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best biography of kim jong-il but one wishes for so much moreJune 6 2010
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"Kim Jong-il's Leadership of North Korea" by Jae-Cheon Lim is far and away the most important biography written thus far about a man whose life has been wreathed in secrets and whose behavior has caused so much hand-wringing abroad. This historical study puts to bed questions about when and where Kim was born and provides considerable detail about specific responsibilities that Kim had as he rose through leadership ranks within the Korean Workers' Party. These details, plus the material provided regarding bumps in the road that Kim encountered on his way to securing the succession to Kim Il-song, provide a most useful checklist for tracking and analyzing the current succession to Kim Jong-il himself. Added to the chronological tracking of Kim's rise to power is a concluding chapter that lays out key elements of Kim's management and leadership style. Throughout, the tone of the book is non-judgmental and calmly descriptive, a welcome change from a good deal of Western media and book treatments of the widely reviled and ridiculed North Korean leader.
What disappoints regarding Lim's study is what is missing. There is little attempt to define a prevailing political culture in North Korea or to offer an analysis of how Kim Jong-il views the world, as well as the manner in which these two dynamics affect such strategic issues as the acquisition of nuclear weapons. Nor is there any discussion of how Kim and his close family members (sister and brother-in-law, in particular) turned North Korea into one of the world's most unusual kleptocracies, one which has apparently gone so far as to sponsor state-run counterfeiting of U.S. currency. Lim's strengths are his meticulous research style and ability to put North Korean domestic political moves into historical context. Regarding matters that require more intuitive, synthesizing assessments, he appears to be less comfortable.