1. Korea on the Brink– GEN (Ret.) John Wickham – although dated it is illustrative of the complexity of the Korean situation. Probably the only memoir of a US Korea commander in the last 30 years.
  2. Red Rogue: The Persistent Challenge of North Korea, by Bruce Bechtol – excellent analysis of the north Korean military threat.
  3. Defiant Failed State: The North Korean Threat to International Security, by Bruce Bechtol – analysis of the regime, instability, attack and collapse as well as its illicit activities.
  4. Criminal Sovereignty: Understanding North Korea’s Illicit International Activities, by Bruce E. Bechtol Jr. and Robert M. Collins – one of the best analyses of North Korea’s illicit activities from proliferation to drugs, counterfeiting, and money laundering, etc.
  5. Over the Line: North Korea’s Negotiating Strategy, by Chuck Downs. Best insights into how North Korea negotiates. Best current companion to Admiral C. Turner Joy’s books- Negotiating While Fighting: Diary of Admiral C. Turner Joy at the Korean Armistice Conference (Hoover archival documentaries) and How Communists Negotiate.
  6. North Korean Special Forces, by Joseph S. Bermudez Jr.
  7. Guerrilla Dynastyby Adrian Buzo – Best understanding of the North Korean regime.  Example quote (about how Kim Il Sung established the north Korean regime):

In the course of this struggle against factional opponents, for the first time Kim began to emphasize nationalism as a means of rallying the population to the enormous sacrifices needed for post-war recovery.  This was a nationalism that first took shape in the environment of the anti-Japanese guerrilla movement and developed into a creed through the destruction of both the non-Communist nationalist forces and much of the leftist intellectual tradition of the domestic Communists.  Kim’s nationalism did not draw inspiration from Korean history, nor did it dwell on past cultural achievements, for the serious study of history and traditional culture soon effectively ceased in the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea].  Rather, DPRK nationalism drew inspiration from the Spartan outlook of the former Manchurian guerrillas.  It was a harsh nationalism that dwelt on past wrongs and promises of retribution for “national traitors” and their foreign backers.  DPRK nationalism stressed the “purity” of all things Korean against the “contamination” of foreign ideas, and inculcated in the population a sense of fear and animosity toward the outside world.  Above all, DPRK nationalism stressed that the guerrilla ethos was not only the supreme, but also the only legitimate basis on which to reconstitute a reunified Korea. (emphasis added)

  1. Paper: “Patterns of Collapse” by Robert Collins.  This paper is a summary of Mr. Collins thesis on the 7 Phases of North Korean collapse and is the foundation for the analysis of indications and warnings of North Korean instability and regime collapse.
  2. “North Korea’s Strategy” by Stephen Bradner,  Mr. Bradner is the Special Advisor to the Commander of UNC/CFC/USFK and has been in Korea since 1955 serving the command and has retired in 2013 and will not be replaced.  This is the best synopsis of the North Korean regime and its strategy.
  3. The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves — And Why It Matters — B.R. Myers.  One of the most important books for understanding North Korea, the regime, and the Korean people.
  4. The Two Koreas, by Don Oberdorfer. Probably one of the best popular overviews of the history of Korea.  Provides a good historical foundation.
  5. Marked For Life: Songbun:  The North Korean Social Classification System, by Robert Collins, published by the Committee for Human Rights North Korean the seminal work on how the North Korean society is organized and managed by the Kim Family Regime.  Much of the research is based on first person interviews in Korean with more than 75 defectors as well as many primary source documents from north Korea.
  6. The Orphan Master’s Son, by Adam Johnson.  Pulitzer Prize work of fiction that despite a rather far fetched plot really “operationalizes” and brings to life the social system described by Robert Collins work on Songbun.
  7. Coercion, Control, Surveillance, and Punishment: An Examination of the North Korea Police State: Second Editionby Ken Gause published by the Committee on North Korean Human Rights.  Like Robert Collins work, this provides tremendous insights into how north Korea is organized and run.
  8. The Last Days of Kim Jong Il, by Dr. Bruce Bechtol, 2013.  Just published describes the transition from Kim Jong Il to Kim Jong–un with current analysis up through the February 2013 nuclear test.
  9. Brothers At War: The Unending Conflict (2013) in Korea by Sheila Miyoshi Jager.  This is the best recent book published on the comprehensive history of the Korean conflict.
  10. The Hidden People of North Korea: Everyday Life in the Hermit Kingdom 2d Edition, (2015) by Ralph Hassig and Kongdan Oh
  11. North Korean House of Cards, (2015) Ken Gause, published by HRNK.
  12. Pyongyang Republic; The Capital of Human Right Denial (2016) Robert Collins, published by HRNK.
  13. Theater-level Command and Alliance Decision-Making Architecture in Korea (2016),” Colonel Shawn P. Creamer, U.S. Army.

Col. David Maxwell, U.S. Army (Ret.) is a former Special Forces officer with five tours in Korea who is now a fellow at the Institute for Corean-American Studies (ICAS) .