The Two Koreas

A Contemporary History


By Don Oberdorfer

By Robert Carlin

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An acclaimed history of the Korean Peninsula from World War II to the present day

North Korea is an impoverished, famine-ridden nation, but it is also a nuclear power whose dictator Kim Jong-un regularly threatens his neighbors and adversaries, the United States in particular, with destruction. Even though Kim and President Donald Trump’s responses to him dominate the daily headlines, the idea that North Korea is a menace is not a new one. Indeed, ever since Korea was first divided at the end of World War II, the tension between its northern and southern halves has riveted-and threatened to embroil — the rest of the world. In this landmark history, veteran journalist Don Oberdorfer and Korea expert Robert Carlin grippingly describe how a historically homogenous people became locked in a perpetual struggle for supremacy — and how other nations including the United States have tried, and failed, to broker a lasting peace.


  • "[A] lucid, balanced, thoroughly credible account of the last 25 years on both sides of the armistice line."—NewYork Times Book Review
  • "Riveting.... The Two Koreas majestically fulfills Oberdorfer's goal of drawing attention to the role outside powers have played in the two Koreas' history."
  • "[A] gripping narrative.... The Two Koreas is a masterful analysis of one of the enduring Achilles' heels of US foreign policy."—Los Angeles Review of Books
  • "[Oberdorfer's] gripping narrative should chasten our leaders and inform our citizenry about the continuing perils and costs of America's involvement with Korea...Oberdorfer is often definitive on that subject, deploying information that even specialists do not know."—Bruce Cumings, Los Angeles Times
  • "A comprehensive and informative...account of postwar Korean history, from the Korean War to the rise of democracy in the South to the nuclear-weapons crisis in the North."—The Globe and Mail
  • "Engrossing, informative, wise. A rare achievement, the best account yet of a tragically divided country."
    Ezra Vogel, Director, Asia Center, Harvard University
  • "This truly important work will, without question, become the standard against which other books on modern Korea will be judged."
    Donald P. Gregg, former U.S. Ambassador to South Korea
  • "Oberdorfer is one of America's keenest analysts of the international scene."
    James A. Baker III, former U.S. Secretary of State
  • "Combining the depth and authority of a first-rate textbook with the readability of a good novel, [The Two Koreas] has proven to be a wonderful teaching tool for instructors and students alike."
    Carter J. Eckert, Professor of Korean History, Harvard University
  • "A most timely book to understand what could happen if North Korea implodes or attacks South Korea."
    St. Louis Post-Dispatch
  • "What emerges from The Two Koreas is a portrait of precisely why the peninsula is so volatile: two rivals competing for national legitimacy in a culture where compromise is tantamount to defeat.... Oberdorfer refrains from punditry and predictions, letting his powerful material tell the story."

On Sale
Dec 10, 2013
Page Count
560 pages
Basic Books

Don Oberdorfer

About the Author

Don Oberdorfer wrote for the Washington Post for twenty-five years, and was later on the Chairman of the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. He died in 2015.

Robert Carlin is a Visiting Fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University and former chief of the Northeast Asia Division in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research, U.S. Department of State. He lives in Washington, D.C.

Learn more about this author