Photo: The Song of the Sword by Kim Hun.
South Korean presidents typically take their summer vacation in August, and their summer reading list is widely published. The books the president reads often become bestsellers, as the public seeks to gauge the mind of their leader. This trend began with Kim Dae-jung 김대중’s presidency in the late 1990s, during which Kim was known to read Peter Drucker’s books on the future of the economy. Roh Moo-hyun 노무현 was famous for reading The Song of the Sword 칼의 노래 by the novelist Kim Hun 김훈 multiple times, helping the bestseller novel about the naval hero Yi Sun-sin 이순신 become even more famous. On the other hand, conservative presidents Lee Myung-bak 이명박 and Park Geun-hye 박근혜 never officially published their reading list, although Lee was known to read Nudge by Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler, and Park The Fourth Industrial Revolution by Klaus Schwab.
Moon Jae-in 문재인’s summer reading list has been a mixture of historical novels, pop philosophy, and middle-brow sociology. In 2018, Moon read Han Kang 한강’s Human Acts 소년이 온다 and The Master 국수 by Kim Seong-dong 김성동, both historical novels covering the 1980 Gwangju Movement and late Joseon Dynasty respectively. In 2019, Moon read Sorrowful Rat’s Samsara 슬픈 쥐의 윤회, a collection of short stories by Buddhist philosopher Kim Yong-ok 김용옥, and gifted the Blue House staff The 90s Generation is Coming 90년생이 온다, a pop sociology book on the new generation by Im Hong-taek 임홍택.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, Moon did not take a summer vacation in 2020. But Moon issued a separate statement to celebrate the September Reading Month 독서의 달, in which he recommended Coronasapiens 코로나 사피엔스 and The World Starting Today 오늘부터의 세계, both of which are how prominent thinkers imagine the world after the pandemic. (Ha-joon Chang appears in both volumes.) Moon also recommended Leadership by Jeongjo 리더라면 정조처럼 and Biography of Hong Beom-do 홍범도 평전, two historical books examining a major Joseon Dynasty king and a prominent Independence Army general.