In this comprehensive yet compact book, Michael J. Seth surveys Korean history from Neolithic times to the present. He explores the origins and development of Korean society, politics, and its still little-known cultural heritage from their inception to the two Korean states of today. Telling the remarkable story of the origins and evolution of a society that borrowed and adopted from abroad, Seth describes how various tribal peoples in the peninsula came together to form one of the world's most distinctive communities. He shows how this ancient, culturally and ethnically homogeneous society was wrenched into the world of late-nineteenth-century imperialism, fell victim to Japanese expansionism, and then became arbitrarily divided into two opposed halves, North and South, after World War II.
Tracing the past seven decades, the book explains how the two Koreas, with their deeply different political and social systems and geopolitical orientations, evolved into sharply contrasting societies. South Korea, after an unpromising start, became one of the few postcolonial developing states to enter the ranks of the first world, with a globally competitive economy, a democratic political system, and a cosmopolitan and dynamic culture. North Korea, by contrast, became one of the world's most totalitarian and isolated societies, a nuclear power with an impoverished and famine-stricken population. Seth describes and analyzes the radically different and historically unprecedented trajectories of the two Koreas, formerly one tight-knit society. Throughout, he adds a rich dimension by placing Korean history into broader global perspective and by including primary readings from each era. All readers looking for a balanced, knowledgeable history will be richly rewarded with this clear and concise book.
Michael J Seth —
Michael J. Seth is associate professor of East Asian and world history at James Madison University.
Chapter 1: The Origins
Chapter 2: The Period of the Three Kingdoms, 4th Century to 676
Chapter 3: Late Silla, 676 to 935
Chapter 4: Koryo, 935 to 1170
Chapter 5: Military Rulers and Mongol Invaders, 1170 to 1392
Chapter 6: The Neo-Confucian Revolution and the Choson State, 1392 to the 18th Century
Chapter 7: Choson Society
Chapter 8: Late Choson, Early 18th Century to 1876
Chapter 9: Korea in the Age of Imperialism, 1876 to 1910
Chapter 10: Colonial Korea, 1910 to 1945
Chapter 11: Division and War, 1945 to 1953
Chapter 12: North Korea: Recovery, Transformation, and Decline, 1953 to 1993
Chapter 13: South Korea: From Poverty to Prosperity, 1953 to 1997
Chapter 14: South Korea: Creating a Democratic Society, 1953 to 1997
Chapter 15: Contemporary North Korea, 1993 to 2010
Chapter 16: Contemporary South Korea, 1997 to 2010
Seth, Michael J. A history of Korea: from antiquity to the present. Rowman & Littlefield, 2011. 571p bibl index afp; ISBN 9780742567153; ISBN 9780742567160 pbk; ISBN 9780742567177 e-book. Reviewed in 2011aug CHOICE.
A History of Korea combines Seth's previous surveys of Korean history (A Concise History of Korea, CH, Mar'07, 44-4017; A Concise History of Modern Korea, CH, Jun'10, 47-5815) to provide a general history of Korea from prehistoric times to the present. The book fills an important need for an up-to-date reference survey that includes coverage of both the modern and pre-modern periods in one volume. Seth (James Madison Univ.) proceeds chronologically, dividing each major period into topical overviews. Political and social history receive the greatest emphasis, and each chapter ends with one or two selections translated from Korean-language primary sources. Substantial endnotes and an annotated bibliography will help readers push more deeply into English studies of Korean history, and a Korean pronunciation guide will aid students. The prose is extremely clear but the narrative style is quite dry, making the book better suited for reference use than recreational reading. It is not a necessary addition to collections that already include Seth's separate volumes, but is otherwise an excellent choice for any collegiate library that covers East Asia at all.
Summing Up: Highly recommended. For libraries at all levels that do not own the earlier volumes. -- B. T. Vivier, University of Michigan
This textbook is as trustworthy and user-friendly as any other English-language surveys of Korean history from ancient time to the present day and includes much more information. For example, no other survey of Korean history from ancient times to the present includes as much information on North Korea after 1945 than Seth includes in two of his chapters, one on the North from 1945 to 1993 and another covering from 1993 until just a couple years before Kim Jong Il' s death. Seth stands out on his treatment of prehistory as well. Devoting a full chapter on prehistory, Seth takes his time discussing the beginnings of pottery, agriculture, and bronze making. . . . Overall, A History of Korea is a reliable and comprehensive guide.
— Journal of Korean Studies
Michael Seth somehow manages to pack an enormous amount of information into his short overview of the Korean peninsula's long history. With a useful glossary and a helpful bibliography, A History of Korea is especially recommended for those without any prior knowledge of Korean history and culture.