Letters from Joseon: 19th Century Korea through the eyes of an American Ambassador's Wife
Written and compiled by Robert Neff; Seoul Selection: 432 pp., 19,000 won
This is a narrative about an American ambassador's family's stint in Korea between 1894 and 1897 accompanied by their letters back home. The letters are mostly written by then Ambassador John Sill's wife Sally and other Westerners. The book presents their thoughts and perspective of the times and events and facts that will amuse and surprise readers who, especially if they are Koreans, will have a bias of their own. The late 19th century was a turbulent and painful time for the Joseon Dynasty, which was at its twilight, a kingdom that most Koreans still associate themselves with culturally. Pressure from the Japanese to cede control was at its highest, and colonization imminent.
Western nations were turning a blind eye or, as Neff put it so precisely in the prologue, the appointment as ambassador of the politically-inexperienced Sill was, "an indication of how unimportant the United States viewed Korea at the time." Because of that, most local accounts and narrative of the period, at least those targeting a broad audience, are highly-dramatized to accentuate Korea's pain and laden with a weak fervor of nationalism.
What Sally's letters ultimately provide is a view of social events beyond the control of an ordinary human being: there is no political agenda for her writing and it also displays sheer honesty. There is almost an innocent carelessness in her comments on the Sino-Japanese War or the murder of Queen Min.
The occasional social decorum and human nature that are revealed in some accounts are surprisingly relevant today: John's audience with the king, in which the latter asks the ambassador's age, will amuse those aware of Korea's still ongoing social importance on seniority.
Brain Healing & Digital Detox
Shin Dong-won: Century One: 280 pp., 14,000 won
A recent survey shows that more than 60 percent of smartphone users tap on their handsets an average 30 times a day. The trend causes not only the danger of digital addiction but also brain fatigue. This book says the brain reacts continuously to outside stimulations particularly by the frequent usage of the digital devices. Thus the brain needs rest to enhance its function, which is achieved by the default mode network. If people quiet the brain through practices like meditation in default mode, it will improve its function. But recently people can't afford to give time to their brains, which later blurs judgment because of a malfunction in perceiving information. It leads to spiritual energy exhaustion. The author, a psychiatrist, says modern chronic fatigue results from mental rather than physical exhaustion. The most effective and easiest way to quiet the brain is to stop thinking and take a deep breath for one or two minutes. Even stopping listening to music is a good way to clear your brain. ― Chung Ah-young
Ryu Joong-il's Leadership
Lee Sang-hwa; Money Plus: 256 pp., 13,000 won
The book analyzes the leadership of Ryu Joong-il, the manager of professional baseball squad Samsung Lions, who led his team to consecutive titles in 2011 and 2012 in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) league. The author revisits how Ryu became manager after working as a player and a coach for the same team for 26 years and how he made the Lions the top team in Korean baseball. After 13 seasons as a short stop, Ryu entered coaching and analyzed reasons for success and failure of the previous heads of the Lions. He was appointed manager in 2011. The book explains that his leadership lies in communication and trust. Although Ryu heads the team, if he is lacking something, he scouts the best coaches in that field. He trusts players in a slump and helps them bounce back to take the team to victory.
― Baek Byung-yeul
Moon Hwy-chang; Miraebook: 320 pp., 16,000 won
In the past two decades, Korea has experienced an exceptional export performance and become one of the top 10 world exporters since 2009. The small Asian country went from being one of the poorest in the world (conflict-ridden in 1953) to a high-income, industrialized economy. Moon Hwy-chang, a professor at the Graduate School of International Studies of Seoul National University, analyses the nation's successful economic model with its unique cases, all of which are part of the so-called "K-Strategy." The book consists of four parts, each of which covers three to four different analyses. The writer here explains the four important elements that led to success; K-Strategy's ABCD, which stands for agility, benchmarking, convergence and dedication. The author tells its readers that not only does his book focus on how the country has achieved enormous economic growth in the last 50 years it also suggests future directions to go beyond that.