The best biography of Kim Jong-un available. Fifield goes into his basketball- and 1990s Chicago Bulls-obsessed boyhood, including schooling in Sweden, to how he climbed the order of succession in time to be groomed for power beneath the scenes. He might not have been entirely ready to take over when his father Kim Jong-il died in 2011, but he did have some preparation, and learned the political game quickly.
Given his health, he may not have the longest of life expectancies. Kim is reportedly a heavy smoker and drinker, and judging by appearances, now weighs as much as 300 pounds despite his modest height. He also shows signs of gout despite being under 40, which would indicate he is quite sedentary and gets little exercise, which also bodes poorly. But he seems to have reached an equilibrium both domestically and internationally that will keep him in power for the long term.
Domestically, the elites enjoy roughly a Western middle class living standard, despite north Korea being one of the world’s poorest countries. Kim has allowed some modest market reforms that relieve, to a small degree, the worst sufferings of poverty for commoners. That eases social tension, while still making elites fear even a non-lethal fall from grace. Internationally, north Korea’s nuclear capabilities will almost certainly never be used, but occasional bellicosity and successful attempts to appear irrational are enough to keep foreign threats to the regime at bay.
Kim Jong-un remains a mystery, and his personality remains unknown. He does come across as venal and not particularly restrained in his personal life. But he also seems intelligent, and quickly learned how to play a game that can be lethal—and for many of his opponents, including close family members, has. He is not the sort of person a president of the United States should be falling in love with.