The Best Korean History Books of 2021

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Are you struggling to find information on Korea? Are you curious to understand why the peninsula was divided or just how much involvement America has had in its history? If you answered yes to either of these questions or you simply need to find the best Korean history books, you have come to the right place.

Korea has had an exciting past, and understanding it’s past is pertinent to understanding its present and its future. If you are a history student, you will be overjoyed by the texts on this list. They not only provide insight into significant events in Korean history; they are analytical and insightful, making them great reference texts or general reads.

We will not only provide you with the best Korean History books but provide you with tips for choosing texts that fit your own needs as well. All you must do is keep reading to find helpful books and information on Koreas rich and tumultuous history.

If you want to just get back to studying, get our top pick for korean history books here.
Our Top Favorite
Korea: The Impossible Country: South Korea's Amazing Rise from the Ashes: The Inside Story of an Economic, Political and Cultural Phenomenon
Our Top Runner Up
Korea's Place in the Sun: A Modern History (Updated Edition)
Our Top Value Pick
In Mortal Combat: Korea, 1950-1953
Book Title
Korea: The Impossible Country
Korea's Place in the Sun: A Modern History
In Mortal Combat: Korea, 1950–1953
Prime Eligible?
-
-
Our Top Favorite
Korea: The Impossible Country: South Korea's Amazing Rise from the Ashes: The Inside Story of an Economic, Political and Cultural Phenomenon
Book Title
Korea: The Impossible Country
Prime Eligible?
-
Our Top Runner Up
Korea's Place in the Sun: A Modern History (Updated Edition)
Book Title
Korea's Place in the Sun: A Modern History
Prime Eligible?
Our Top Value Pick
In Mortal Combat: Korea, 1950-1953
Book Title
In Mortal Combat: Korea, 1950–1953
Prime Eligible?
-

Last update: 2021-04-17

Our Favorites for Best Korean History Books

Korea: The Impossible Country: South Korea's Amazing Rise from the Ashes: The Inside Story of an Economic, Political and Cultural Phenomenon by Daniel Tudor

Korea: The Impossible Country aims to provide readers with a comprehensive account of South Korea’s transformation from its failed state. Tudor touches on a variety of topics like clan-ism and shamanism. With the latest edition, readers gain information about the Sewol Ferry’s sinking and on the impeachment of Park Geun-Hye.

What Makes It Unique:

  • The text goes into the strained relations between North and South Korea as well as North Korea’s attention-demanding nuclear weapon programs.
  • The book tackles many misconceptions as if Koreans do or do not eat dogs.
  • Korea: The Impossible Countrycovers Korean culture and is excellent for people who have little to no knowledge of Korea. It is a comprehensive look at Korea’s history.
  • The foundations section provides an analysis of several of the most influential religions. These include Christianity, Buddhism, and even Confucianism.
  • Daniel Tudor provides a beginning section which provides historical context into Korea. Though history is included with each chapter, this section serves as a general overview.

Why Choose This Korean History Book:

  • Many have considered this to be a quick and overall fun read.
  • If you are looking for a comprehensive text on Korea with insight into political and everyday life, this is the text you need.
  • Tudor provides strong evidence for why and how Korea operates currently. This is an excellent text if you are looking for a general understanding of Korea.

Last update: 2021-04-17


A History of Korea by Kyung Moon Hwang

A History of Korea is a text which looks to showcase Korea’s early beginnings and how it came to be two separate entities. The text includes a variety of historical events and themes. You do not need to have prior knowledge of Korea’s history to understand and appreciate this book. The latest version of this text includes significant historiography. Each chapter provides information on how the events have been perceived throughout time.

What Makes It Unique:

  • A History of Korea is organized by time and theme. Several themes make multiple appearances in this book. These themes include identity, influence, gender, and even family.
  • The text offers insight into Korea’s strained relationship with China and Japan. It also attempts to illustrate how much Koreans are products of their pasts and how it continues to shape them in the present day.
  • If you are looking for something with substantial details on the ancient and medieval era, this may not be the text for you. For these areas, it provides a broad view of Korean history but does not dabble in the details as it does for more recent happenings.
  • The first half of the text is geared towards the pre-20th century era, whereas the second half reflects the modern era.

Why Choose This Korean History Book:

  • If you are looking for the best Korean history books, this text should be high on your list. Not only is it an excellent introduction to Korean history, but it is also a great read. It is clear, concise, and puts the Korean perspective at the forefront.
  • The text provides just enough information to keep you interested and spark your interest for more.
  • A History of Korea is aimed at undergraduate and graduate students studying Korean or Asian history. The text includes a multitude of illustrations, timelines, and maps.

