Ideology grappled geography in a civil war with no end. As the Korean War froze along the trenches and barbed wire entanglements, harbingers of the final line of control that was to divide North from South for a lifetime, the United States fought and sought a political triumph as a surrogate for military failure on the battlefield. Armistice talks in May 1951 started, hiccuped, stopped and then were reborn and recycled as Washington stubbornly—to the chagrin and incredulity of its own negotiators—refused to abide by the 1949 Geneva Convention requiring the simple repatriation of prisoners of war (POWs) at the end of military conflict. 

When Travis Jeppesen, 37-year-old writer and art critic, spotted the ad offering a one-month study program in North Korea, he didn’t hesitate. Not that he was any wide-eyed naif: he’d visited four times before. But he was done with package tours, with being shuttled from monument to tedious monument. If he were to return to the DPRK (the country’s official name, i.e. the “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea”), it would have to be for a different sort of trip.

Stephan Haggard’s and Marcus Noland’s first joint venture was the 2007 Famine in North Korea: Markets, Aid, and Reform, the best overview of the hunger that led to the death in slow motion death of a million people in the mid- to late-90s. Hard Target does a similar authoritative analysis of the last quarter-century’s attempts to shepherd Pyongyang—with carrot and stick—away from prickly hostility into the warm embrace of the global economic and political order. Their conclusion is neither sanctions nor inducements work, even if the latter have proved marginally more successful than the former.