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About the book
  • Published: 16 August 2012
  • ISBN: 9781448139583
  • Imprint: Vintage Digital
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 544

The Impossible State

North Korea, Past and Future




The definitive account of North Korea - the most closed, frightening, enigmatic country on earth - its veiled past and uncertain future.

The definitive account of North Korea - its veiled past and uncertain future - from former White House adviser and Korea expert Victor Cha

‘We killed Americans.
We are killing Americans.
We will kill Americans.
North Korean schoolchildren conjugating verbs
How did North Korea become The Impossible State, where citizens found humming South Korean pop songs risk being sent to a gulag, and yet a starving populace clings fiercely to its Dear Leader Kim Jong-un? What does the future hold for a regime with terrifying nuclear ambitions and an endless war with its southern counterpart? Former White House adviser and Director of Asian Studies at Georgetown University, Victor Cha, pulls back the curtain on the world’s most isolated country to provide this unprecedented and timely insight into North Korea’s history, present and future.

In the era of the Trump administration and with South Korean relations seemingly on the brink of great change, this authoritative account of the country interweaved with exclusive personal anecdotes offers much-needed answers in an increasingly uncertain political climate. Indeed, Cha warns of a future North Korea for which the Western world may be woefully unprepared. Extensive and fast-paced, The Impossible State is an extraordinarily edifying portrait of the society, economy and foreign policy of the most enigmatic nation-state.

‘Engrossing... It offers perhaps the best recent one-volume account of North Korea’s history, economics and foreign relations’ The Economist

  • Pub date: 16 August 2012
  • ISBN: 9781448139583
  • Imprint: Vintage Digital
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 544

About the Author

Victor Cha

Victor Cha is the former Director for Asian Affairs at the National Security Council. He was the U.S. Deputy Head of Delegation for the Six Party Talks, concerned with security risks posed by the North Korean weapons programme. During his role as adviser to the White House he spent time in Pyongyang, and is in a unique position to comment on North Korean affairs. He is currently Professor of Government and Asian Studies and Director of Asian Studies at Georgetown University.


Praise for The Impossible State

“Engrossing... It offers perhaps the best recent one-volume account of North Korea’s history, economics and foreign relations”

The Economist

“[This] excellent, comprehensive book explains as much as it is possible to explain the nature of this ‘impossible state’, how it has developed under the Kim dynasty and why it endures as a major thorn in the side of the global community”

Jonathan Fenby, The Times

“This scrupulously researched account provides an alarming insight into how a long-running nightmare for North Koreans could soon become a geopolitical crisis for the rest of us”

Stephen Robinson, Sunday Times

“He uses his first-hand and often surreal experiences of dealing with North Korean officialdom to telling effect in the book. But Cha is also a scholar of Korean and Asian affairs, so can take a historical view of the North Korean problem and set it in its wider international context… [An] impressive analysis”

Richard Cockett, Literary Review

“Provocative, frightening, and never more relevant than today as an untested new leader takes charge of the world’s most unpredictable nuclear power”

Andrea Mitchell, NBC News Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent

“A powerful portrait of one of the world’s most troubled and troublesome countries [and] a fascinating, behind-the-scenes account of recent American foreign policy by a leading official. . . . A must-read combination for anybody interested in Korea, east Asia, or global security more generally”

Gideon Rose, Editor, Foreign Affairs

“Cha demonstrates an intimate familiarity with the regime’s contradictions... The thesis is clear: the world’s most closed-off state needs to open up to survive, but breaking its hermetic seal may well precipitate its demise”

The New Yorker

“An up-close, insightful portrait... The Impossible State is a clearheaded, bold examination of North Korea and its future”

Washington Post

“This is a useful book on how much of the outside world sees North Korea, and what North Korea sees of the outside world”

Good Book Guide


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