Shrimp to Whale

South Korea from the Forgotten War to K-Pop

May 2022 9781787387041 336pp, 24 illus
July 2023 9781805260301 336pp, 24 illus
Available as an eBook Available from Oxford Scholarship Online
EU Customers


South Korea has a remarkable history. Born from the ashes of imperial domination, partition and a devastating war, back in the 1950s there were real doubts about its survival as an independent state. Yet South Korea endures: today it is a boisterous democracy, a vibrant market economy, a tech powerhouse, and home to the coolest of cultures. In just seventy years, this society has grown from a shrimp into a whale.

What explains this extraordinary transformation? For some, it was individual South Koreans who fought to change their country, and still strive to shape it. For others, it was forward-looking political and business leaders with a vision. Either way, it’s clear that this is the story of a people who dreamt big, and whose dreams came true.

Shrimp to Whale is a lively history of South Korea, from its millennia-old roots, through the division of the Peninsula, dictatorship and economic growth, to today’s global powerhouse.


‘In Conversation: Ramon Pacheco Pardo on Shrimp to Whale: South Korea from the Forgotten War to K-Pop’ – read the full interview in 9DASHLINE here.

‘[Shrimp to Whale] captures South Korea’s triumphant postwar ascent from abject poverty and trauma.’ — The Guardian

‘This is a book by someone who adores South Korea and has done so since his first trip there as a student. […] Pacheco Pardo captures the remarkable scope of recent triumphs that give South Korea both agility — as Moon’s diplomacy has shown — and the affection of a global audience.’ — Financial Times

‘[An] engaging account.’ — New Statesman

‘[A] well-told story of South Korea’s rise to spotlight.’ — The Korea Herald

Shrimp to Whale is an enthusiastic and breezy book that trumpets the success of South Korea… It surveys the country’s complex and fascinating story, and its rise from the bottom to where it is today.’ — Diplomatic Courier

Listen to Ramon Pacheco Pardo’s interview on New Statesman‘s World Review podcast:

Ramon Pacheco Pardo discusses Shrimp to Whale at the Korea Centre in New York:

‘A wonderful introduction to contemporary Korean history. This book shows how a small “hermit nation” has transformed into vibrant, dynamic society. A must-read for those who want to understand Korea today.’ — Sung-Hwan Kim, Chairman of the East Asia Foundation, former South Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade

‘A fluid and informative read. Pacheco Pardo’s recounting of Korea’s remarkable odyssey is accessible to a general audience, as well as an important contribution to the scholarship in the field. Highly recommended!’ — Victor Cha, author of The Impossible State, and former Director for Asian Affairs, US National Security Council

South Korea’s foreign policy evolution from ‘Shrimp to Whale’: interview with Ramon Pacheco Pardo on Arirang Global Insight:

‘A wide-ranging, lucidly written history. The author tracks South Korea’s dizzying and rapid transformation into one of the world’s most notable middle powers and regional dynamos–from independence to the Covid-19 pandemic.’ — Ankit Panda, author of Kim Jong Un and the Bomb

‘Pacheco Pardo observes Korea with empathy and admiration, as only a Spaniard might. He understands the profound pain that was inflicted on the Koreans by the civil war and dictatorship that preceded today’s feisty democracy. This beautiful account celebrates the uncommon resilience, courage, genius and industry of the Korean people.’ — Meredith Woo, East Asian politics expert and President of Sweet Briar College

Asia Society South Korea’s talks to Ramon Pacheco Pardo about his book Shrimp to Whale:

‘With passion, comprehensive depth and a bird’s eye view from afar and up close, this is a valuable read for anyone with an intellectual curiosity in South Korea and its remarkable journey, achieving in several decades what has taken others centuries or millennia.’ — Eun Mee Kim, President of Ewha Womans University, Seoul

‘Since the Korean War, Korea has established itself as a “Global Korea”. This book introduces Korean politics, economy and democratisation, and the global phenomenon K-pop, which have transformed from shrimps to whales. Pacheco Pardo’s book will be an insightful guide for the general public as well as experts who seek to gain a deeper understanding of Korea.’ — Sang Hyun Lee, President of the Sejong Institute

Listen to Ramon Pacheco Pardo’s interviews on CSDS-Asia Matters and Compounding Curiosity podcasts:


Ramon Pacheco Pardo is Professor of International Relations at King’s College London, and KF-VUB Korea Chair at the Brussels School of Governance. He is also a non-resident adjunct fellow with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and a non-resident fellow at the Sejong Institute. Ramon has lived twice in South Korea, and remains a regular visitor there for both work and leisure. He regularly teaches and provides media commentary about the country.  

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