Book Review: ‘North Korea’s Hidden Revolution: How the Information Underground Is Transforming a Closed Society’

Book Review, Censorship, Information Access, Policies

By: Amy Steinbauer

North Korea's Hidden RevolutionNorth Korea’s Hidden Revolution: How the Information Underground is Transforming a Closed Society by Jieun Baek

It’s easy to take America’s freedom of information for granted. It is “free” after all! North Korea’s information is forced through an extremely tight and controlled lens. The government chooses what to show you, and how that information appears. This allows North Korea the ability to portray its government and people in a flattering and positive way. This is also hilariously demonstrated in the 2014 controversial comedy The Interview, where the country is shown with fake grocery stores because there is “plenty of food.”

The implication of ultimate control of the media has ramifications that permeate all levels of a society that can’t manage to define itself. If you continually bombard people with your messages of truth, you will undermine their ability to make sense of their world — a concept that is extremely foreign to us in the land of the free.

North Korea’s Hidden Revolution shows us how a new society evolved in North Korea, based on providing information and entertainment to those hungry for a life outside of what is shown to them. North Korea has been able to shape itself in the past, but information is getting easier to share and transfer, and its control is slipping.

Information shapes a society, and author Jieun Baek takes us on a journey through the underground channels that share information from North and South Korea, as well as the people who create these channels. Transporters wait along the border to hand over pre-loaded flash drives of uncensored news, celebrity gossip, and porn to those who will pay, or those who believe in the freedom of information.

North Korea’s Hidden Revolution really calls to the theory that information wants to be free. Even with deathly restrictions and consequences, people are willing to take that risk for the knowledge and the money. And with each transfer of information, North Korea’s underground market earns a bit more unintended freedom.


Amy Steinbauer is a children’s librarian for DC Public Libraries. She specializes in outreach and early literacy. She has her MLISc from University of Hawaii, and a B.A. in English from Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA. She won the 2015 Conable Scholarship to attend ALA Annual in San Francisco, and presented at the 2016 Annual conference in Orlando, FL. She loves professional development and is currently serving as a board member at large for the Association of Bookmobile and Outreach Services (ABOS), is on ALA’s Public Awareness Committee, and on the SASCO Committee through NMRT. She loves mermaids and advocating for libraries, and will one day combine them both to take over the world! Until then, follow her on Twitter @merbrarian.

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