Nothing to Envy - Barbara Demick

Nothing to Envy

By Barbara Demick

  • Release Date: 2009-12-29
  • Genre: Social Science
Score: 4.5
From 446 Ratings

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An eye-opening account of life inside North Korea—a closed world of increasing global importance—hailed as a “tour de force of meticulous reporting” (The New York Review of Books)
In this landmark addition to the literature of totalitarianism, award-winning journalist Barbara Demick follows the lives of six North Korean citizens over fifteen years—a chaotic period that saw the death of Kim Il-sung, the rise to power of his son Kim Jong-il (the father of Kim Jong-un), and a devastating famine that killed one-fifth of the population.
Demick brings to life what it means to be living under the most repressive regime today—an Orwellian world that is by choice not connected to the Internet, where displays of affection are punished, informants are rewarded, and an offhand remark can send a person to the gulag for life. She takes us deep inside the country, beyond the reach of government censors, and through meticulous and sensitive reporting we see her subjects fall in love, raise families, nurture ambitions, and struggle for survival. One by one, we witness their profound, life-altering disillusionment with the government and their realization that, rather than providing them with lives of abundance, their country has betrayed them.

Praise for Nothing to Envy

“Provocative . . . offers extensive evidence of the author’s deep knowledge of this country while keeping its sights firmly on individual stories and human details.”The New York Times

“Deeply moving . . . The personal stories are related with novelistic detail.”The Wall Street Journal

“A tour de force of meticulous reporting.”The New York Review of Books

“Excellent . . . humanizes a downtrodden, long-suffering people whose individual lives, hopes and dreams are so little known abroad.”San Francisco Chronicle

“The narrow boundaries of our knowledge have expanded radically with the publication of Nothing to Envy. . . . Elegantly structured and written, [it] is a groundbreaking work of literary nonfiction.”—John Delury, Slate

“At times a page-turner, at others an intimate study in totalitarian psychology.”The Philadelphia Inquirer


  • Eye opener...

    By VivaAmerica86
    Brilliantly and interestingly written. Very Informative, I couldn't fathom how miserable life can be any where other than in Iran but wow...this beat anything imaginative to it.
  • Nothing to Envy

    This book was really well told. I enjoyed learning how this difficult way of life was through the shoes of each one interviewed. All the while: it wasn't depressing. I have recommended it to people I feel would appreciate it as much as I did. It's an important read.
  • Enthralling and eye-opening

    By EJE76
    Very interesting, well-researched book. I could never understand how people could stand for such a corrupt government and not revolt. However, now I understand after reading the personal accounts in this book. The people in that country live in constant fear, not just for their own lives, but also for all the lives of their families.
  • Nothing to Envy: A Fascinating Read

    By Szeducate
    This book turned out to be a real page-turner. The book held my interest from the first to the last page. The author is certainly an accomplished writer who knows how to keep her reader very interested. I have read several books about North Korea in the past, and by far this one is the best of the group.
  • Eye-opener about life in North Korea

    By CarrotBean
    This book is riveting. I had no idea that life in North Korea is and has been as bad as it is. No electricity, no glass for replacement windows, no transportation, no mobility, no food (not even rice), no paycheck, no freedom, no medicine -- no anything. Slowly starving their citizens to death, imprisoning their citizens for trying to obtain sufficient food or get out, and executing their rivals have been the unconscionable hobbies of the Kim "dynasty" for 3 generations. The horror of watching everyone around you starve to death is very vivid in these intertwining stories of defectors who survived and thrive in South Korea.
  • Glimpse of life in DPRK

    By Rifledoc
    In “Nothing to Envy” author Barbara Demick presents a compelling narrative of what day-to-day life is like for many in North Korea. For the U.S. military reader, the vivid descriptions of the desperate plight of so many living under a repressive regime gives a better sense of understanding and empathy for the people of The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and a more refined sense of purpose on why it continues to be important for the U.S. to help underwrite the security of South Korea. From a military planning perspective though, the book gives a better understating of the colossal scope of humanitarian assistance and stabilization operations that will be required in the event of a North Korean regime change and reunification, either with, or without, preceding combat operations. I enjoyed the description of life in modern day North Korea though the lives of a handful of different people. My only complaint is that all were defectors, understandably disenfranchised with life under the current Kim dynasty. It would have been interesting to also hear the uncensored side of party members in the higher echelons of the social hierarchy of North Korea who still actively support the government.. Of course that is not something that the North Korean regime would have allowed, but I think it would quite interesting to hear the views of some of the people who actively work to to maintain the status quo.
  • Compelling!

    By jonrod88
    Another jaw-dropping example of truth being far stranger than fiction. Kudos to Ms. Demick for doing such great investigative legwork in order to be able to bring us these stories; then for weaving them together such that we experience an "up-close and personal" look at what life is like in the prison known as North Korea. I couldn't put this book down!
  • Nothing to envy

    By Bcfuller8
    Very interesting book. How the Korean people have endured their misery astounds me.
  • Nothing to Envy

    By Ruthie Q
    I read this book after watching the special on North Korea on Frontline. Well written and held my interest. I had trouble putting it down. It was made even more interesting because of the present (so called) leader of North Korea being in the news lately. It always boggles my mind how these people manage to brainwash so many for so long. The author does an excellent job explaining how. Truly a touching account of the lives of six different defectors and what they went thru.
  • Good one

    By CullyMcLibby
    I love that this author gave so much background and history to why events happened in North Korea. She did a great job of intertwining history and multiple defectors stories.