What We Are Reading Today: A Corpse in the Koryo, by James Church

Updated 14 June 2018
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What We Are Reading Today: A Corpse in the Koryo, by James Church

Secretive North Korea is not an obvious choice as the location for a detective story, not least because it is so impenetrable to the outsider.

But Asia specialists say this novel offers a vivid window into the mysterious country.

One expert called it “the best unclassified account of how North Korea works and why it has survived all these years.”

The protagonist is Inspector O, whose investigation into a murder at the Koryo Hotel pitches him into a deadly contest between powerful factions in the regime.

The nation’s leader is never mentioned by name, but his shadow stalks every chapter. The inspector is a man struggling to hold on to his humanity in a world where humanity has little value.

The depth of detail is perhaps less surprising when you learn that James Church is the nom de plume of a former Western intelligence officer who spent years in Korea.

But it more than justifies the verdict of Newt Gingrich, the former Republican US presidential hopeful, who declared the book “a must-read” for anyone trying to understand the Kim dynasty of dictators.

This truly original thriller is about much more than a crime investigation.


What We Are Reading Today: The Cognitive Challenge of War: Prussia 1806 by Peter Paret

Updated 15 August 2018
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What We Are Reading Today: The Cognitive Challenge of War: Prussia 1806 by Peter Paret

  • Fields of history that are often kept separate are brought together in this book, which seeks to replicate the links between different areas of thought and action as they exist in reality and shape events

Responding to the enemy’s innovation in war presents problems to soldiers and societies of all times. This book traces Napoleon’s victory over Prussia in 1806 and Prussia’s effort to recover from defeat to show how in one particular historical episode operational analyzes together with institutional and political decisions eventually turned defeat to victory.

The author moves from a comparative study of French and Prussian forces to campaign narrative and strategic analysis. He examines processes of change in institutions and doctrine, as well as their dependence on social and political developments, and interprets works of art and literature as indicators of popular and elite attitudes toward war, which influence the conduct of war and the kind and extent of military innovation. In the concluding chapter he addresses the impact of 1806 on two men who fought on opposing sides in the campaign and sought a new theoretical understanding of war — Henri Jomini and Carl von Clausewitz.

Fields of history that are often kept separate are brought together in this book, which seeks to replicate the links between different areas of thought and action as they exist in reality and shape events.

Peter Paret is professor emeritus at the Institute for Advanced Study. He has written widely on the history of war and society and on the relationship of art, society, and politics. He is the author of Clausewitz and the State (Princeton), now in its third revised edition. Most recently he gave the 2008 Lees Knowles Lectures at Cambridge University, on which this book is based, and was guest curator for the spring 2009 exhibition Myth and Modernity at the Princeton University Art Museum.