• Becoming Kim Jong Un

  • A Former CIA Officer's Insights into North Korea's Enigmatic Young Dictator
  • By: Jung H. Pak
  • Narrated by: Jung H. Pak
  • Length: 10 hrs
  • 4.3 out of 5 stars (85 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

A groundbreaking account of the rise of North Korea’s Kim Jong Un - from his nuclear ambitions to his summits with President Donald J. Trump - by a leading American expert

"Excellent... Former CIA analyst Jung H. Pak cuts through the regime’s opacity and the fog of gossip." (Los Angeles Times)

"[Becoming Kim Jong Un] could be the most definitive account of North Korea’s supreme leader." (Newsweek)

When Kim Jong Un became the leader of North Korea following his father's death in 2011, predictions about his imminent fall were rife. North Korea was isolated, poor, unable to feed its people, and clinging to its nuclear program for legitimacy. Surely this 20-something with a bizarre haircut and no leadership experience would soon be usurped by his elders. Instead, the opposite happened. Now in his mid-30s, Kim Jong Un has solidified his grip on his country and brought the United States and the region to the brink of war. Still, we know so little about him - or how he rules. 

Enter former CIA analyst Jung Pak, whose brilliant Brookings Institution essay "The Education of Kim Jong Un" cemented her status as the go-to authority on the calculating young leader. From the beginning of Kim's reign, Pak has been at the forefront of shaping US policy on North Korea and providing strategic assessments for leadership at the highest levels in the government. Now, in this masterly book, she traces and explains Kim's ascent on the world stage, from his brutal power-consolidating purges to his abrupt pivot toward diplomatic engagement that led to his historic - and still poorly understood - summits with President Trump. She also sheds light on how a top intelligence analyst assesses thorny national security problems: avoiding biases, questioning assumptions, and identifying risks as well as opportunities. 

In piecing together Kim's wholly unique life, Pak argues that his personality, perceptions, and preferences are underestimated by Washington policy wonks, who assume he sees the world as they do. As the North Korean nuclear threat grows, Becoming Kim Jong Un gives listeners the first authoritative, behind-the-scenes look at Kim's character and motivations, creating an insightful biography of the enigmatic man who could rule the hermit kingdom for decades - and has already left an indelible imprint on world history.

©2020 Jung H. Pak (P)2020 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

"North Korea has long been regarded as a 'hard target' by the Intelligence Community - and with abundant good reason. Dr. Jung H. Pak has managed to shed more light on the current North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, than virtually anyone. She has adeptly and discreetly applied her experience as an intelligence analyst and managed to penetrate the opaque nature of North Korea, and in doing so has displayed her considerable skills in and mastery of the analyst’s tradecraft.... An important book, both for the professional expert and for those who simply want to gain insight into the ‘hermit kingdom’ and its enigmatic leader." (James Clapper, former Director of National Intelligence) 

"Jung H. Pak’s sober but absorbing portrait of North Korea’s leader should be the starting point for any scholar, journalist, or policymaker trying to make sense of the most dangerous regime on earth. Pak ties together biography, national security analysis, and policy prescription with the precision one would expect from a scholar and former intelligence officer." (Michael J. Green, former Asia adviser to President George W. Bush, director of Asian studies at Georgetown University, and senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies)  

"Becoming Kim Jong Un is the most complete account to date of a dictator who has too often been caricatured by the public. Highly readable, thoughtful, and dispassionate, this book offers important insights into an enigmatic leader who will shape the destiny of not only the Korean Peninsula but of the Northeast Asian region and the world. It’s the next best thing to receiving a top-secret CIA briefing." (Sue Mi Terry, former CIA analyst and former Korea director at the National Security Council)  

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Derivative

I am by no means an expert on North Korea, but there was very little here that I had not heard before. Moreover some subjects are skipped entirely. For example, the potential that South Korea or Japan might move to acquire nuclear weapons is given (by my count) a grand total of one sentence, while the potential impact this might have on China's relationship with Kim is ignored completely. Finally, the author mentions analytical bias over and over again, but succumbs to it herself in her clear dislike of Trump and inability to separate out these sentiments when discussing recent events.

4 people found this helpful

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Worst narration ever

The narrator (who is also the writer!) sounds like a senior research paper gone bad - she called Kim Jong Un "Fat" just one too many times to the point it became mocking, he may be a ruthless dictator but show the man some shred of respect since he is the subject of your book after all and mocking his weight over and over degrades the value of the book. This book had such potential, try again Jung H Pak, next time leave out the tasteless mockery.

3 people found this helpful

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Too much about Trump

The author try to be too cute instead of sticking to the subject of North Korea

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I get it. You don’t like the President.

It was amazingly interesting until the parts about the current administration. The adjectives used to describe the President belie the fact that he has accomplished much of what is doubted in the later portion of the book.

Too bad, it was initially captivating but ended as a NYT like editorial of our government rather than the DPRK.

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Very revealing

An impressive and well done take on the current North Korean leader through the eyes of a former CIA officer. 10/10.

2 people found this helpful

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Insightful

Insightful book of an individual who is unknown to the general public. There is a lot to take away from this.

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Worthwhile listen.

Informative. Eye opening. Surprisingly enjoyable. And a thought provoking insight into the North Korean mindset.

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Fresh perspectives

It was quite interesting that the conjugation of Kim Jong Un and Ri Seol Ju was compared to the North's Byungjin policy of developing both military and economy. It is a briliant analogy! You can gain insights into the North Korean first lady Ri, which is rarely dealt with in other books, and the symbolic and strategic meanings of her publicy appearing side by side with Kim Jong Un.