Accidental Tyrant

The Life of Kim Il-sung

January 2025 9781911723547 352pp, 50 b& w illus
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Kim Il-sung was the enigmatic architect of North Korea. His life is an extraordinary tale of improbable success: once a barely educated guerrilla fighter, he rose to lead the nation at the young age of 33. Against all odds, he established a horrifyingly stable dictatorial regime, one that still struggles to provide for its people, yet could obliterate Hollywood, Silicon Valley and much of East Asia in nuclear strikes.

Based on extensive new sources in Korean, Russian, Chinese and Japanese, Fyodor Tertitskiy tells the unlikely story of one of the twentieth century’s most brutal but little-known dictators, from his early life in Japanese Korea to the lasting repercussions of his autocratic rule today. Tertitskiy showcases Kim’s political prowess in gaining autonomy from the USSR; explores how his inept economic policy led to catastrophic famine; and highlights how he implemented a system of hereditary rule, paving the way for today’s ‘Supreme Leader’, Kim Jong-un, to assume power and continue his grandfather’s vision.

Accidental Tyrant serves as a stark cautionary tale, underscoring that the triumph of liberty is never guaranteed. Met with insufficient resistance, even the most unlikely leader can build a regime of repression and privation that long outlives its founder.


Fyodor Tertitskiy has been living in South Korea for more than a decade, where he researches North Korean political, social and military history. He has authored several books in English and Korean, including Soviet-North Korean Relations During the Cold War and The North Korean Army: History, Structure, Daily Life.

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