Nothing to Envy: Even though this book is about North Korea it is still an important read for anyone moving to the peninsula. This is a look into the lives of four North Korean defectors as told by their interviewer.
How Koreans Talk: A Collection of Expressions: An excellent read if you’re constantly trying to decipher the many Korean witticisms you hear every day. Each culture has their own set of expressions, and with this book you can at least begin to understand Korean slang.
Korea and Her Neighbors: This book was written over a hundred years ago but still gives a very interesting insight to Koreans today.
The Two Koreas: A Contemporary History: A thorough look at Korea (both North and South) through the ages, and where the great divide began.
Roadmap to Korean: Learning Korean using modern day phrases and a fresh approach to learning. It’s philosophy is that you can better understand the language by better understanding the culture.
Nation Building in South Korea: Koreans, Americans, and the Makings of a Democracy: Within your first few weeks you will begin to notice many similarities between South Korea and the United States, mainly their government and (most visibly) the American soldiers and army bases. This book is important to help you understand how Korea came to resemble the US. An excellent read if you are interested in American nation building.
Tigers, Frogs and Rice Cakes: A book of Korean proverbs. A light, fun read that gives deeper insight into Korean culture and their Confucian leanings.
Korea: A Walk Through the Land of Miracles: A great book documenting author Simon Winchester’s trek on foot across Korea, from the very South to the DMZ in the North. An often amusing and insightful look into the lives of everyday Koreans from a foreigner’s perspective.
The New Korea: An Inside Look at Korea’s Economic Rise: South Korea is famous for their rapid development from third world to one of the most powerful nations. The story of their rise to the top is inspiring and it continues to do well despite the world wide recession.
A Gesture Life: A Novel: A touching and, at times, heartbreaking story concerning Korean comfort women (who, during the Japanese occupation in WWII were forced into a life of sexual slavery). An excellent, well written novel by Korean author Lee Chang Rae.
Native Speaker: Another novel by author Lee Chang Rae, this story follows the life of a Korean-American and the struggles the main character has to overcome, being torn between his Korean family values and American lifestyle.
Rough Guide to Korea: Aside from, perhaps, the Lonely Planet Guide, this Rough Guide is quite possibly the only book you will use regularly during your time in Korea. Plan weekend trips, find restaurants in Seoul and figure out the maze otherwise known as the Seoul Subway System!
Lonely Planet Korea: Another great guide, albeit, not as widely used as the Rough Guide. Still, there is a lot of great, useful information on life in Korea, places to see and things to do.