Kim Jong Un and the Puzzling Power of North Korean Leaders

Andre Schmid in the Los Angeles Review of Books:

Not too many 38-years-olds deserve their own biography, let alone two. But ever since Kim Jong Un became the third ruler of North Korea in 2011, he has fascinated the American media. A Seth Rogen movie, The New Yorker covers, and South Park cartoons have all made Kim — and his haircut — the target of much lampooning. And in one of the strangest twists in recent international diplomacy, Donald Trump caused a sensation by announcing the two “fell in love” with each other. All this publicity has ultimately resulted in a cartoonish version of Kim, which, however good for a chuckle, obscures how this enigmatic dictator and his family have ruled over the course of three generations.

Kim is no easy subject for biography. The CIA classifies North Korea as the hardest intelligence target in the world. And any biographer needs to cut through the flowery rhetoric, the loving photographs, and the fabricated histories produced daily by North Korean state media.

Thankfully, in taking this challenge on, a pair of biographies escape pop culture versions of Kim to ponder the question that has fixated Pyongyang-watchers: how much time does the guy have left?

More here.