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The Great Successor

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The Great Successor

The Divinely Perfect Destiny of Brilliant Comrade Kim Jong Un

Public Affairs,

15 min read
10 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

A lively and unflinching portrait of North Korea’s brutal, elusive dictator

Editorial Rating



  • Innovative
  • Eye Opening
  • Engaging


Kim Jong Un has ruled North Korea for years, but he remains a mystifying, often contradictory figure. To piece together this multilayered portrait of the third-generation dictator and the country he controls, journalist Anna Fifield drew on her reporting for the Financial Times and The Washington Post, as well as interviews with Kim’s family, his high school chums, the sushi chef who served as his childhood playmate, basketball players, defectors – anyone she could find who had ever met him. The result is an engrossing and important biography – the first to appear in English – of a brutal, savvy and underestimated leader.


A family dynasty has ruled communist North Korea since its founding in 1948.

When the Soviet Union and the United States divided the Korean peninsula in 1945, after liberating it from Japanese colonial rule, they created North Korea and South Korea. In 1948, Moscow established a young Korean by the name of Kim Il Sung as the leader of the newly founded communist state, the Democratic Republic of North Korea. Kim quickly ignited a personality cult and began to rewrite history to glorify himself. He ordered purges and popularized the concept of juche: a fabricated quasi-philosophy of self-reliance that seems to exist only for propaganda purposes.

Kim Il Sung’s son, Kim Jong Il, took power in 1994, on his father’s death. North Korea became the world’s first – and still the only – communist country under a dynastic rule. Kim Jong Il continued his father’s propaganda efforts and embroidered them in his own favor. He claimed he was born on Mount Paektu – a significant site in Korean culture – thereby establishing the concept of a Mount Paektu bloodline that his own sons would continue. Kim Jong Il ...

About the Author

Anna Fifield is the Beijing bureau chief for The Washington Post.

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