The Last Emperor

Who is Kim Jong-il? A few months ago my editors at The New York Times Magazine asked me to find out, and the result is the cover story of this weekend’s issue. The story is also posted here.

“The Dear Leader is a workaholic,” it begins. “Kim Jong Il sleeps four hours a night, or if he works through the night, as he sometimes does, he sleeps four hours a day. His office is a hive of activity; reports cross his desk at all hours. Dressed as always in his signature khaki jumpsuit, he reads them all, issuing instructions to aides, dashing off handwritten notes or picking up the phone at 3 a.m. and telling subordinates what should lead the news broadcasts or whom to dispatch to a prison camp. His micromanaging style is less Caligula, with whom he has often been compared, and more Jimmy Carter on an authoritarian tear.”

There are many useful websites about North Korea. This blog is maintained by an American who teaches English in Kwangju, South Korea; it’s frequently updated with recent stories and commentary about events on the Korean peninsula. Human rights activists have a Free North Korea blog that tracks news stories about Kim Jong-il’s regime. And if you want to hear the news from Pyongyang’s viewpoint, North Korea’s news agency posts its stories, in English. Lastly, National Public Radio and its affiliate in Boston have posted their interviews with me.

Author: Peter Maass

I was born and raised in Los Angeles. In 1983, after graduating from the University of California at Berkeley, I went to Brussels as a copy editor for The Wall Street Journal/Europe. I left the Journal in 1985 to write for The New York Times and The International Herald Tribune, covering NATO and the European Union. In 1987 I moved to Seoul, South Korea, where I wrote primarily for The Washington Post. After three years in Asia I moved to Budapest to cover Eastern Europe and the Balkans. I spent most of 1992 and 1993 covering the war in Bosnia for the Post.