No nation on Earth draws more comparison's to George Orwell's 1984 than North Korea (NK). For over 50 years, its citizens have lived cordoned off from the rest of the world in their dystopic "workers' paradise". Given the scant interchange we have with them, it is hard to know much about their lives. Their official English-language website is laughably transparent propaganda. So how does the casually interested layperson get to know North Korea? Bradley Martin is a Baltimore Sun reporter who has traveled North of the DMZ twice, and has interviewed nearly a dozen escapees from Kim Jung Il's fiefdom. Some of what he describes comes as no surprise: inhumane work camps for political prisoners, palaces and harems for the leaders, and grinding poverty and relentless indoctrination for the rest. Much this book, however, is unexpected. Take for example how the current "Dear Leader" Kim Jung Il connived his way into succeeding his father. How brazen to set up a hereditary monarchy in a nominal "dictatorship of the proletariat"! The tale of how this was accomplished is cautionary. Even more remarkable are the testimonies of the North Korean escapees. Among their anecdotes are: promiscuous North Korean movie stars (yes! apparently there are North Korean movie stars!), grade school bullies (a universal phenomenon, it appears), kidnapped South Koreans living in captivity, and a border guard who began to question the reality of everything he had been told. While the big picture of N Korea and the Kims is morbidly captivating, I was particularly fascinated with the pedestrian details of everyday life described herein: empty streets in the capital (who can afford a car?), completely vacant Potemkin hotels, bizarre television and radio programming, and what majors are offered at Kim Il Sung University. I don't know if this book is useful for understanding international relations, or current events, but I highly recommend it for anybody interested in the human stories behind that sealed border north of Incheon.