What We Are Reading Today: Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea, by Barbara Demick

Updated 11 May 2018
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What We Are Reading Today: Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea, by Barbara Demick

This is often referred to as the book you must read on North Korea if you only choose one.

It is based on interviews with refugees from Chongjin, an industrial city in the north of the country.

The award-winning text, by the Los Angeles Times journalist who oversaw the newspaper’s bureaus in both Seoul and Beijing, follows the lives of six people in a city completely off limits to outsiders.

It spans the chaotic years in which the Orwellian regime’s first leader, Kim Il Sung, died and his son Kim Jong Il rose to power.

It includes details of the devastating effects of a famine that is thought to have killed 20 percent of the population.

Rather than focusing on the geopolitics and the nuclear program, Nothing to Envy shows the reader the everyday lives of ordinary people living within one of the world’s most repressive regimes. 


What We Are Reading Today: Chaucer: A European Life by Marion Turner

Updated 17 min 5 sec ago
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What We Are Reading Today: Chaucer: A European Life by Marion Turner

  • Marion Turner reconstructs in unprecedented detail the cosmopolitan world of Chaucer’s adventurous life

More than any other canonical English writer, Geoffrey Chaucer lived and worked at the center of political life—yet his poems are anything but conventional. Edgy, complicated, and often dark, they reflect a conflicted world, and their astonishing diversity and innovative language earned Chaucer renown as the father of English literature. Marion Turner, however, reveals him as a great European writer and thinker. To understand his accomplishment, she reconstructs in unprecedented detail the cosmopolitan world of Chaucer’s adventurous life, focusing on the places and spaces that fired his imagination, according to a review on the Princeton University Press website. 

Uncovering important new information about Chaucer’s travels, private life, and the early circulation of his writings, this innovative biography documents a series of vivid episodes, moving from the commercial wharves of London to the frescoed chapels of Florence and the kingdom of Navarre, where Christians, Muslims, and Jews lived side by side. The narrative recounts Chaucer’s experiences as a prisoner of war in France, as a father visiting his daughter’s nunnery, as a member of a chaotic Parliament, and as a diplomat in Milan, where he encountered the writings of Dante and Boccaccio. The book also offers a comprehensive exploration of Chaucer’s writings.