On Sale
A History of Korea (Macmillan Essential Histories)
A History of Korea (Macmillan Essential Histories)
  • Palgrave MacMillan
  • Hwang, Kyung Moon (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

Last update: 2021-04-17


The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War by David Halberstam

The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War is a phenomenal text written by David Halberstam. Halberstam provides insight into both sides of the Korean War and provides a compelling narrative of the events. He paints vivid imagery of its historical events and figures. Prominent figures mentioned include General MacArthur and General Almond. The text took nearly ten years to complete and is overall an astonishing work. The Coldest Winter was completed just five days before David Halberstam’s untimely death and is a work he will be remembered for.

What Makes It Unique:

  • The bulk of the text is focused on the wars beginning on June 25, 1950, through to the Chipyongni battle in February of 1951. The book goes on to explain the motives behind the actions of several prominent leaders. These leaders include the Truman Administration, General Douglas MacArthur, and so many others.
  • The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War goes onto provide a full assessment of the Korea War as well as how its outcome is still effecting Korea today.
  • Within the text, Halberstam also included several stories of heroism, bravery, and courage. This gives readers a more human side of the war.
  • The author can provide a very revealing and detailed account of the Korean war. He also recounts the events and decisions that leaders made to ultimately result in the ending of McArthur’s career and even president Truman’s presidential hopes.
  • The text covers not just one side of the war but a variety of them. The book gives readers a look at the dynamics, the personalities, and, ultimately, the egos that played a part in this grim war.

Why Choose This Korean History Book:

  • If you are curious about what happened in Korea that made them split and finally get the full story of the war, this is the text for you.
  • If you are someone who enjoys reading about forgotten conflicts, this is the perfect text as well.
  • If you are working on an essay or project concerning the Korean War or need a reference text, this a very detailed account of the Korean War.

On Sale
The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War
The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War
  • The Coldest Winter America and the Korean War
  • Halberstam, David (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

Last update: 2021-04-17


Runner Ups for Best Korean History Books

Korea's Place in the Sun: A Modern History by Bruce Cumings

Korea’s Place in the Sun is the history of a country divided by the Korean war and unable to find its footing. This text serves as a history of Korea, including events like the North Korean famine, its continually changing political economy, and even its significant and continuous relationship with the United States. Bruce Cumings, a leader within the field of Korean history, brings readers an insightful and comprehensive text.

What Makes It Unique:

  • The book begins with a background of Korea and its geographic features. Cumings identifies Korea’s history as fractured, shattered, and left in poverty after the war. The first chapter covers its beginnings to 1860. It examines how Korea came to be and provides a brief insight into its ancient kingdoms.
  • Korea's Place in the Sun aims to provide information on the marginal beginnings of Korea, as well as touch on other themes like race, family structure, and individualism.
  • Unlike many history books, this text is not entirely chronological. The modern history of Korea begins with the second chapter and with its relationship with Japan. Each chapter examines a different area of Korea’s history, including South Korea’s industrial rise and North Korea’s nuclear weaponry.
  • Cumings, at times, uses his personal history with Korea as a reference point. This is something that some readers hate while others love.

Why Choose This Korean History Book:

  • Though it is evident that the author has a relationship with Korea and its history, he tries to remain subjective while presenting the facts. He provides readers with stories of heroism and bravery as South Korea struggled to industrialize while still working on getting readers to understand why North Korea acts as it does.
  • This is an excellent introductory text for individuals interested in studying Korean history in school or for leisure. Some readers feel that the portions of the book leading up to the Korean war are well thought out and some of the most interesting in print.
  • The historical portions of this text seem to be unmatched by its readers. However, with the recent changes in North Korea and their relationship with the Trump Administration, the modern era information may be slightly outdated.

On Sale
Korea's Place in the Sun: A Modern History (Updated Edition)
Korea's Place in the Sun: A Modern History (Updated Edition)
  • Cumings Ph.D., Bruce (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 544 Pages - 09/17/2005 (Publication Date) - W. W. Norton (Publisher)

Last update: 2021-04-17


The Two Koreas: A Contemporary History by Don Oberdorfer & Robert Carlin

The Two Koreas: A Contemporary History covers Korea from the period of World War II to the present day. It brings the story of the two Koreas to life. The author traces Korea’s history back fifty years and, through experience and knowledge, is even able to connect current events to moments in history. The text has been tirelessly researched and is shown throughout its pages.

What Makes It Unique:

  • The Two Koreas bring North and South Korea’s strained relationship to the forefront. It provides details on how each country has behaved after the end of the Korean war and since its founding in the 1950s.
  • If you are not familiar with any other area of North Korea, nuclear weaponry is always a characteristic that comes to mind. The Two Koreas aids readers in understanding how the idea of the atomic crisis came into flourishment.
  • Within the text, Oberdorfer and Carlin examine the successes and failures of the past and even give readers insight into the US Policy in Korea. The book is an intriguing and exciting read.
  • Unlike many history books, the text gives readers a glimpse into the underhanded events and inside accounts of events occurring between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the public of Korea. First-hand sources provide these.

