Anna Fifield’s excellent account, based on years of reporting from Korea, dispenses with the overfamiliar anecdotes about this ghastly spoiled-brat-turned-dictator. The persona is grim: fandom of Eric Clapton, Dennis Rodman and a lot of French fries being pretty much the extent of it.
The secretive and paranoid nature of the North Korean regime has made it difficult to find reliable information about Kim. Anna Fifield, the Beijing bureau chief of The Washington Post, has written a remarkable study, based on extensive interviews with members of his family and wider network (many of whom, understandably, declined to be named). The information is still too tentative to call it a definitive biography, but it is an important and rigorous piece of journalism written with clarity and urgency.
Now, however, with The Great Successor we have got a book on the subject which is readable, as up-to-date as possible (North Korea changes fast), and fun to read. Anna Fifield is one of very few western journalists who have been reporting on North Korea — including as a correspondent for the Financial Times — for over a decade. She has visited the country a number of times and interviewed dozens, if not hundreds, of North Koreans across the world.