In This Review

Despite the plus ça change quality of the politics of the North Korean crisis, this fly-on-the-wall account of the negotiations that took place from 2002 to 2006 remains as relevant as it is exhaustive. What was said, what was thought, what was eaten and drunk, even the furniture in the rooms -- all is recounted in vivid detail, from the moment of Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's first visit to Pyongyang in 2002, through the U.S. diplomat James Kelly's meeting with a North Korean negotiator who seemed to acknowledge that Pyongyang possessed a program to produce highly enriched uranium, to the laborious creation of the six-party talks, and then to the North Korean nuclear test in 2006 that spelled the failure of their first phase. The narrative is scrupulously sourced to interviews with participants on all sides, except the North Korean one. The book offers a rare primer on how diplomacy is conducted -- missteps and all -- and insight into the complex motives that drive the actors. It also reveals some larger themes, including North Korea's skill at dividing its enemies, the depth of Beijing's dissatisfaction with Pyongyang, the ineffectiveness of Washington's tactics, and the unfortunate likelihood that North Korea will never give up its nuclear arms.