Why Choose This Korean History Book:

  • This isn’t the average history book but is often a required read for graduate-level students studying security or government relations in Korea.
  • The Two Koreas: A Contemporary History is a text which finds itself on an abundance of colleges and state reading lists. This is an excellent read for American citizens who want insight into America’s relationship with Korea.
  • The authors also deliver an excellent reference text for anyone studying Korean history.

The Two Koreas: A Contemporary History
The Two Koreas: A Contemporary History
  • Oberdorfer, Don (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 560 Pages - 12/10/2013 (Publication Date) - Basic Books (Publisher)

Last update: 2021-04-17


Value Picks for Best Korean History Books

In Mortal Combat: Korea, 1950–1953 by John Toland

In Mortal Combat: Korea is a text which focuses on the Korean War from the soldier’s view. Toland did extensive research for this text using an abundance of military archives and previously undisclosed Chinese records. This new resource allowed him to include information on Chairman Mao’s involvement in the war. The book discusses controversial events and is a must-read for a history lover.

What Makes It Unique:

  • The text brings the soldiers to life through a variety of photographs and maps. This aids in keeping the war in perspective from a human level. More than 4 million humans died during the Korean War. This includes a split between civilians and soldiers.
  • In Mortal Combat contains information on controversial events like allegations of biological warfare and even the American brutality against Korean civilians. This text aims to bring to light the controversial portions of the war
  • John Toland gives readers insight into the lives of individual soldiers and marines. The information he provides is not one-sided. He includes perspectives from a multitude of sides, including that of Americans, politicians, UN soldiers, and even Chinese.

Why Choose This Korean History Book:

  • Information within the text is clear and well researched. It presents accounts of heroism and bravery a well as real accounts of soldiers on all sides.
  • This is an excellent text for individuals looking to research controversial events during wartime.

On Sale
In Mortal Combat: Korea, 1950-1953
In Mortal Combat: Korea, 1950-1953
  • Audible Audiobook
  • John Toland (Author) - Grover Gardner (Narrator)
  • English (Publication Language)

Last update: 2021-04-17


How to Choose the Best Korean History Book for You

Choosing the best text for your specific needs can be hard, but it is possible. Sifting through several books that claim to provide the same information can be a daunting task, but there are things you can do to make the process easier.

Know your aim and focus on it.

One thing that we cannot stretch enough is understanding what you are looking for BEFORE you start to look for it. If you have been assigned to write an essay or complete an assignment about dogs, you won’t waste your time reading books geared towards house cats and parrots. The same thing goes when you are looking for a Korean history book. You should also ensure that with knowing your aim, you also know the period you are researching, this will broaden or eliminate several books on your search.

What are other people saying?

One helpful thing you can do before purchasing a text is to read the reviews. Generally, history enthusiasts will provide long and through reviews of the information within the book and their overall thoughts. These people read for accuracy, mistakes, and more. Their reviews are a significant contribution and can save you from purchasing the wrong text.

Pay attention to dates, editions, and revisions.

One thing that will not change is history. No matter what we do today, it will not change what happened 50 years ago. However, I may discover something today that changes how a historical event is interpreted or perceived. This new evidence and information should be documented.

Revisions and new editions are the author’s way of updating what they said before. This gives them a chance to add more details and bring things full circle. Though it is your decision on what version you will buy, be mindful of the changes and take them into account.

Point of view.

You will often find that it is hard for some writers to remain neutral in their texts and often teeter on the side most closely aligned with their views. Pay close attention to these texts, primarily when referring to North & South Korea, as individuals generally align more strongly with one over the other. Attempt to find a book that is subjective and helpful.

Wrapping Up the Best Korean History Books

You made it to the end of this article. That wasn’t so bad. You should have found some useful texts and learned more ways to make sure you are picking the book that is perfect for you or simply perfect for your research.

Korea has a fascinating history, and it can be captured in a variety of ways, as you have seen through the texts on this list. There is no one size fits all approach to presenting history. Books like Korea: The Impossible Countryand A History of Korea aim to provide comprehensive overviews of Korean history. Yet texts like Korea’s Place in the Sun give an account of Korea while still including their personal stories and perspectives.

Several texts within this list can lend themselves to a variety of research scenarios. However, we understand that these are not the only books out there. Choose your own objective and detailed text by paying attention to the reviews of readers like you and paying attention to the various editions and revisions of books. No matter if you find your own or utilize one of the texts we have listed here, we hope you can find what you need. Happy hunting.

If you enjoyed this post, you’ll like our history book reviews here.

Here are a few other history book reviews you may find interesting:

> The Best Books about Canada

> The Best Chinese History Books

> The Best Greek History Books

> The Best Japanese History Books

> The Best Roman History Books

> The Best Russian History Books

Professor Conquer
Professor Conquer

Professor Conquer started Conquer Your Exam in 2018 to help students feel more confident and better prepared for their tough tests. Prof excelled in high school, graduating top of his class and receiving admissions into several Ivy League and top 15 schools. He has helped many students through the years tutoring and mentoring K-12, consulting seniors through the college admissions process, and writing extensive how-to guides for school.

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