Book Review: “The Koreans: Who They Are, What They Want, Where Their Future Lies”

9780312326098

by Mark P. Barry

Mark Barry Photo 2The Koreans: Who They Are, What They Want, Where Their Future Lies, rev. ed., by Michael Breen, New York: Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Griffin, 2004. Adapted from the Journal of Unification Studies, vol. VI, 2004-2005, pp. 165-68.

Although originally targeted for foreign business readers, Michael Breen’s The Koreans has emerged as a modern-day classic on the Korean character and culture. It is often recommended by Korean studies scholars, alongside such earlier general works as the late Donald S. Macdonald’s Koreans: Contemporary Politics and Society (now in its third edition, revised by Donald Clark). In its 1999 Korean translation from the original 1998 UK edition, The Koreans rocketed to the top ten list of Korea’s bestsellers, revealing Koreans’ own enthusiasm to understand themselves from an outsider’s perspective. The U.S. hardcover edition also appeared in 1999, and the 2004 paperback edition reviewed here is slightly revised with a new chapter on events since 2000.

Breen, a British journalist, originally went to South Korea as The Washington Times’ Seoul correspondent. He ended up living there, during which time he also served for three years as president of the Seoul Foreign Correspondents Club, and wrote for The Guardian and The Times of London. He later became managing director of the Seoul office of public relations firm Merit/Burson-Marsteller, and now runs his own company, Insight Communications Consultants.

Unificationists will remember him authoring in 1997 the meticulously researched Sun Myung Moon: The Early Years, 1920-53, based on in-depth interviews with early followers of Reverend Moon. No book has appeared in English since to rival it.

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