbooks, Korea is often treated as nothing more than a tributary state of China or as a region where the United States sought to contain the spread of communism. The Koreas challenges this perception and pushes us to examine Korea as a distinct culture that was not absorbed by China and one that fought to maintain its identity through history. The author also challenges us to view South Korea as a nation not under the predominant influence of the United States.